Compass: ExxonMobil still owes a bill for '89 spill

On Feb. 20 of this year, Capt. Dave Janka of the Auklet sent images to me which had been taken a few days earlier on Eleanor and Knight islands in Prince William Sound. They showed 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, or EVOS, oil still present, and still capable of affecting plant and wildlife almost 25 years later.

I should be amazed that the oil is still here, that the 1991 EVOS settlement was not completed, and that Exxon never "made Prince William Sound whole" as it had promised within hours of the disaster. But I'm not; not after a quarter century of watching this corporation spend untold amounts of time, effort and money on not paying what it owes the nation, this state and Alaskans.

The attempts to avoid responsibility by ExxonMobil corporation have gone beyond insulting, especially considering that many of the original plaintiffs have since died, and the generational fishing families have been disenfranchised. Only 13 of the 32 monitored resources, and associated resources services, are considered to be "recovered" or "likely recovered" as listed by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council in its Status of Injured Resources and Services report (May 2010.)

"Not recovered" species include Pacific herring, the lifeblood of the ecosystem and source of a formerly lucrative fishery, the AT1 transient orca pod, and the pigeon guillemot.

The 1991 EVOS settlement agreement included a provision titled "Reopener for Unknown Injury" that allowed the state and federal governments to submit a claim for up to $100 million for damages not foreseen at the time of settlement. The federal government stood neutral, and after a sustained effort to prod the state by fishermen, community members and advocacy groups including Prince William Soundkeeper, the state submitted a $92 million claim in 2006. ExxonMobil has refused to pay for over seven years and the Palin and Parnell administrations have never sought reparation.

On Feb. 19 of this year, state Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, introduced SJR 25, which urges the state and federal governments to finally stand up to ExxonMobil's stonewalling and file a motion in U.S. District Court to compel the payment. The resolution further urges the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council immediately to initiate subsurface lingering oil restoration work.

Thanks to Sen. Gardner for introducing SJR 25 to the Alaska State Legislature. I sincerely hope that the 2014 Legislature will fight on our side in asking ExxonMobil to fulfill its legal obligation and support the effort to continue oil spill restoration work in Prince William Sound.

Kate McLaughlin is president and executive director of Prince William Soundkeeper, a nonprofit advocacy organization that aims to preserve water quality in Prince William Sound for all users.