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Wednesday, March 19, 2008 01:40 am

A reason to despise Big Oil

Exxon still fighting, 20 years after it ruined Prince William Sound

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Untitled Document How time flies. For example, think back to 1989. Hillary Clinton was the obscure first lady of Arkansas. Roger Clemens was pitching for the Boston Red Sox and had never even heard of steroids. And the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, causing the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Nineteen years later, Exxon has merged into ExxonMobil, and it has prospered enormously, banking $40 billion in profits last year alone — the richest year for any corporation in history. Back at Prince William Sound, however, the picture is not so rosy, for Exxon’s malfeasance devastated the ecology, the economy, and thousands of lives. In an area that depends on fishing, the waters are still polluted with some 85 tons of Exxon crude. Herring — which was the main catch for local fishing families, accounting for half of the yearly income for many of them — has essentially been wiped out by the spill. The economic stress has led to bankruptcies, divorces, and suicides. Meanwhile, ExxonMobil has deployed a battalion of $600-an-hour lawyers to stiff the locals, keeping the people’s lawsuit stalled in America’s pro-corporate court system. Nearly two decades ago a jury awarded $5 billion in punitive damages to some 33,000 victims of Exxon’s spill, yet the oil giant has not paid a penny of it. In various appeals courts the corporation got the sum cut in half — and its lawyers are now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce the penalty to absolute zero. ExxonMobil is pulling every legal trick to avoid a punishment that would amount to only three weeks’ worth of its 2007 profits — and Exxon’s top executives, living in luxury 3,000 miles away, wonder why people despise Big Oil.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.
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