American Scandal

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Exxon Valdez: Winner Take Nothing | 4

Exxon Valdez: Winner Take Nothing | 4

Tue, 12 Feb 2019 08:05

The fishermen run a blockade. Alyeska Pipeline goes to extremes to root out a mole. Exxon and the fishermen face off in court.

Photos of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

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At 10am on August 22nd, 1993, fishermen Rick Steiner steers his 50 year old wooden fishing boat the Blue Note through a heavy fog on Alaska's Prince William Sound. It's been four and a half years since the Exxon Valdese ran aground ten miles away, spilling 11 million gallons of oil into one of the world's finest fishing grounds. Almost all of that oil is gone now, most of it evaporated for washed out to sea. Rick takes deep breath, inhaling the smell of saltwater and sacked from the spruce trees towering overhead. If he closes his eyes, he can imagine it's all back to normal. But everything is not back to normal. The oil is gone, but so is everything else. No birds, no porpoises, even the plankton that used to give the water its beautiful blue green hue have disappeared, and the water his boat chugged through is eerily clear. The fish are gone too. The 1993 fishing harvest was a complete disaster. It was estimated 25 million fish would be brought to market this year, but fishermen caught only 4 million, less than a fifth of what was anticipated. The entire Prince William Sound fishing industry is on the brink of collapse, and for Rick, in the tens of thousands of others, this means financial ruin. It's also been 4 and a half years since Exxon's head of Alaska operations Don Cornet told the fishermen that Exxon would make them whole. He said, if your nets don't fill up, we can take care of that, just file a claim. But now that the nets are empty and the claims have been filed, Exxon has disappeared. Many of the fishermen have received nothing at all from the company. Now all of the unanswered claimants have banded together, filing a massive class action lawsuit between the fishermen and Exxon, but the wheels of justice turn slowly. That's why Rick's out here today. As he steers the blue note north towards the mouth of the Valdeus channel, he sees other fishing boats emerge, boats of all shapes and sizes, forming a blockade across the half mile wide entrance to the Valdeus arm. It's the only shipping passage that leads to the Transalaskian oil pipeline terminal in the town of Valdeus 15 miles away. There are over 100 boats filled with fishermen who are fed up with delayed payments, tired of all the Exxon ads and press releases claiming the spill is over and the sound has recovered. Today their message for Exxon is simple and direct. Until the company sits down with the fishermen and listens to their concerns, there will be no more oil traffic through the sound. Until then, oil tankers are not getting in or out. A rag tag armada of fishing boats has just cut off 25% of the United States oil supply. A double decker tour boat churns out of the fog, hacked with journalists and photographers from the National Press. Rick steps to the prowess his boat and yells through a megaphone. We want the world to know that the fishermen of Prince William Sound are going under. Exxon needs to face up to their negligence. In the distance, Rick sees the 900 foot Atagon pass emerging from the fog. Seven stories high and three football feels long, the tanker dwarfs the fishing fleet. It's deep, chest rattling horn blows. Leading the way is a Coast Guard helicopter descending fast over the fleet. Rick turns to the other boats. We are taking boat names and license numbers. Every boat here is in willful violation of a direct order from the captain of port. If you do not cease and assist now, you will ease to be fined $250,000 and be sentenced to six years in prison. The press fire away on their cameras, pivoting between the fishermen, the helicopter and the massive silhouette of the approaching tanker. The tiny fishing boats hold their ground. Watching the slowly, the shape of the tanker starts to shift in the fog, getting wider and wider. It's turning around and heading back out to sea. Rick shoves his fist in the air. The fishermen feel a surge of camaraderie. After years of fighting with Exxon and among themselves, they shout and whoop with one unified voice. And if they can shout loud enough, maybe Exxon will finally listen. American scandal is sponsored by the new ABC drama Alaska Daily. When an indigenous woman goes missing in Alaska, it sparks new questions about other missing and murdered indigenous women. And that's where the thrilling new ABC drama Alaska Daily begins and where it's headed will have you on the edge of your seat. Two time Academy Award winner Hillary Swank stars as Eileen, a veteran reporter who joins a team of local journalists working to bring the truth to light. From Academy Award winning screenwriter Tom McCarthy, Alaska Daily premieres Thursday, October 6th on ABC and streams next day on Hulu. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes and conspiracy theories together and we'd love for you to join us. