For Immediate Release

Contact:
Shari Ireton
University of Washington School of Law

5/1/2006

Alaska Tribes Petition for Exxon Valdez Oil Spill "Reopener"

The University of Washington Berman Environment Law Clinic has announced today that several Alaska tribes and native organizations affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) petitioned the federal government asking it to collect up to $100 million in "reopener" monies.

The petition, entitled the "Reopener for Unknown Injury," calls for the government to consult with the tribes and other native organizations in Alaska on the question of whether the U.S. will pursue all or a portion of the settlement funds. The 1991 agreement settling the federal and state governments' civil claims against Exxon contains a reopener provision committing the oil company to pay up to $100 million for specific restoration projects that are necessary and cost-justified. The EVOS Trustee Council has said subsistence (the natives' way of life and use of natural resources in their diet, trade, and culture) has not recovered. 

The deadline for seeking reopener funds (by state or federal governments) is June 1, 2006. Absent a request by these two governments, reopener monies cannot be collected. The petition from the Alaskan Native tribes requests that the U.S. consult with them and "take all necessary action to secure" reopener monies for restoration projects attributable to the 1989 oil spill.

"Alaska Native people believe these funds were set aside to restore their subsistence," said William Rodgers, UW Stimson Bullit Professor of Environmental Law. "Subsistence has not been restored. And, in law, if you do not ask you do not receive."

"The federal government has a moral and legal obligation to consult with the affected tribes, and to seek additional damages under the reopener," said Michael Robinson-Dorn, law professor and Director of the Berman Environmental Law Clinic.

The mission of the Berman Environment Law Clinic is to protect the environment in the Pacific Northwest through student participation in the legal process under supervision from faculty.