Exxon Reopener Clause Decision Rests With Judge

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The issue of whether Exxon should be ordered to pay the $92 million requested under the reopener clause  provision from the 1991 settlement over the Exxon Valdez tanker spill, now rests with federal Judge Russel Holland.

On Friday, Judge Holland allowed a hearing on an amicus or friend of the court brief even though the request by retired professor Rick Steiner was on shaky legal legs. Holland allowed the hearing because he said there was great public interest in this issue, but technically Steiner had no standing to ask to be allowed to file the brief since the issue has not yet been in court. Exxon protested the attempted filing as did the state and federal governments, saying when the issue comes to court should be up to the parties involved, not Steiner. In 2006 the governments asked for 92 of the 100 million allowed in the reopener. Holland denied Steiner’s filing, but state law department spokesman Bill McAllister says he did ask for an update on the reopener’s status. McAllister says science is being collected.

Rick Steiner says it’s time to stop studying and take action.

In addition to requesting he be allowed to join the case with his amicus filing, Steiner also asked judge Holland to rescind the $125 million in criminal fines that the court gave back to Exxon in 1991 because it appeared the corporation would act in good faith and pay to restore Prince William Sound. Steiner says Exxon has not been a good corporate citizen because it refused to pay the reopener and because of an infamous case known as ‘the Seattle Seven’ which brought to light attempts at secretive kick backs to Exxon from Seattle processors from punitive damages.

Judge Holland dismissed the amicus filing, but Steiner says that’s fine.

The states’ McAllister says it’s been mischaracterized that Exxon says it will not pay the reopener because during the court proceedings it was revealed that Exxon and the governments have been in negotiations about it. But Exxon Mobile spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman says because the purpose of the reopener clause was to pay for any unforeseen damage to Prince William Sound there’s no devastation to invoke the provision for.

Bergman says the crash of the herring fishery two years after the spill has not been proven to be linked to the spill. Bergman says that means the governments can’t ask for more money.

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