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. Some wondering I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American scandal. In our last episode, Ricky Ott went up against the oil industry in Alaska State Legislature while an even bigger battle loomed on the horizon. The class action lawsuit pitting the residents of Prince William Sound against Exxon. This is episode 4 winner take nothing. It's February 25th 1990, three and a half years before the blockade. Aliasque president and CEO James Hormiller sits in a large leather back chair squinting at the headlines in the Anchorage Daily News. The words pitted pipeline corrosion jump out at him. Not a good headline for Aliasque, a company created by Exxon and six other big oil companies to manage the pipeline for them. The article underneath the headlines worse. The transatlantic oil pipeline is pitted with rust and a need of major repair to prevent another catastrophic spill repairs that could cost billions of dollars. Hormiller takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. February has been a bad month all around for Aliasque and Exxon. It's almost been a year since the Exxon Valdese ran aground, but the fallout won't go away. At the beginning of the month, survey teams found beaches still covered with thick mats of tar like congealed oil. Even the beaches that look clean on the surface had deep deposits of fresh oil hiding underneath. Exxon was forced to send its work crews back out, armed with shovels and construction equipment to dig up the remaining oil. Exxon's legal issues also took a turn for the worse. A grand jury in Anchorage is weighing federal charges against the company for its role in the spill. The state of Alaska is suing two as our thousands of individual plaintiffs across the state, including a fisherman who filed for damages against the company. And now, this. A front page news story that not only calls out the current pipeline conditions, it catalogs years of safety and fractions, lacks maintenance and negligence in Aliasque's pipeline operations. The kind of details only someone on the inside would know. The reporters don't name their source, but her Miller is pretty sure he knows who it is. The article has Chuck Hamill's fingerprints all over it. Hamill is an oil broker turned whistleblower who's been hounding Aliasque for years. He used to do business with the company, buying their oil on behalf of clients around the world, but when his clients started complaining that the oil was watered down, his business dried up, and Chuck blamed Aliasque. Of course, Aliasque denied responsibility, but that wasn't good enough for Chuck. Her Miller is sure he's out for revenge. Chuck must have cultivated a source inside Aliasque headquarters who's passing secret company documents to him. Her Miller poses. It's all starting to make sense. Chuck Hamill and the fisherman Ricky Ott are old friends, and she seems to have a lot of privilege information herself, which she's been passing to government officials in Juneau. Chuck's probably feeding her too. It's got to be Chuck who leaked those stats to the press so that they can write stories like this. Her Miller folds the paper neatly and sets it on his desk. He knows he'll have to fix those leaks in the pipeline, but that job could take years. Right now, he needs to stop the leak of documents out of Aliasque's headquarters. He needs to find Chuck Hamill's source, so he calls Wacken Hut Corporate Security. Wacken Hut enforces security around the oil fields and offices for some of Aliasque's parent companies, but her Miller is not interested in hiring a security guard. Wacken Hut has a special investigation division, staffed by former CIA officials, whose specialty is the dark art of corporate espionage. Our Miller's got a mole in his building, and he needs their help to root him out. One month later, Chuck Hamill is sitting with Fisherman Rick Steiner in the dimly lit bar of the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, chatting about the environmental conference that just wrapped up there. They're old friends, and both are in town for the three day event. Rick shakes the ice at the bottom of his drink, relaying to Chuck what he heard earlier that day from Ricky Ott. He says the beaches on the sound are in bad shape, that walking on them feels like treading on a soggy mattress, that all you have to do is kick a stone over, and the oil starts oozing up again. Chuck shakes his head. He says he'll have to check with his guy at Aliasque to see what they're saying on the inside. A woman slides onto the bar stool next to Chuck, tall, thin, teased bangs, lots of makeup, and gives him a smile. Chuck is a people person who makes friends quickly, but tonight he has to read through more literature and pack up for the long flight back home to Virginia. He and Rick finish their drinks and head back upstairs to their rooms. The next day at the airport, as Chuck is boarding his flight, he sees the woman with a big friendly smile again. She introduces herself as Ricky Edelsson. She tells him that she saw him at the environmental conference. She works for an environmental law firm called EcoLid. She tells him the company funds major lawsuits on behalf of environmentalists. When Chuck hears this, his ears perk up. He invites her to sit with him. He tells her he has all kinds of sources inside