Federal judge refuses to order additional Exxon Valdez payment

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Alaska refused March 7 to order ExxonMobil to pay an additional $92 million in damages from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Under a 1991 settlement agreement, Exxon paid $900 million in civil damages. The US and Alaskan government sought in 2006 to reopen the settlement agreement, saying more money was needed to clean up the crude oil that was still tainting Prince William Sound. Environmental activist Rick Steiner had filed a motion seeking court intervention to bring the re-opener process to a close. Judge H. Russel Holland, who has presided over much of the litigation stemming from 1989 spill, found that the US and Alaskan governments appeared to be close to reaching an agreement with ExxonMobil, refusing to order the payment.

In 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that ExxonMobil owes interest on the more than $500 million in punitive damages awarded against it following the spill. The US Supreme Court declined to rule on the issue the previous year, thus remanding it to the Ninth Circuit. In June 2008, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 to reduce a punitive damages award to be paid by Exxon from $2.5 billion to $500 million, but did not rule on the issue of interest. In December 2006, the Ninth Circuit reduced Exxon’s original $5 billion punitive damage award by more than $2 billion, ruling that the award was excessive in light of a 2003 Supreme Court finding that punitive damages must be reasonable and proportionate to the harm incurred, and also considering Exxon’s cleanup and compensation efforts. The Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound and contaminated about 1,300 miles of coastline.

From Jurist, March 8. Used with permission.

The ruling comes the same day that a federal judge in New York City issued an injunction barring enforcement of an Ecuadoran judgment against Chevron for pollution of large areas of the Amazon rainforest.

See our last posts on Alaska, the politics of oil spills, and petro-oligarchical rule.