With bad memories of Exxon Valdez aftermath, Congress taking harder line over BP oil spill

WASHINGTON — “You have my word we will make you whole again,” Exxon executive Don Cornett told the victims of the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska 21 years ago.

More than two decades of legal wrangling and stalling later, the final settlement checks were written. At least 6,000 of the original 32,000 plaintiffs died waiting for their checks, and CBS News reported that a further 8,000 faced liens against the money when it was distributed.

Similar language followed the BP oil spill, with CEO Tony Hayward assuring affected parties that they, too, would be made whole.

This time, however, lawmakers, citing Exxon, aren’t exactly taking his word for it.

“One of the lessons we’ve learned from Exxon is that if you want to get compensation, you’ve got to get it right away,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar as she reiterated demands that BP set up a compensation fund for spill victims. Most requests have been in the $20 billion vicinity, though the fund amount has yet to be finalized.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich said he’s working on a legislative response that will become a “situation not just for today but for the future” to deal with compensation from “catastrophic disasters” as well as smaller ones.

“If [BP] sets this up voluntarily, that’s great,” Begich said. “What I’m suggesting is that we’re going to codify that going forward.”

Under Begich’s still-to-be-drafted legislation, the secretary of the Interior would determine the amount of the compensation fund and companies responsible for spills would be required to set that money aside.

On the House side, more than 30 members, including Minnesota’s Keith Ellison and Tim Walz, have signed a letter addressed to Hayward that requests BP dividend payouts not go to shareholders but instead into an escrow compensation fund.

“President Obama and 54 members of the U.S. Senate have called for the establishment of an independently administered $20 billion escrow account, which would be available to cover cleanup costs and economic damages,” the lawmakers wrote. “We join them in their request and further call on BP to divert future dividend payments to this account until such time that all cleanup and compensation costs are fully covered.”

Obama is expected to raise the issue tonight in his Oval Office address to the nation, as well as in a meeting Wednesday with BP executives.

“What’s important to the president as it relates to the claims process is that they’re handled fairly, promptly, and that BP has enough money to make these folks whole who have been hurt so much by the spill,” White House spokesman Bill Burton said.

Still unknown is whether, like the Exxon settlement money, payouts from any compensation fund would be taxable. Victims of that spill, some of whom will never cash their checks because of liens against their awards, have suggested taxable damages are akin to adding insult to injury.

“I don’t know that we have focused on the nuances of that yet,” Klobuchar said, adding that the most important thing right now is that the money be set aside quickly.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Merle Savage on 06/15/2010 - 08:23 pm.

    http://www.urbanconservancy.org/letters/gulf-coast-cleanup-caution-urged

    The continuing health problems of people involved in cleanup of the Exxon Valdez spill present urgent lessons for the Gulf cleanup crews. http://www.lvrj.com/news/exxon-valdez-oil-risks-spur-warning-for-gulf-cleanup-crews-93258964.html

    My name is Merle Savage, a female general foreman during the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) beach cleanup in 1989, and one of the 11,000+ cleanup workers, who is suffering from health issues from that toxic cleanup, without compensation from Exxon.

    Dr. Riki Ott visited me in 2007 to explain about the toxic spraying on the beaches. She also informed me that Exxon’s medical records, and the reports that surfaced in litigation by sick workers in 1994, had been sealed from the public, making it impossible to hold Exxon responsible for their actions.

    Exxon developed the toxic spraying; OSHA, the Coast Guard, and the state of Alaska authorized the procedure. Beach crews breathed in crude oil that splashed off the rocks and into the air — the toxic exposure turned into chronic breathing conditions, central nervous system problems, neurological impairment, chronic respiratory disease, leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors, liver damage, and blood disease. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5632208859935499100

    My web site is devoted to searching for EVOS cleanup workers who were exposed to the toxic spraying, and are suffering from the same illnesses that I have. There is an on going Longshoreman’s claim for workers with medical problems from the oil cleanup. Our summer employment turned into a death sentence for many — and a life of unending medical conditions for the rest of Exxon’s Collateral Damaged. http://www.silenceinthesound.com/stories.shtml

  2. Submitted by Dwight baker on 06/16/2010 - 11:41 am.

    THINGS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF THE BRITS
    BY Dwight Baker
    June 16, 2010
    Dbaker007@stx.rr.com
    http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKTRE64U0OW20100616?feedType=nl&feedName=uktopnewsmid
    MY TAKE 1-2
    I am not surprised the Brits want to protect their meal ticket that BP has seen clear to do for them and many others for some time by paying huge dividends. Yet for some of them to call the Kettle Black is a far cry from being civil at this time. And because of that the article in Reuters offends me and maybe you too.

    I have been a staunch advocate for the RIGHT and ONLY OIL and GAS SANE WAY to fix the blown out well and my record is clear about that. I have called to task BP many times and the same for the Obama Administration in total for their inane —laying behind the log—-way to allow the free press to wonder off in all kinds of directions for most of us did not have the low down and dirty laundry of the blow out.

    I stepped higher than most and studied all I had at my disposal and read between the lines purging out the lies At the end of 400 hours I had finally arrived at my oil and gas engineering conclusion some time before May 13, 2010, when I sent BP Investors Relations my creative patent pending ideas called TAME NATURE with an overshot.

    I later found out from friend in engineering oil and gas I missed the con that BP had going on for those who had ideas. The con was by using their PDF form to send the suggestions in it was for free gratis.
    Thus I have stood behind my plans for they are the only way to fix the problem that is causing a deep rift between our British friends and us. Because of that seemed abyss I believe in the end the truth will separate the men from the boys. Meaning oil and gas –men early on in their basic training skills learned from the bottoms up know that all must respect Mother Nature or all will surely all die. But with a tear in my eye I remember hearing and reading of the calls that went out that night on the Deep Horizon as the men cried out to each other and the bosses this is going to kick our ass and Mother Nature did. My GOD forbids such insane acts.

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