the Aliasque Corporation who are feeding him sensitive information. Edelsson smiles. She's all ears. And Chuck can't believe his luck, meeting someone as interested in saying justice done as he is. They talk the whole way home. But Ricky Edelsson isn't interested in justice, at least not for Chuck's calls. And she doesn't work for EcoLid because EcoLid doesn't exist. He Edelsson isn't even her real name. It's Ricky Sue Jacobson. And she's an operative in the Special Investigations Division of Wacken Hut. And she's not the only one. After her Miller's call, her team gets busy. They rent a Washington DC office for EcoLid. They buy, save the whales, posters for the waiting room because they figure that kind of thing will impress an environmentalist like Chuck. They even give their fictional company a fictional board of directors, complete with power players like Donald Trump. All just to woo Chuck Hamill into revealing his source. They flatter Chuck too. They admire his work, they tell him. And they'd like to use some of their significant resources to help him. Chuck is an easy target. He's nearly gone bankrupt fighting Aliasca, and he's desperate for EcoLid's funding. They park a surveillance RV outside his home, armed with parabolic microphones to record his conversations from a distance. They sift through his garbage and mail, they steal documents and letters from his house, and they tap his phones. Two weeks after Chuck meets Edelsson on the plane, he calls Ricky Ottett her home in cordover to tell her the good news. He's just teamed up with a powerful new ally called EcoLid, who have seriously deep pockets and are ready to join the fight against Aliasca and the oil companies. Suddenly their phone call is interrupted by static, a scratching sound cutting in and out unpredictably. It's so loud Ricky has to hang up. It's been happening a lot lately. Her father thinks it's a wire tap. A few days later, when the loud scratching noise breaks in again, her dad shouts it down. Listen you sons of bitches, you people work for some of the richest companies in the world. Can't you at least get some decent equipment so you don't have to interrupt our conversations? Ricky suspects that whoever is tapping her phones is working for Aliasca, but she can't be sure. Still, she vows to be more careful about what she says on the phone. In Anchorage, one week after Chuck's call to Ricky, Aliasca CEO James Hermiller sits at his desk smiling. He just got a memo from the Wacken Hut Corporation. Looks like they found Hermiller's mole. He's a mid level Aliasca employee named Robert Scott. Hermiller doesn't know the guy personally, and now he never will. As of today, Robert Scott is unemployed. Her Miller will personally make sure of it. The information pipeline running from Aliasca headquarters to Chuck Hamill is completely shut down. Chuck doesn't learn why the information flowing his way dried up until he gets a call from a former Wacken Hut operative over a year later. He tells Chuck that he's been had by an Aliasca sting operation. Furious, Chuck calls Congressman George Miller of California. Miller is pro oil regulation, and he and Chuck have had many phone calls about Aliasca's safety violations over the years. On August 7, 1991, Congressman Miller calls for public hearings on Capitol Hill about the spying rumors. He subpoenas the Wacken Hut operatives in Aliasca to testify. It turns out, Hamill wasn't the only one Aliasca was spying on. They tapped the phones of Congressman Miller himself, Andrick Yacht, and the Alaska Attorney General, and a former Aliasca safety inspector, even a Valdez tour captain they suspected might be allies of Rick and Chuck. The hearing set off a storm of negative newspaper stories and editorials attacking Aliasca. And as a result, James Her Miller is forced to write apology letters to Chuck Hamill and the people of Alaska for violating their trust, and then publish them in a full page ad in eight daily newspapers across Alaska. But by the time the truth comes out, Ricky Ott and the fisherman of Cordoba are consumed with an even bigger problem, the fish harvest of 1991. On August 28, 1991, Ricky Ott receives a phone call from Danny Carpenter, the cocafton of her boat, the Amardries. Normally, Danny's an easygoing guy, but today he sounds worried. He tells Ricky to come to the docks right away, if something she needs to see. As she approaches the harbor, Ricky passes fishermen gathered in small groups on the docks. They look exhausted. They nod at her with somber faces and look down again. By the time she reaches the boat, she feels like the last guest to arrive at a wake. Danny, what's going on? Danny throws open the hatch on the Amardries fishhole. Look, they were acting strange even before we hauled them in. Like they were disoriented, lost or something. Ricky peers down into the hole, filled with pink salmon. Under normal circumstances, it's a welcome sight. But nothing is normal on the sound anymore. The fish are much smaller than they should be, and lethargic, like they're half dead already. Everyone's catch is like this, Ricky. No one's ever seen anything like it before, not even the old timers. There are tons of pangs out there, too many to catch. But they're too small, and the bays are full of dead