Legislature(2005 - 2006)BUTROVICH 205

05/04/2006 08:30 AM JUDICIARY

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08:56:10 AM Start
08:57:33 AM HJR9
09:51:05 AM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Moved SCS HJR 9(JUD) Out of Committee
Scheduled But Not Heard
        HJR 9-URGE CONGRESS HONOR EXXON VALDEZ JUDGMENT                                                                     
8:57:33 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR RALPH SEEKINS  announced HJR 9 to be  up for consideration.                                                               
He recognized that SJR 17 was  similar to the resolution and that                                                               
Senator  French, sponsor  of  SJR  17, was  prepared  to offer  a                                                               
committee  substitute  (CS) for  HJR  9  that would  combine  the                                                               
efforts of both resolutions.                                                                                                    
SENATOR HOLLIS FRENCH  distributed a CS that would  combine HJR 9                                                               
and SJR 17 titled 24-LS0532\G.  He explained that the combination                                                               
would  make  one  "ExxonMobil  resolution"  for  the  committee's                                                               
consideration. He offered to answer questions.                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE  GABRIELLE  LEDOUX  agreed with  Senator  French's                                                               
proposal. She  accepted the Senate  Committee Substitute  for HJR
SENATOR FRENCH explained  that version G would  be accompanied by                                                               
a  concurrent   resolution  calling  for  a   title  change.  The                                                               
resolution  would  urge  the  federal   courts  to  refrain  from                                                               
enacting  legislation  that  would  affect  the  outcome  of  the                                                               
court's resolution in the case  before the Ninth Circuit Court of                                                               
Appeals.  The resolution  would likewise  urge the  United States                                                               
Department of Justice  (US DOJ) and the Alaska  Department of Law                                                               
(DOL) to  begin the  process of  pursuing the  "reopener clause",                                                               
which  was  bargained for  in  the  original settlement  and  was                                                               
intended to cover the cost of unanticipated damages.                                                                            
The "Whereas clauses" begin on page  1 with a short recitation of                                                               
the  basis facts  of the  Exxon  Valdez grounding  back in  March                                                               
1989. The  first clause on page  2 covers the facts  of the spill                                                               
size.  The  clause on  line  8  refers  to the  civil  settlement                                                               
between  the federal  and state  government  and ExxonMobil.  The                                                               
clause on line  13 notes that the reopener needs  to occur before                                                               
September 1,  2006. The clause on  line 23 relates the  fact that                                                               
there was a  unanimous jury finding for the  awarding of damages,                                                               
which are still in litigation  and before the Ninth Circuit Court                                                               
of  Appeals.  The  clause  beginning  on  line  31  denotes  that                                                               
ExxonMobil once  sought an amendment to  substantially reduce the                                                               
amount of damages that it would  have to pay for the Exxon Valdez                                                               
oil spill.                                                                                                                      
9:02:49 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR FRENCH continued  clauses on page 3 states  the fact that                                                               
there  are cost-effective  restoration opportunities  to mitigate                                                               
the unanticipated  damages and that the  governments are required                                                               
to  submit detailed  plans  to  use the  reopener  funds 90  days                                                               
before a formal  request to the ExxonMobil  Corporation. The last                                                               
clause states that it is in  the best interest of the citizens of                                                               
Alaska that  the governments  assert the  claim for  full payment                                                               
for the additional damages in the Exxon Valdez oil spill.                                                                       
The  "Resolved   clauses"  combine   the  two   resolutions.  One                                                               
respectfully  urges Congress  to not  enact any  legislation that                                                               
would  delay the  punitive damages  awarded to  more than  32,000                                                               
plaintiffs and the  next two clauses urge the  two governments to                                                               
identify natural  resource damages from  the oil spill  that were                                                               
9:04:12 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR SEEKINS  expressed concern  that the  facts and  figures in                                                               
the resolution  need to  be absolutely  correct if  the committee                                                               
was prepared to move it forward.                                                                                                
SENATOR  FRENCH responded  the 11,000,000  gallons  of crude  oil                                                               
spilled has  been a topic  of great  discussion and is  a minimum                                                               
figure. There are  many assertions that the spill  was far larger                                                               
than stated initially.  The tankers generally carry  close to one                                                               
million  barrels  or  350,000,000  gallons of  oil.  One  of  the                                                               
scientists  that testified  in court  described the  size of  the                                                               
spill  as  10,000  square  miles and  covering  13,000  miles  of                                                               
shoreline. The numbers on page 2,  line 26 need to be adjusted to                                                               
update the resolution to the present day, he noted.                                                                             
9:08:16 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  LEDOUX said  her office  distributed a  memo from                                                               
