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Washington Watch

Alaskan Fishermen Demand "Punitive" Damages for Valdez Spill From Blameless ExxonMobil

What About All the Oil ExxonMobil Lost in that Spill? Haven’t They Suffered Enough?

The US Supreme Court Wednesday heard a case that should finally decide whether or not the 33,000 Alaskan residents affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill would receive the punitive damages that were awarded to them.

The famous spill dumped 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, fouling 1,200 miles of Alaskan coastline and leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of seabirds and marine animals.

Executives at Exxon were obviously devastated by the catastrophe, but that didn’t stop local ne’er-do-wells from turning this unfortunate accident to their own advantage: they demanded punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. Talk about kicking a guy when he’s down! Just because it was an Exxon supertanker full of Exxon fuel that happened to be captained by an Exxon employee (a known alcoholic) doesn’t mean it was Exxon’s fault.

In 1994 a jury in Alaska awarded local residents $5 billion in punitive damages. Exxon has been appealing ever since and won a major victory when an appeals court later cut the payment in half to $2.5 billion. Wednesday, the case finally made its way to the US Supreme Court.

The Supremes heard many stories of fishermen who lost their livelihoods, etc., etc.. But what about the other victims?

If the Alaskan fishermen who lost their livelihoods feel bad, how do you think ExxonMobil feels? The spill was their fault, and the guilt has been horrendous. None of the so-called “victims” of the spill - whether they are seabirds, marine life, or humans living nearby - feel the crushing sense of guilt that ExxonMobil does. Doesn’t ExxonMobil deserve something for all the suffering the Valdez spill caused them? Who’s going to pay ExxonMobil damages? Answer: nobody.

ExxonMobil posted profits of $11.7 billion in the last three months of 2007. Thus, the $2.5 billion dollar award represents three whole weeks of profit. That's right, three weeks profit (okay, slightly less than three weeks). The company would have to work an extra three weeks to pay off the 33,000 Alaskans whose livelihoods were ruined. That's just excessive.

Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson was planning on building a guesthouse, complete with swimming pool for “Margarita”, his wife’s albino Chihuahua, at his vacation ranch in Jackson, Wyoming. Needless to say, there will be no guesthouse or pool for poor Margarita if these gold-digging Alaskans have their way.

The Supreme Court’s decision is expected within the next few months.