fish. Ricky picks up a fish, studies it and does some quick math. He's a biologist, and knows exactly what's happening here. These fish are two years old, making them the first generation of salmon born to the fish that swam through the oil spill in 1989. The oil exposure must have hampered the development of those fish's eggs. And now those eggs have grown into this generation of undersized, lethargic fish that Ricky's examining now. She tosses the fish back into the hole, and watches Danny slam the hatch shut on the harvest. No canaries can abide these. There's no market for abnormal salmon. The fish will have to be dumped at sea. And that's just the short term damage. The long term picture is even worse. What will happen to the eggs this malformed generation lays, if they're even reproducing? Soon, there may not be any fish left at all. This is the last straw, she thinks. Enough with the publicity, the ad campaigns, the cheery announcements that the sound is restored, the exon, and the state of Alaska have to answer to this. She doesn't know it yet, but a response is already in the works, and it's going to push Ricky and the fisherman of Cordova to their breaking point. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion, or you woke up in the morgue, or you were seriously injured, miles from help? What would you do? This is actually happening, asks our listeners this very question, while we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening, brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil, or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit, and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives, even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening, is available ad free only with Wondry Plus, and if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondry Plus subscribers. Join Wondry Plus on Apple Podcasts or on the Wondry app. On September 17, 1991, one month after the worthless Pink Sam and Harvest comes in, Ricky returns home to her A Frame Cab and high above Cordoba. There's a package waiting for her. Inside is a video cassette, bearing the Exxon logo, titled, Alaskas Gift of Pink Sam and to the People of the Soviet Union. Ricky pops it in the VCR. Overseas a fisherman pulling nets full of salmon from Prince William Sound, a narrator proclaims, this week the People of Alaska made a historic gift to the People of the Soviet Union, a gift the Exxon Corporation helped make possible. It turns out Exxon paid canaries in the state millions of dollars to process 3 million pounds of the low quality Pink Sam and then they donated it to poor people in the Soviet Union, and what the narrator calls a victory for democracy. The video cuts to an interview with a stocky crew cut bull of a man. Alaskas newly elected governor, Wally Hickle. Hickle smiles wide as he speaks. He couldn't be happier to be working with Exxon on this important endeavor. This is Hickle's second time in office. He came out of nowhere on the third party ticket and stormed into the governor's seat on a pro business, pro development platform. A former boxer and construction worker, he's blunt and plain spoken. He pushed hard to build a Transalaskian oil pipeline in his first term, and now that he's been elected again, he wants to build a new 800 mile natural gas pipeline to run alongside it. You can't just let nature run wild, he's fond of saying. A tree looking at a tree doesn't really do anything. Hickle doesn't have any time for environmentalists, or their complaints about his plans, and he certainly doesn't have any time to cry about malformed Pink Sam and Harvest in Prince William Sound. The final scene of the video shows a plane taking off for Russia, loaded with pallets of canned salmon. The narrator proclaims, from an environmental standpoint, the record return of Pink Sam into Prince William Sound shows recovery from the oil spill is virtually complete. Ricky shuts off the TV, she can't take any more. This tape was sent to thousands of homes across Alaska to convince the public that Prince William Sound is doing fine, and now the state of Alaska is endorsing the message too. And Governor Hickle's not done yet. Two weeks later, he announces a plea bargain between the state of Alaska, the federal government, and Exxon. The deal settles all state and federal lawsuits stemming from the 1989 oil spill. Exxon will pay a fine of $125 million, and $90 million a year for 10 years into a fund that will support the restoration of Prince William Sound. It might sound like a lot, but it's not to Exxon. An official tells reporters, we're talking about spreading a bill out over 10 years. It's not going to curtail any of our plans. According to the tens of thousands of fishermen who are no longer working, the settlement does nothing to ease their financial pain. By the time that money trickles down to them, they're looking at maybe $3,000 a person. Even worse is what the governor wants to do with that settlement money. He wants to build a road to Cordova and strip log the forests that line the sound. It's time to move on from this bill the governor says. But for the fishermen, moving on is not that easy. By 1992, the Herring Fishery has collapsed completely. Reports of domestic abuse are up. The local mental health clinic