"We promise." These were the words uttered by the lairs from Humble Oil and ARCO (now known as Exxon and British Petroleum) to the Chugach Natives, owners of Valdez Port. In 1969 the Native Americans sold their valuable land to the oil companies for $1 and a promise that the companies would protect their sacred land.
On March 24, 1989, after years of cost cutting and down-right corrupt practices the most devastating man-made environmental disasters ever to occur at sea occurred. The Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground at Prince William Sounds and spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the sea, the oil eventually covered 11,000 square miles of ocean. The area was a habitat for seals, salmon, seabirds and sea otters.
This past Wednesday the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-3 ruling that the fine of 5 billion dollars levied against the oil company Exxon for punitive damages would be reduced to $507.5 million. That translates to an average of only $15,000 per victim. These victims whose lives were turned upside down looked to our justice system and were turned away. After nearly 20 years of legal fighting the oil company walks away with a slap on the wrist.
In a report by Greg Palast of the Chicago Tribune, before charges were brought, the Natives hoped to settle with the oil company, to receive just enough compensation to buy some boats and rebuild their island villages to withstand what would be a decade of trying to survive in a polluted ecological death zone. Mr. Otto Harrison who worked for Exxon said, "Admit it; the oil spill's the best thing to happen" to the Natives.
His company offered the Natives pennies on the dollar. The oil men added a cruel threat: take it or wait twenty years to get even the pennies. Exxon is immortal - but Natives die. They turned out to be right. Twenty years later after a third of the Native fishermen and seal hunters have died. Now their families will collect one tenth of their award, two decades too late.
Why am I covering this topic on my blog? Because it is important to understand that this presidential election will decide what direction this Country will take for decades.
It was Justice David Souter who wrote the decision for the Supreme Court that let Exxon get away with this crime against the Natives and against their lands. Justice Souter was nominated by George Walker Bush. The next president will very likely have say on the appointment of several Justices.
We need oil companies, we need refineries, but they must be kept in check. As this Nation struggles with its dependence on oil we the consumers need to know that the man sitting in the White House will work for us. In my opinion that man is Senator Obama.