Activists Want Exxon-Mobil Deal Stalled Over Spill

Friday, August 27, 1999
A group of activists have proposed that the merger of Exxon and Mobil be halted until Exxon pays a $5 billion court-ordered settlement to thousands of people affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The appeal was linked to the oil spill's 10th anniversary on March 24 and the start of the 16th biennial International Oil Spill Conference in Seattle. The event is sponsored by the USCG, EPA, IMO and International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association. Washington Republican Sen. Slade Gorton said in a videotaped statement to the conference he opposed the Exxon-Mobil merger until the punitive-damage settlement to thousands of fishermen, small business owners and Alaska Natives was paid. Gorton, whose state is home to 6,500 plaintiffs in the case, said Exxon must resolve "unfinished business" by paying up before it should be allowed to become the world's largest corporation. Exxon and Mobil announced in December they had reached an agreement to combine in the largest corporate merger in history. The $180 billion merger is subject to regulatory approval. In a 1994 civil trial, a U.S. District Court jury ordered Exxon to pay a $5 billion punitive fine and $287 million in compensation to commercial salmon and herring fishermen affected by the disaster in Prince Williams Sound. In a statement on the 10th anniversary of the worst oil spill in U.S. history, Exxon claimed it had already paid all actual damages from the 11-million gallon spill and was appealing the $5 billion punitive damage award as "unjust and excessive." According to Gorton, Exxon earns $400 million a year in interest on money set aside for the disputed oil spill settlement. The company spent $2.2 billion on cleanup, completed in 1992. While Exxon conceded Prince William Sound may not be "exactly" as it was before the spill, it said there is no long-term damage and the ecosystem is "healthy, robust and thriving." The citizens' group said while the Sound is recovering, new studies show that pink salmon and other species exposed to the oil are not reproducing normally.

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