More Exxon Valdez Cleanup Cash Sought

The Associated Press
Friday, September 1, 2006; 2:58 AM

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- State and federal authorities on Thursday demanded $92 million from ExxonMobil Corp. to clean up oil that has lingered in Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska since gushing from the Exxon Valdez tanker in 1989.

A $900 million settlement in 1991 included a "reopener" provision that allows a request for up to $100 million more in cleanup money, as long as government officials prove that wildlife or its habitat were still suffering spill-related setbacks that were unforeseen when the settlement was signed.

Along with the demand for $92 million, state and federal agencies sent Texas-based Exxon an extensive budget plan for finding and cleaning up the leftovers of the 11-million gallon spill.

Oil remains trapped beneath armor-like layers of rock and spread like pavement on some beaches, according to the recovery plan.

The letter sent Thursday is a formal follow-up to a request for the money that state and federal officials made in May.

Mark Boudreaux, a spokesman for Exxon, said about 350 studies show that the spill has left no lingering damages in the sound. Many of the studies were funded by Exxon.

"We don't believe the state has made a claim that meets all the requirements of the settlement agreement," Boudreaux said.

Government officials could take Exxon to court if the company refuses to pay, according to Craig Tillery, Alaska's deputy attorney general. Tillery would not say how long they will allow Exxon to review the request.

Environmental attorneys said they are satisfied with the way the governments are handling the reopener.

"Exxon has another chance to do the right thing. Oil from the spill has lingered longer than anyone predicted in 1991 and its environmental impacts are clear," said Anne Wilkas, who directs the environmental law group Trustees for Alaska.

About $145 million remains from the $900 million settlement. The money has gone toward helping various species recover from the spill, which killed hundreds of thousands of birds and marine animals and soiled more than 1,200 miles of rocky beach.

Population counts of myriad species, including loons, harlequin ducks and harbor seals, are still lower than they were before the spill, according to a report by the Exxon Valdez Oil Trustee Council in 2004. Others, including bald eagles, pink and sockeye salmon and river otters are considered recovered, according to the report.

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