Riki Ott, PhD., a community activist, former fisherm'am, has a degree in marine toxicology with a specialty in oil pollution and the author of Sound Truth and Corporate Myth$: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, writes about the continuing saga of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the effects on Cordova Alaska, and the failure of our justice system.
The Supreme Court's recent decision to hear ExxonMobil's reasons to void the $2.5 billion punitive award in the Exxon Valdez case hit the town of Cordova, Alaska, hard. This small coastal fishing community -- my hometown -- along with the Alaska Native villages in Prince William Sound have borne the brunt of the largest crude oil spill in America's waters; a spill that took place more than 18 years ago, but one that continues to hold the region hostage.
The second painful blow was the high court's decision to not even hear our reasons why the award should be restored to the full $5 billion that a jury of peers decided was necessary to punish the corporate giant back in 1994.
While media pundits, lawyers, and scholars play the Supreme Court's decisions back and forth like a ping-pong ball, people in Cordova share a completely different perspective of this story. It's not about whether the Supreme Court should hear the case. To us, it's about justice and reparation -- making us whole, a promise Exxon made to the community five days after the spill. A promise that Exxon broke before the trial even started five years after the spill.
To us, it's about more than an oil spill, the world's largest oil corporation, and a small fishing community in Alaska. It's about America's failed legal system that inherently cannot dispense justice in the face of corporate globalization.
Those affected by the spill offer some solutions for developing a just system that works for people.
First, post-disaster disputes could be minimized during preliminary planning and scoping of projects by negotiated, legally-binding agreements -- now that we are better informed of the ecological and human costs of disaster.
Second, financial incentives and rules could be created to encourage dispute resolution through non-adversarial negotiated settlements. Such techniques have proven successful even for disasters involving toxic exposure.
Third, incentives could be created to shorten litigation timelines by eliminating mechanisms that reward profits through stalling.
Fourth, if punitive damages are to be effectively applied, then they must be linked with corporate profits rather than compensatory damages and they should be shared not only among victims, but also among the injured communities to rebuild areas devastated by disaster.
In Cordova, we hope that it is just a matter of time before these suggestions or other similar ones are demanded by professionals, activists, and victims fed up with the American "injustice system."
We know that change will have to come from each of us, as there is little hope that the Supreme Court, or any other branch of the current judicial system, will take it upon itself to keep from doing more harm to those it was designed to protect.
Read it all here