Nineteen years ago the Exxon Valdez crashed into the shoreline of Alaska’s Prince William Sound spilling 11 million gallons of oil into pristine waters and ruining 1200 miles of coastline. Local residents and fisherman sued and an angry jury told Exxon to cough up $5 billion in damages. An appeals court cut that in half.
But yesterday, the Supreme Court, perhaps feeling sorry for a company that made $40 billion last year, cut Exxon’s bill down to just $500 million. With 20 years interest the real payout will be close to a billion. For Exxon, that’s about eight days worth of profits.
Even more shocking, $100 million of that money will go right back to Exxon. The company made a side deal with seven large fish processors in 1991, paying them $70 million for their share of the damages the courts would eventual deliver.
How is the rest of the money split up? According to the Anchorage Daily News, native villages will receive four percent of the take. Lawyers will get 22 percent. Forty nine percent goes to affected fishing companies who split the award based on the size of their business. By example, fisherman in Cook’s Inlet will receive $160,000 on average per permit.
Exxon claims they have already shelled out $3.4 billion in penalties, clean up costs and damages. Businesses are especially happy with this ruling because it appears to limit the amount of damages juries can award in maritime cases.
Photo: Gray Whale Succumbs to Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, Latoucha Island, Alaska (John Gaps III / AP)