Exxon gets a break

Posted by in World Inc.

Aerial of oil spill

Again, score one for the corporations and zero for the people. Today’s broadcast of Democracy Now is providing in-depth coverage of the news that Exxon has been handed a gift by the US Supreme Court: it no longer is required to pay back the $5 Billion in punitive damages that a jury ordered it to pay after its 1989 spill on the Alaskan coastline (1200 miles to be exact). I visited the coast of British Columbia in the winter of 1989 to pitch in and help clean up the oil-soaked beaches. I remember seeing globules and puddles of oil all over the sand. I also remember seeing two super-sized dumpsters full of oily and very dead seabirds. I took photos and did a story for my student paper at Vanier Highschool in Courtenay.

Back then the story was that it was an isolated incident involving a drunk captain. Today we know that there is much more to the story of how a rapacious, profit-mad oil giant dumped 11 million barrels of crude oil into a delicate ecosystem that resulted in the worst ecological disaster in America’s history. Faulty equipment, negligence and typical corporate corner-cutting are responsible for the spill. The ship had no functional radar, and while the drunk captain slept off his booze-up below deck, the seaman steering the tanker had no indication they were bearing on the jagged reef that would pierce the ship’s single hull (another cut corner: no double hull for protection from leaks).

So maybe we should stop telling Exxon we don’t care about oil spills. By conspicuously consuming massive quantities of oil for frivilous and downright STUPID reasons such as bottled water and plastic grocery bags, we are saying WE LOVE YOU OIL CORPORATIONS, and we’re showing our love through our purchase of products that need petroleum to exist. 16 million plastic water bottles are thrown away in the US every year. Less than 3 percent are recycled. Not only does it take 20 million barrels of crude (nearly double the Exxon spill) to produce these bottles each year, but they end up in our landfills, and in our ecosystem. When I was in Vancouver recently I saw 12 packs of Nestle (largest supplier of bottled tap water) water bottles for 4 dollars. I told my friend that it should be illegal, that there should be government regulations to prevent the selling of bottled water for so cheap. Whether these are restrictions around extraction, production, or retail, they need to be put in place.

Yes, I am an eco-fascist. That is because I believe fighting the info-war for the consciences of citizens everywhere is not enough. We need policy that forces our hands away from consumption and away from lining the pockets of the Exxon’s out there with riches just guaranteed to them in today’s ruling. The court has basically reversed the earlier decision and has told Exxon that they only need to pay 10 percent of the original 5 Billion. Greg Palast also reported on this decision today, here is an exerpt:

[Thursday, June 26, 2008] Twenty years after Exxon Valdez slimed over one thousand miles of Alaskan beaches, the company has yet to pay the $5 billion in punitive damages awarded by the jury. And now they won’t have to. The Supreme Court today cut Exxon’s liability by 90% to half a billion. It’s so cheap, it’s like a permit to spill.

Exxon knew this would happen. Right after the spill, I was brought to Alaska by the Natives whose Prince William Sound islands, livelihoods, and their food source was contaminated by Exxon crude. My assignment: to investigate oil company frauds that led to to the disaster. There were plenty.

There is a documentary that we have screened at Cinema Politica called “Out of Balance: Exxon Mobil’s Impact on Climate Change,” and you can check it out and watcht the trailer here. OK, to cheer myself up, I’m heading off to the FREE outdoor concert that, being a tribute to Leonard Cohen who is in town preforming at the Montreal Jazz Fest, might just feature a cameo appearance by Canada’s famous poet.