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Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: Exxon Mobil Scores Key Victory In Alaska Case

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EXXON VALDEZ
An oil-soaked bird is examined in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, 1989. | AP

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Exxon Mobil Corp. has won a round in a dispute with environmentalists who want more money to clean up oil left on the shoreline of Prince William Sound from the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill.

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland ruled Monday against a request from former University of Alaska marine science professor Rick Steiner. Steiner had filed a motion trying to force the oil company to pay a $92 million claim filed in 2006 by the state and federal governments.

Government lawyers are waiting for studies on the remaining oil and the effectiveness of cleanup techniques before pursuing the claim, the Anchorage Daily News reported Tuesday.

"The court urges the governments and their trustees to proceed with all possible speed to complete studies that are under way and any necessary evaluation which they may require," Holland wrote.

Exxon says it doesn't have any obligation to pay more. The Irving, Texas, company paid $900 million in restitution in a 1991 settlement. But the settlement also had a "reopener" clause allowing the state and federal governments to later claim up to $100 million more from Exxon if there were unforeseen damages.

Steiner argued at a hearing Friday that the judge should force Exxon to pay the money immediately with interest, along with criminal fines. The judge ruled that Steiner didn't have standing to try and force a resolution and declined to do so himself.

Steiner said after Monday's ruling that he thinks the reopener clause was an empty promise made in 1991 to gain public support for the settlement with Exxon.

"It was a profound and unconscionable betrayal of public trust. If the governments now will not aggressively pursue it, which they have been clear they will not, then what can the court, or a third party intervener, do?" he said. "The real victim here is Prince William Sound itself, and the rest of the injured environment."

Government lawyers said they are "committed to doing good science," and that the result of studies on the oil could affect how much money they end up pursuing from Exxon.

Exxon says there's little oil remaining.

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Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com

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