Government Using Alaskan Experiences to Deal with Spill Fallout

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

As the US Congress grapples with how to best deal with the fallout from the Gulf of

Mexico BP oil blowout, they’re calling upon the lessons learned in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez spill. The Senate Judiciary Committee took testimony on Tuesday from a former Prince William Sound fisherman. Joseph Banta grew up in Cordova in a fishing family, but as he prepared for the spring herring fishery in 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground and dumped 11 million gallons of oil in the Sound. He says his family no longer fishes, and he’s now a senior project manager with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, which was set up in the wake of the spill. Banta told the Judiciary Committee that the two decades it took to work through the lawsuits surrounding the spill took a heavy toll on the victims.

One third of the original 32,000 plaintiffs died before final settlement and payment. Banta warned the senators that as damages are assessed, it can take years to discover the full extent of an oil spill’s impacts. He says the class action lawsuit ended in Alaska before the fallout was fully known.

Along-side Banta, Brian O’Neill testified about the legal end of the case. He was a lead attorney for the fishermen, Alaska natives, and cities.

Democratic Senator Al Franken from Minnesota asked O’Neill if the Supreme Court made an ‘activist decision’ when they dropped the payment from 5 billion dollars to $500 million. O’Neill said it did seem like an arbitrary decision.

Only a handful of Senators- and only one Republican- attended the hearing. Democrats, Republicans, and different committees in Congress are hammering out bills to deal with the BP blowout – including one introduced by Democratic leaders on Tuesday that’s tied to an energy bill.

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