Court supports Exxon, screws Alaska

by Jim Longworth

Last week, the US Supreme Court once again showed its support for greedy corporations by allowing Exxon-Mobil to skirt its responsibility to thousands of residents of Prince William Sound who have been waiting nearly two decades for relief from the worst oil spill in US history.

The decision was just one more nail in the coffin for our environment, and it was hammered into place by a court that generally rubber-stamps most of George Bush’s pro-oil agenda.The next president will likely make several appointments to the Supreme Court, and if Sen. John McCain wins the White House, we can expect more of the same from the judicial branch. After all, McCain’s solution to our current energy crisis is to let big oil companies like Exxon-Mobil drill off US shores. These are the same companies that once helped to destroy the electric-car industry in California, and have made record profits on the backs of consumers who are now paying over $4 a gallon for gasoline.And so, the Valdez decision last week should serve as a wake-up call for Americans to keep McCain as far away from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. as possible come January.

Politics aside, though, it should be noted that an entire generation of Americans was born after the historic mishap, so allow me to review what happened and where we stand.

On March 29, 1989, Exxon’s oil tanker Valdez struck a reef and spewed 11 million gallons of crude into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Twelve-hundred miles of shoreline were soiled, hundreds of thousands of birds and marine life were killed and commercial fishing ceased to exist as a viable industry in the region.

The Valdez skipper was faulted for being drunk on the job, but a jury also found that Exxon was to blame for not having employed an adequate crew.

After an 83 day trial in 1994, the jury awarded $287 million in actual damages and $5 billion in punitive damages to be divided equally among 33,000 plaintiffs, which included 14,000 commercial fishermen.

From that point on, Exxon’s strategy was to wait their victims out. It was a strategy that paid off.

In 2006 the punitive award was cut in half (to $2.5 billion) by an appellate court and, last week, the Supremes reduced that to $500 million.

Today 85 tons of oil still linger in the once-pristine Prince William Sound, and none of the plaintiffs have received a dime in damages. Many of them never will because nearly one third of Exxon’s victims have died.

Last week’s court ruling was a great victory for Exxon-Mobil, who proved that if you just keep stalling and appealing, and waiting for a conservative political climate, you can get off scot free for destroying an entire eco system.

So to you younger readers who wonder why some of us old fogies refuse to buy Exxon gasoline, now you know.It is our way of continuing to protest against a corrupt corporate giant by boycotting its products.Last week’s Supreme Court ruling has only strengthened our resolve in that regard.