one of  the chief attorneys  in the Exxon Valdez  case indicating                                                               
that oral  argument in  the Ninth Circuit  Court of  Appeals took                                                               
place on January 27, 2006 and  that there is no decision yet. The                                                               
oral argument can be viewed online at the Court website.                                                                        
SENATOR FRENCH  noted there have  been five  or six trips  to the                                                               
Ninth Circuit  Court to date on  the case. The facts  asserted on                                                               
page 3 line 3 were buttressed  from testimony heard in the Senate                                                               
Resources Standing Committee from  two scientists who have worked                                                               
on the  spill. He recounted  testimony from Doctor Jeep  Rice who                                                               
spoke about  the amount of  oil just  below the surface  of tidal                                                               
zones  in the  affected beaches.  He described  the oil  as being                                                               
still liquid enough to pool up in the holes that scientists dug.                                                                
At  the time  that damages  were assessed  it was  not envisioned                                                               
that the  oil would take so  long to weather. Expert  opinion was                                                               
that  the oil  would quickly  become tar-like  and non-toxic  and                                                               
that has turned out to be untrue.                                                                                               
9:11:21 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  SEEKINS  asked  Senator  French whether  he  knew  of  any                                                               
movement in  Governor Frank Murkowski's Administration  to gather                                                               
the information necessary to file the reopener.                                                                                 
SENATOR FRENCH said the Administration  has conducted hearings in                                                               
Cordova, Anchorage  and Kodiak and that  indicates some movement.                                                               
He said he could not speak to their intentions.                                                                                 
CHAIR  SEEKINS inquired  as  to how  recently  the meetings  were                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX responded less than a month ago.                                                                          
CHAIR SEEKINS  noted that would  indicate that they are  aware of                                                               
the deadline.                                                                                                                   
9:13:06 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR SEEKINS stated  that the resolution was  saying that Alaska                                                               
does  not  want the  United  States  Congress to  intervene  with                                                               
legislation that  would reduce or  delay payment and  that Alaska                                                               
wants the  US DOJ and  the DOL  to identify all  natural resource                                                               
damages. He  said he was taking  at face value that  the data the                                                               
committee considered was correct.                                                                                               
SENATOR  HUGGINS asked  Representative LeDoux  whether she  could                                                               
coordinate this effort with Governor Murkowski's Administration.                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX explained that  the resolution would inform                                                               
the Administration of  the will of the Legislature.  She said she                                                               
would  be happy  to  work  with the  Administration  if they  are                                                               
interested in working together.                                                                                                 
SENATOR  HUGGINS  said  the  resolution  goes  well  beyond  that                                                               
because it  is sent  to the  President of  the United  States. He                                                               
suggested the resolution would appear to spite the Governor.                                                                    
SENATOR  FRENCH interrupted  to  explain that  the resolution  is                                                               
simply recognition  of the different  branches of  government. He                                                               
said it  formalizes the communication  between the  two branches.                                                               
It  is  a cooperative  measure,  which  urges action  and  offers                                                               
SENATOR  HUGGINS said  he saw  it  as going  over the  Governor's                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX  said from her perspective  the Legislature                                                               
should  deliver the  message and  that the  Administration should                                                               
deliver a similar message.                                                                                                      
9:18:03 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR SEEKINS called for public testimony.                                                                                      
TIM  JOYCE,  Mayor  of  Cordova,  testified  in  support  of  the                                                               
resolution. He recognized that the  two resolutions were combined                                                               
but  addressed  two different  issues,  one  the deals  with  the                                                               
actual  punitive damages  and one  that deals  with the  reopener                                                               
clause. He informed the committee  that he recently returned from                                                               
Washington  D.C. where  he has  been informing  people about  the                                                               
Exxon  Valdez  litigation. There  is  a  letter from  the  United                                                               
States  House of  Representatives to  the chairman  of ExxonMobil                                                               
Corporation  currently   circulating  in  the   House  collecting                                                               
signatures. He read  the letter to the committee.  He referred to                                                               
an  opinion  written  by  the   judge  that  said,  "ExxonMobil's                                                               
continued protest suggests  that Exxon, even today,  has not come                                                               
