The victims of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and resulting 20-year legal battle are beginning to receive their punitive damage payments from the Exxon corporation. Many in the press are painting this milestone as the bittersweet end to a long story of woe. But—because justice has been delayed by decades and the compensation was cut by a Corporate Supreme Court to a fraction of actual damages, this milestone marks only another slap in the face for the fishermen and women who depended on a healthy Prince William Sound, the communities along the coast whose economies depended on the healthy fishing industry, and the environmental well-being of the sound itself—which were it not for a criminally negligent corporation and our dependence on a toxic fuel source, would still be healthy.
The LA Times recently ran a story about Exxon checks in which they quote Dr. Riki Ott, author of Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Riki was a commercial “fisherma’am” in Prince William Sound on the day of the spill, and has been fighting on behalf of the devastated communities along the effected coastline ever since. In her book, Riki recounts her long battle, the progress she and her community has made, and the solutions for preventing future destruction of the environment and our democracy.
From the article:
A little less than 20 years ago, Mike Webber was king of his own watery world. He was 28 years old, with three herring fishing boats. He leased another long-line boat for halibut, and gill-netted the fat salmon that made Prince William Sound one of the most legendary fisheries in the world.
Then came the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Overnight, it was all gone: Fish prices plummeted. People started selling their fishing permits to pay their mortgages, and then lost their houses anyway. Salmon rebounded, but the $12-million-a-year herring fishery all but disappeared.
On Friday, Webber and more than 200 other residents of this rain-soaked fishing town began getting the first round of punitive damage payments from ExxonMobil, closing the book on one of the nation’s most epic battles over environmental destruction and corporate responsibility.Over the next year, more than 32,000 plaintiffs from around the globe who once made their living fishing in and around Prince William Sound will collect their shares of the $507.5 million ExxonMobil was ordered to pay. The corporation spent nearly two decades appealing an initial $5-billion court order.
“My heart’s not into receiving this money because, in reality, we’re getting nothing,” Webber said. “Even if we got the full $5 billion, we still wouldn’t come close to what we would have made in 20 years of fishing.” Webber said he will get about $180,000, compared to the $2.5 million he might have received under the initial judgment.
“One good thing is that this case is coming to an end… . It’s been an open sore,” Webber said. “But are we going to be able to heal from it? I don’t know.”
The first claims being paid this week cover 13 of the roughly 50 categories of claimants, mainly salmon fishermen with no complications in their claims and no liens by creditors filed against them. In the end, the average award will be about $15,000.
“We’re a bunch of hungry dogs out here getting a very small bone, where at one point we thought we were going to get a nice, big steak,” said Frank Mullen, 58, a salmon fisherman from Homer, Alaska.
“For a company that made $40 billion last year, $500 million is what? Two days, three days’ profit?” said Cordova’s mayor, Timothy Joyce, a fisheries biologist for the U.S. Forest Service.
The money is so little, and so late in coming, that some have suggested holding out for a new lawsuit, based on newer scientific evidence demonstrating far greater long-term harm to the environment.
“I’ve talked to a small subset of people who say, ‘What if I don’t sign my check? It’s a slap in the face, this amount of money. What if we refuse it, and keep our case open?’ ” said Riki Ott, an oil pollution scientist and fisherman who has spent years advocating for the Exxon Valdez victims and has written two books on the spill.
“These are questions I hope to get framed in a way to present to lawyers, and get some answers.”
It should also be noted that the article states that 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Sound. Eleven-million is Exxon’s estimate. Independent research firms put the number closer to 38 million gallons.
Here’s a video showing how those 11 to 38 million gallons of crude oil are affecting the environment today.