Alaska Governor Urges Legislature to Approve Spill Settlement
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) _ Gov. Walter J. Hickel urged lawmakers to ratify his administration’s settlement of the Exxon Valdez oil-spill litigation and ″put this tragedy behind us.″
In a speech Thursday night to a joint session of the Legislature, the governor described a two-month effort to reach agreement with Exxon Corp. and several federal agencies.
The settlement, announced Wednesday, will require Exxon to pay $900 million over 11 years to complete the cleanup and restoration of Prince William Sound. The waterway was polluted with nearly 11 million gallons of oil when the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground two years ago this month.
Exxon also will pay a record $100 million fine for four environmental crimes in connection with the nation’s worst oil spill.
Hickel said millions of dollars already had been spent on attorneys, as money to continue the cleanup and restoration was becoming more scarce. The settlement will provide millions of dollars far sooner than would taking the case to court, he said.
″If we had chosen to pursue a long legal battle, it may have taken six, eight years. The maximum settlement we could have achieved was probably in the range of three to 500 million dollars.″
Hickel said he was confident the Legislature would approve the pact.
At a news conference after the speech, leaders of the House Democratic majority said the Legislature will study the agreement carefully. But they indicated it probably will be approved.
″We’d have to weigh the agony of continuing to flail away at this issue,″ said House Speaker Ben Grussendorf of Sitka. ″You get to the point where most people would like to see it put behind them.″
Hearings on the settlement are scheduled to begin soon.
″The psychological aspect is no small item - to have it behind us,″ said Rep. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell and House minority leader.
Although legislators suggested the agreement will be approved, they are likely to contest several provisions. A key issue is whether it violates the state constitution by dedicating the future use of state money.
The settlement money will go into a fund that will be administered by a panel of state and federal trustees. After approving the pact, the Legislature will have no control over how the money is spent.
″A lot of that money is basically out of the decision making of the state of Alaska,″ Grussendorf said. ″That’s one of the things that bother me.″
Attorney General Charles Cole said the federal Clean Water Act dictates how the money must be spent, and the money will not go into the state treasury.