When Prince William Sound was opened up to oil tankers, Exxon promised not one drop of oil would be spilled in Alaskan waters. In 1989, the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into the sound (though some estimates put the figure much higher).
After the incident, an Exxon Corp. spokesman told the people of Cordova, “We will make you whole again.” For the next 20 years, Exxon’s army of lawyers fought tooth and nail to reduce the original punitive damages awarded by the court from $5 billion to $507 million.
When a neglected British Petroleum oil pipeline spilled 250,000 gallons of oil onto Alaska’s north slope, the company got off “got off by agreeing to one misdemeanor count and paying a total of $20 million in fines and restitution. The EPA had calculated the appropriate fine levels — depending on economic assumptions — at $58 million all the way up to $672 million.”
In a statement submitted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, retired [Environmental Protection Agency] agent Scott West said:
“Never … have I had a significant environmental criminal case shut down by the political arm of Justice, nor have I had a case declined by the Department of Justice before I had been fully able to investigate the case. This is unprecedented in my experience.”
And now Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has failed to oppose the interests of big oil, essentially selling out the fishermen whose interests she once promised to defend.
On Tuesday, the Bureau of Land Management quietly opened 1 million acres of land in the Bristol Bay region to petroleum and mineral exploration.
How did things come to such a pass?
Dr. Riki Ott—marine biologist, salmon fisherma’am, and author of Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill—believes corporations have been given far too much power and influence over our government. She recently started a movement which is quickly gaining traction: the 28th Amendment to the US Constitution—the separation of corporation and state. The amendment would strip corporations of their personhood and put the power back in the hands of the American people.
While running for governor in 2006, Palin cited her roots in a fishing family and appeared to oppose the Pebble Mine, a giant open pit gold-and-copper project proposed in the headwaters country of the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers.
In office, she promptly joined with the mining and petroleum industries to oppose Proposition 4, a clean-water measure on Alaska’s ballot. “We’re going to make sure that mines operate only safely, soundly,” Palin opined. (Prop. 4 was buried beneath industry money.)
Such claims ring familiar.
Prince William Sound fishermen began raising safety questions in the mid-1970s when the Trans-Alaska Pipeline turned Valdez into an oil port.
“The fears about damage from oil spills are like the fears of Henny Penny when she ran to tell the king that the sky was falling,” snorted the Anchorage Times, long (but no longer) the voice of Alaska boomers.
Yogi Berra put it best: It’s déjà vu all over again. As it drills wells in the Chukchi Sea, Shell Oil is delivering the same sheen of assurance to Arctic villages and native subsistence hunters.
“As a company, we could never afford an oil spill in the Arctic. We just can’t afford to have that happen,” Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil Co., said in an Anchorage speech this month.
Can we believe in enforcement and oversight, when the feds let BP off with a wrist slap?