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A federal judge will hear arguments Friday on whether Exxon Mobil Corp. owes another $100 million to remove oil remaining on the Prince William Sound shoreline from the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill.
U.S. District Judge Russel Holland scheduled the arguments in Anchorage in response to a motion filed by retired University of Alaska professor Rick Steiner, who is trying to force action on a claim filed in 2006 by the state and federal governments, the Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday.
"It's gone on way too long," Steiner said.
The claim says the oil is degrading too slowly and continues to harm wildlife. Irving, Texas-based Exxon argues it doesn't owe any more money. It paid $900 million in restitution in a 1991 settlement.
But the settlement also had a clause allowing the state and federal governments to later claim up to $100 million more from Exxon if there were unforeseen damages from the spill.
"It is clear that populations and habitat within the oil spill area have suffered substantial and unanticipated injuries that are attributable to the Exxon Valdez oil spill," Alaska Attorney General David Marquez said in the 2006 claim.
Exxon lawyers said just a tiny amount of oil residues remain in isolated pockets of the Prince William Sound shoreline. The presence of such oil is "hardly unexpected," Exxon argues, and there's no justification for claiming damages from the spill that weren't foreseen at the time of the 1991 civil settlement.
Exxon also maintains that state and federal authorities missed the deadline to get the money. The company's lawyers argue the governments failed to include a proper plan for restoration projects in their 2006 claim.
"Thus, Exxon Mobil has no further obligations," said the company's court filing last week.
Frank Murkowski, who was governor when the state filed the 2006 claim for the money, submitted a letter to the court this week saying it's time to resolve the matter.
"It is in the public interest that the governments move from continuing study to resolution as soon as possible. Alaska deserves closure on this issue after 22 years," Murkowski wrote.
Steiner is asking the judge to order Exxon to pay the state and federal $92 million claim with interest, for a total of $115 million, with the money going to the government natural resource agencies to use for restoration.
Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com