WASHINGTON — Environmentalists and 61 members of Congress said Wednesday that the Department of Interior should sue Exxon Corp. for damage caused to public land as a result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Rep. Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.) led the delegation in its request to the Bush Administration that litigation be initiated against the companies responsible for the March 24 oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound, the nation's largest oil spill.
"My interest is not simple vengeance. It is rather providing the only genuine incentive that will ever prevent the repetition of the Valdez tragedy," Torricelli said at a news conference.
Worries About Future
"If the message to international oil companies is that 11 million gallons of oil can destroy hundreds of miles of pristine shore and thousands of birds and animals and cost no more than a few months' operating profit, then we have no guarantees for the future," Torricelli said.
Torricelli's letter, addressed to Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr., asks that the Interior Department, the Justice Department and other federal agencies pursue legal action against Exxon and the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the consortium that runs the Trans-Alaska pipeline.
A dozen environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and the National Wildlife Federation, sought the same action in a separate letter to Bush.
"This is a key issue to determine if the federal government is at all serious about the environment," said Michael McClosky, chairman of the Sierra Club. "The guilty party should bear these costs, not the government."
Also Wednesday, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called for a law that would deny Exxon a tax write-off for expenses of cleaning up the spill.
Reid is chief sponsor of a bill that would prohibit Exxon from deducting costs of cleaning up the spill unless the federal government certified that the cleanup meets standards of the Clean Water Act or other federal laws.
"I do not want to tell my constituents that the American people owe Exxon, the biggest polluter in history, millions of dollars in a tax rebate in return for destroying the environment and raising prices at the gas pumps," Reid told the Senate Finance Committee.
The committee gave no indication when it would act on the bill.
The Treasury Department, the American Petroleum Institute and the National Assn. of Manufacturers opposed the bill, which also would apply to any future spill of oil or other hazardous materials.