Government Seeks Additional $92 Million from Exxon
Berman Environmental Law Clinic Petition, Student Research Sparks Action by Feds to go After Additional "Reopener" Monies
Two years ago Professor Bill Rodgers challenged his environmental law class to examine a little known clause in the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) settlement that would allow Alaska and federal government agencies to seek an additional $100 million. The clause, known as the "reopener", provided that the additional money could be sought for damages that were unforeseen or known at the time of the settlement.
Following on Rodgers' class, students in the Berman Environmental Law Clinic and Professor Michael Robinson-Dorn joined the issue. Students and faculty traveled to Alaska to inspect the spill zone and meet with members of native tribes and others still affected by the spill 17 years later. In early May 2006, several native Alaska tribes and organizations filed a petition, drafted by clinic faculty and students. The petition called for the government to consult with the tribes and organizations on the question of whether the U.S. would pursue all or a portion of the reopener funds.
Faculty and students at the law school were "thrilled" with the Department of Justice and state of Alaska's decision on June 2, 2006 to seek an additional $92 million from Exxon Mobil, Corp.
"Alaska native people believe these funds were set aside to restore their subsistence," said Rodgers, UW Stimson Bullitt Professor of Environmental Law. "Subsistence has not been restored. And, in law, if you do not ask you do not receive."
"The federal government had a moral and legal obligation to the affected tribes to seek additional damages under the reopener. I'm extremely proud of what Professor Rodgers and our clinic students have accomplished," said Robinson-Dorn, Director of the Berman Environmental Law Clinic. He noted, however, that the story is not over. Exxon has 90 days to decide whether to pay the requested amount before the government seeks to enforce the reopener, along with the questions and processes relating to how any of the money will be spent.
The mission of the Berman Environmental Law Clinic is to protect the environment in the Pacific Northwest and to train and inspire the next generation of the environmental advocates through student participation in the legal process under faculty supervision.