Hard Aground, Exxon Valdez: Legacy of a Spill, Legacy of an Oil Spill: 10 Years after the Exxon Valdez Symposium
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JUNEAU - The Knowles administration and attorneys general from three dozen states and territories Thursday urged Exxon Corp. to pay a $5 billion court-ordered judgment for damages caused by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Exxon responded Thursday that it believes the punitive damage verdict is "unjust and excessive" and plans to keep fighting it.
The National Association of Attorneys General delivered a letter to Exxon chairman Lee Raymond saying Exxon should stop appealing the judgment and pay the 40,000 individuals, governments and others, as ordered by a federal jury in 1994.
Alaska Attorney General Bruce Botelho signed the letter.
He said he and attorneys general from Pacific Coast states of Washington, Oregon and California asked their colleagues to endorse the letter during a meeting of the association Wednesday, the 10th anniversary of the spill, in Washington, D.C.
"I consulted with the governor before this letter was circulated to the membership, and I had his full support to sign this letter and to urge my colleagues to sign on," Botelho said.
"We recognize that it is part of a larger effort," he said. "Perhaps this along with other pronouncements will cause management at Exxon to again evaluate ... its corporate strategy in dealing with the Exxon Valdez."
Exxon said in a statement that it has voluntarily paid more than $300 million to more than 11,000 people and businesses directly damaged by the March 24, 1989, oil spill in Prince William Sound. The company also noted it agreed to a $1 billion settlement with Alaska and the federal government over the spill in 1991.
Exxon has appealed the separate punitive damages award, and the matter is pending before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Exxon is exercising a fundamental right to appeal these damages, a right to which every American individual and company is entitled," Exxon said. "This is a core value of our judicial system, which any AG should understand and support."
The attorneys general said in their letter that Exxon is earning $400 million in interest for each year it delays paying the punitive damages judgment.
"Each year, many of the individuals who have been awaiting compensation die, and many continue to live in dire economic straits," the attorneys general wrote. "Exxon must do the right thing and honor its obligations to the people its action has injured."
Exxon said it hopes to have the entire punitive damages award overturned, not delayed.
"Any contention that Exxon is abusing the legal process by exercising its constitutional right of appeal is a very dangerous precedent for all persons who believe in the rule of law," the company said.
Oil spill activists have urged the Knowles administration to challenge Exxon's pending merger with Mobil Corp. if the damages aren't paid. Botelho said he and other members of the attorneys general association agreed they shouldn't try to make the damage payment dispute into a merger issue.
* Reporter Robert Kowalski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org