for TomPaine.com and OurFuture.org
Nineteen goddamn years is enough. I’m sorry if you don’t like my language, but when I think about what they did to Paul Kompkoff, I’m in no mood to nicey-nice words.
Next month marks 19 years since the Exxon Valdez dumped its load of crude oil across the Prince William Sound, Alaska. A big gooey load of this crude spilled over the lands of the Chenega Natives. Paul Kompkoff was a seal-hunter for the village. That is, until Exxon’s ship killed the seal and poisoned the rest of Chenega’s food supply.
While cameras rolled, Exxon executives promised they’d compensate everyone. Today, before the US Supreme Court, the big oil company’s lawyers argued that they shouldn’t have to pay Paul or other fishermen the damages ordered by the courts.
They can’t pay Paul anyway. He’s dead.
That was part of Exxon’s plan. They told me that. In 1990 and 1991, I worked for the Chenega and Chugach Natives of Alaska on trying to get Exxon to pay up to save the remote villages of the Sound. Exxon’s response was, “We can hold out in court until you’re all dead.”
Nice guys. But, hell, they were right, weren’t they?
But Exxon didn’t do it alone. They had enablers. One was a failed oil driller named “Dubya.” Exxon was the second largest contributor to George W. Bush’s political career. Enron was firstr. They were a team, Exxon and Enron.
To protect their corporate backsides, Enron’s Chairman Ken Lay, prior to his felony convictions, funded a group called Texans for Law Suit Reform. The idea was to prevent consumers, defrauded stockholders and devastated Natives from suing felonious corporations and their chiefs.
When Dubya went to Washington, Enron and Exxon got their golden pass in the appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts. On Wednesday, as the court heard Exxon’s latest stall, Roberts said, in defense of Exxon’s behavior in Alaska, “What more can a corporation do?”
The answer, Your Honor, is plenty.
For starters, Mr. Roberts, Exxon could have turned on the radar. What? On the night the Exxon Valdez smacked into Bligh Reef, the Raycas radar system was turned off. Exxon shipping honchos decided it was too expensive to maintain it and train their navigators to use it. So, the inexperienced third mate at the wheel was driving the supertanker by eyeball, Christopher Columbus style. I kid you not.
Here’s what else this poor widdle corporation could do: stop lying.
On the night of March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez was not even supposed to leave harbor. Here’s why. Tankers are not allowed to sail unless unless a spill containment barge is operating nearby. That night, the barge was in dry-dock, locked under ice. Exxon kept that fact hidden, concealing the truth even after the tanker grounded. An Exxon official radioed the emergency crew, “Barge is on its way.” It wasn’t.
Had the barge been in operation, it would have surrounded the leaking ship with rubber skirts – and Paul’s home, and Alaska’s coast, would have been saved. But Exxon couldn’t wait for its oil.
Paul’s gone – buried with Exxon’s promises. But the oil’s still there. Go out to Chenega lands today. At Sleepy Bay, kick over some gravel and it will smell like a gas station.
What the heck does this have to do with John McCain?
The Senator is what I’d call a Tort Tart.’ Ken Lay’s “Law Suit Reform” posse was one of the fronts used by a gaggle of corporate lobbyists waging war on your day in court. Their rallying cry is Tort Reform, by which they mean they want to take away the God-given right of any American, rich or poor, to sue the bastards who crush your child’s skull through product negligence, make your heart explode with a faulty medical device, siphon off your pension funds, or poison your food supply with spilled oil.
All of the Democratic candidates have seen through this tort reform con – and so did a Senator named McCain who, in 2001, for example, voted for the Patients Bill of Rights allowing claims against butchers with scalpels. Then something happened to Senator McCain: the guy who stuck his neck out for litigants got his head chopped off when he ran for President in the Republican Party. One lobbyists website blasted McCain’s “go-it-alone moralism.”
So the Senator did what I call, The McCain Hunch. Again and again he grabbed his ankles and apologized to the K Street lobbyists, reversing his positions on, well, you name it. In 2001, he said of Bush’s tax cuts, “I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans.” Now, in bad conscience, the Senator vows to make these tax cuts permanent.
On “Tort Reform,” the about-face was dizzying. McCain voted to undermine his own 2001 Patients Bill of Rights with votes in 2005 to limit suits to enforce it. He then added his name to a bill that would have thrown seal hunter Kompkoff’s suit out of federal court.
In 2003, McCain voted against Bush’s Energy Plan, an industry oil-gasm. This week, following Exxon’s report that it sucked in $40.6 billion in earnings, the largest profit haul in planetary history, Senators Clinton, Obama and several others in both parties sponsored a bill to require a teeny sliver of oil industry super-profits go to alternative energy sources. Technically, it involved ending a $14 billion tax giveaway granted oil companies by the Bush Administration in 2004. Senator McCain wouldn’t support George and his oil patch buddies then. But now, Candidate McCain won’t back the repeal of this gawdawful tax break.
In this showdown with Big Oil, McCain is AWOL, missing in action.
Well, Paul, at least you were spared this.
I remember when I was on the investigation in Alaska, bankrupted fishermen, utterly ruined – Kompkoff’s co-plaintiffs in the suit before the Supreme Court – floated their soon-to-be repossessed boats into the tanker lanes with banners reading, “EXXON SUXX.”
To which they could now add, about a one-time stand-up Senator: “McCain duxx.”
Greg Palast is author of the New York Times bestsellers Armed Madhouse and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Subscribe to his investigative reports at www.GregPalast.com
Read more from Palast on the Exxon Disaster:
Don’t Buy Exxon’s Fable of the Drunken Captain