No Further Valdez Damages Sought
DOJ now reports that harlequin ducks and sea otters that had appeared vulnerable to the lingering oil have recovered to pre-spill population levels and are no longer exposed to oil more than populations outside the spill area.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the Alaska Department of Law announced Oct. 15 they are ending the federal and state legal actions against ExxonMobil Corporation over the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. They made the announcement more than 24 years after U.S. District Court Judge Russel Holland on Oct. 8, 1991, approved a plea agreement resolving criminal charges against Exxon Corporation and Exxon Shipping and a settlement agreement between Exxon and the United States and the state of Alaska resolving all civil claims pertaining to the spill. The company paid $125 million for a criminal fine and restitution and agreed to pay the governments $900 million over 10 years to reimburse past costs and fund the restoration of injured natural resources.
The federal and state governments now have decided to withdraw their 2006 request to Exxon to fund bio-restoration of subsurface lingering oil patches.
Nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled after the Valdez went aground and the oil contaminated some 1,500 miles of Alaska's coastline.
Since 1991, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council composed of representatives from both governments has used civil settlement monies for significant restoration efforts and, due to income earned on the settlement funds, has more than $200 million available for future restoration work.
The 1991 consent decree included a "Reopener for Unknown Injury" provision allowing the governments to seek up to an additional $100 million if they later found substantial losses or declines in populations, habitats, or species that could not have been anticipated at the time of the settlement. DOJ now reports that harlequin ducks and sea otters that had appeared vulnerable to the lingering oil have recovered to pre-spill population levels and are no longer exposed to oil more than populations outside the spill area, adding that the governments and the trustee agencies – the U.S. Forest Service, Interior, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Alaska Department of Law – have concluded the legal requirements for pursuing a Reopener claim are no longer met.
"Our decision today highlights the trustees' commitment to excellent science and the success of their restoration efforts since the spill," said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The Reopener in our settlement with Exxon was unique and set a high bar for recovery of additional damages. Together with our partners in the Alaska Department of Law, we preserved a potential Reopener claim and investigated it to its logical end. Our action today allows us to celebrate all that has been accomplished in Prince William Sound since the spill."