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"
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
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.