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Exxon still owes Alaska over spill; it's time our leaders stood up for us

A year ago I wrote to the Anchorage Daily News in support of Senate Joint Resolution 25, which asked the state and U.S. government to compel ExxonMobil Corp. to honor its commitment, and court-mandated ruling, in the 1991 Re-Opener Clause of the Exxon Valdez oil spill settlement.

It's been nine years since the state attorney general under Gov. Frank Murkowski found that, "After extensive review, it is clear that populations and habitat within the spill area have suffered substantial and unanticipated injuries that are attributable to the Exxon Valdez oil spill," and the state presented jointly with the U.S. government to ExxonMobil a demand for payment of $92,240,982.

ExxonMobil ignored the request. And the Palin and Parnell administrations did not feel pressuring ExxonMobil to pay what the courts ordered was a priority, or a subject that was even important to bring up. With few exceptions our state legislators seemed to agree. Eight years later, Sen. Berta Gardner introduced SJR 25, reminding the Legislature of their responsibility. SJR 25 was ignored until it died without ever seeing the light of an open committee discussion and vote. That's how important our legislators feel this issue is to them.

I could use this space to state again the amount of known lingering oil, or the untold amount that went straight to the bottom. I could list the unrecovered resources and talk about the communities that are still being impacted a quarter of a century after the spill. I could talk about recent herring research showing continued ill-effects from hydrocarbon exposure, or point out how long and hard ExxonMobil has fought (successfully) to reduce fines and avoid payment while enjoying record profits. It's the cost of doing business, written off, while they drag things along for decades with appeals and backroom deals.

Am I being too cynical? I don't think so, especially when I look at New Jersey. New Jersey has spent the last 11 years in litigation with ExxonMobil over egregious environmental contamination of water resources. In the last days of the case, where the settlement was expected to be $9 billion for cleanup and restoration, Gov. Chris Christie had his attorney general step in and halt the court's decision. The governor then ordered the state to drop the suit and accept a settlement of $180 million. The New Jersey Legislature is filing suit after public outcry grew too loud over this nefarious deal.

Where is Alaska's outrage? The state of Alaska and federal government has a legal obligation to collect the long-overdue payment -- and this is exactly what SJR 25, and this year's House Joint Resolution 12 is asking to do. Rep. Andy Josephson introduced HJR 12 because he acknowledges the state's responsibility, as should the rest of our legislators. As a former mayor of Valdez, the port from which the Exxon Valdez left before running aground on Bligh Reef, Gov. Bill Walker should also understand just how important and necessary HJR 12 is as well.

The citizens of Alaska have until 2016 to demand what is our due. If we allow time to run out, ExxonMobil will once again walk away from their responsibility. Let Gov.Walker and your legislative representatives know we haven't forgotten that ExxonMobil, the state of Alaska and the U.S. government are failing their task to ensure Alaskans receive our just legal reparation.

Kate McLaughlin is executive director of Prince William Soundkeeper.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com

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