Thursday, June 26, 2008

Injustice in Action: the Exxon Valdez judgment

The Supreme Court has ruled on Exxon's appeal.  I'm unhappy, to say the least.  Everything I understand about justice and tikkun olam is completely violated.  

This case has been long and drawn-out, and unpleasant at all turns.  The oil spill happened in 1989.  In 1994, Exxon was ordered to pay $5 billion in punitive damages, as well as some $500 million for compensatory damages, to cover the cleanup costs.  They appealed, and the punitive award was reduced by half.  I know that the State of Alaska appealed, at some point, on a matter of law, and I don't remember how that fits in.  I do know that Exxon appealed to the Supreme Court, and if I remember correctly, the State was not allowed to be a party to the suit.  In the end, Exxon was ordered to pay $507.5 million dollars in punitive damages, setting a new precedent for limiting punitive damages in maritime cases.

I read that CNN is reporting that the 32,000 claimants will each receive $15,000 I don't know where CNN got that figure.  That's not what Alaskan news is reporting.  They're saying that the average claimant is going to get about $3,000, and many will get nothing at all.  The damages aren't being divided equally; there's a formula, based on a points system, I believe.  Each claimant got a certain number of points based on how much their income was dependent upon Prince William Sound and its fisheries, and how much impact the oil spill had on their bottom lines.

It is completely unacceptable that they will pay only 10% of what their original punitive damages judgement was in 1994.  For all the people whose livelihoods were affected, it just doesn't seem enough.  It is not ethical to argue that giving people what they are due is too much.  I can guarantee that most lost far more than $3,000, especially over the course of the years it has taken, and will continue to take, to renew the destroyed ecosystem.

It amazes me that, even with the interest accrued in the nearly two decades since, Exxon will mail the checks to everybody within about three months.  About one billion dollars' worth of the mail, no problem.  That's wealth for you.  I also feel like it completely undermines their argument that the $2.5 billion bill was excessive.  It doesn't seem like an undue hardship to me.

A few tiny little good things came out of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  I remember that day, about as well as someone who was 8 years old at the time can remember.  I was very angry, and the incident inspired me to make my first protest poster.  It had a broken boat on it, a big black splotch, and a bird with X's for eyes.  It said FIRE EXXON, because I thought that meant they'd go out of business.  I was a tiny tree hugger, even then.  I also remember thinking that their negligence was unethical, even though I didn't know those words at the time, it was part of the reason I thought they needed to lose their job.
Another was that my dad made a great deal of money repairing equipment being used for the cleanup effort that summer.  My family was very grateful for that.  The only other good thing I can think of is that my dad was stationed in Seward, which is a beautiful town my family still returns to with great frequency.


tikkunger said...


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I think it might be right up your alley.

futurejew said...