to grips  with the (indisc)  that society rightfully  attaches to                                                               
drunk driving."                                                                                                                 
9:22:41 AM                                                                                                                    
MR.  JOYCE  charged that  ExxonMobil  has  never compensated  the                                                               
plaintiffs for  their continuing damages including,  in the words                                                               
of the  trial judge, "the fact  that the social fabric  of Prince                                                               
William Sound  and lower  Cook Inlet was  torn apart."  They have                                                               
only used delay  tactics. They have filed nearly  400 motions and                                                               
a  dozen appeals  successfully prolonging  the litigation  beyond                                                               
all reasonable limits, he asserted.  In the meantime thousands of                                                               
victims have  died without obtaining  the damages to  which there                                                               
were  entitled. ExxonMobil  posted  a $36  billion dollar  profit                                                               
last year alone.                                                                                                                
MR.  JOYCE  stated  the  delay   tactics  are  irresponsible  and                                                               
indefensible. It  has now been  17 years  since one of  the worst                                                               
maritime  environmental disasters  in  the  nation's history  and                                                               
nearly 12  years since the jury  verdict. It is past  time to get                                                               
the issue resolved, he said.                                                                                                    
9:25:05 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR FRENCH moved to adopt  version 24-LS0532\G as the working                                                               
document before the committee. Hearing  no objections, the motion                                                               
9:30:41 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR SEEKINS called for public testimony.                                                                                      
KEN ADAMS, Cordova  fisherman, testified in support of  HJR 9. He                                                               
said  it was  not only  appropriate but  also essential  that the                                                               
resolution  be  moved  forward.  He  suggested  that  the  energy                                                               
companies feel like they can do  as the please without being held                                                               
responsible for  their actions.  The resolution  would be  at the                                                               
very  least, a  deterrent for  corporations that  are sloppy  and                                                               
negligent in their business with the State of Alaska.                                                                           
MR. ADAMS asserted  that the people in Prince  William Sound will                                                               
always be  on the interface between  two incompatible industries;                                                               
the transporting of oil through  the sound, and the fisheries for                                                               
which the area is world famous.                                                                                                 
9:37:28 AM                                                                                                                    
LLOYD MONTGOMERY,  Cordova, testified  that he  accompanied Mayor                                                               
Joyce to Washington D.C. He  shared his experience and questioned                                                               
how the people responsible for  the devastation could continue to                                                               
believe  they  should not  pay  for  it.  He said  that  Governor                                                               
Murkowski and  United States Senator  Lisa Murkowski  were caught                                                               
in the middle  of the action and that they  were doing everything                                                               
they could to settle the situation.                                                                                             
MR. MONTGOMERY  referred to a  piece of  artwork that he  made in                                                               
the  fall  of 1990  representing  the  community of  Cordova.  It                                                               
referenced  frustration,  segregation,   suicides,  and  loss  of                                                               
economy. He asserted that people  in Washington do not understand                                                               
the devastation that Cordova has been going through.                                                                            
9:44:56 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. MONTGOMERY  said he  has been through  an emotional  time the                                                               
past  couple   weeks  sharing  personal  examples   of  suicides,                                                               
bankruptcies and the "lingering oil after affects." He said:                                                                    
     I'll give you a perfect  example. Yesterday there was a                                                                    
     lawsuit  filed  against  the  seiners  and  that  is  a                                                                    
     lingering oil  effect. If it  wasn't for the  Exxon oil                                                                    
     spill,  we  wouldn't  be  in   this  position  now.  We                                                                    
     wouldn't be going to court.                                                                                                
9:47:11 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR SEEKINS closed public testimony.                                                                                          
SENATOR FRENCH moved Amendment 1. Page 2 line 24, delete $5.3                                                                   
and insert $4.3. Hearing no objections, Amendment 1 was adopted.                                                                
SENATOR FRENCH moved Amendment 2. Page 2 line 26, delete "15"                                                                   
and insert "17." Also delete "more than ten" and insert "nearly                                                                 
twelve." Hearing no objections, Amendment 1 was adopted.                                                                        
SENATOR HUGGINS moved SCS HJR 9(JUD) from committee with                                                                        
individual recommendations and attached fiscal notes. Hearing no                                                                
objections, the motion carried.                                                                                                 

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