is swamped. The townspeople are in debt, with few options of making ends meet. Then, community leader Bobby Van Brocklin kills himself. Bobby was beloved. He was mayor when the Valdez ran aground. In his suicide note, he says the stress of dealing with Exxon and the financial pressure were more than he could bear. A year later, in 1993, when 80% of the fish population has not returned, the fishermen of Alaska reach their breaking point. Enough is enough the fishermen decide. It's time to take a stand. It's time to blockade the pipeline that provides America with 25% of its oil. For three days in August 1993, the entire country's attention is on Prince William's sound once again. The first two days of the fishermen blockade strands seven empty oil tankers in the Gulf of Alaska. By day three, the situation is growing more and more tense. Alliezka's oil storage units at the pipeline terminal are almost full. If the fishermen don't allow those waiting tankers through soon, there will be nowhere left to put the oil. The 800 mile pipeline will have to shut down completely. That will cost the oil companies millions. It will deprive the state of Alaska of the oil taxes that fund its government's operating budget. And it will hit consumers across the country when gas prices spike with 25% less oil available nationwide. Nobody from the Alaska Governor's Mansion to the White House wants that pipeline shut down. And that's why Rick Steiner is not out on the water with the other fishermen today. He's 15 miles away in the lobby of the Valdez Westmark Hotel. Rick follows a state official up a flight of stairs and down a long, carpeted hallway. He's here to meet with Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babitt, sent to Valdez by President Clinton to try to resolve the standoff. Babitt sits waiting for Rick at a table in the corner of a dark suite. He's got close crop, white hair, and tired bags under his eyes. As Rick sits down, Babitt leans forward, telling Rick he's got a proposal and wants a quick yes or no answer. He says that BP can pressure Exxon to talk to listen to what Rick has to say. White House is prepared to put heat on them too. Babitt reveals he's also got Governor Hickles word that he'll use some of the money from the Restoration Fund to research what's happening to the fish in the sand. Then Babitt pauses, looking at Rick. This is the best offer you're going to get. Yes or no? Rick thinks for a moment. It doesn't address everything the fishermen want, and it's not going to make the salmon and herring suddenly reappear. But Babitt's making a commitment to help them. Something a lot of government officials have not been willing to do in a long time. That's not something Rick wants to pass on. He needs all the allies he can get. So the two men shake hands. Rick sends word to the fisherman that Exxon has agreed to come to the table, and with that the blockade is over. At the end of the day, oil tankers are pulling up to the births of the Valdese oil terminal. What Exxon never comes to the table. Despite pressure from BP and the Clinton administration, they maintain they are not responsible for the decline in fish or the disastrous harvests. It has nothing to do with this bill, and they aren't about to sit down with the same people who are suing them. The fishermen see it differently. Exxon has broken so many promises, and a class action lawsuit is their last shot to recover damages and get justice. But Exxon is not budging. Their message is clear. We'll see you in court. It's 8pm on May 1, 1994, 8 months after the blockade. Attorney Brian O�Neal is scanning a deposition in the small office space he's rented in downtown Anchorage for the massive class action trial that begins in the morning. O�Neal is the lead attorney for the fisherman, and he's hoping to win over $16 billion in damages from Exxon. Next to him, a cold slice of pizza sits untouched. Behind him, his barebone staff sits at beat up rented tables, reading through last minute briefs. O�Neal looks out the window at the Anchorage skyline. Three blocks away. The top three floors of the Captain Cocoa Tell are completely lit up. Exxon's headquarters for the trial. Behind those windows, hundreds of lawyers, paralegals, energy experts, and assistants are pulling all nighters. They can't wait to take O�Neal and his fisherman down. O�Neal knows he's facing an uphill battle. Financially he's outgunned, and legal precedent isn't on his side either. When a British tanker ran aground in the Gulf of Mexico in 1984, oil washed up on the beaches of Galveston, Texas for a solid two weeks. He was there, never saw a dime. In 1978, the Amaco Cadiz crashed on a rocky French shoreline in the English Channel, blackening the beaches of over 100 coastal towns. Those residents sued too, and after 14 years of appeals, they finally received $200 million from Amaco, a tiny award for the worst tanker accident in history. O�Neal wants 80 times that amount from Exxon for the Valdez oil spill, and he feels ready. He's an ex marine, and a passionate outdoorsman. He's won big environmental damage awards before, even for oil spills. And in the end, he didn't take this case for the money. He wants to win this one because he believes in his clients, and he has a message to send to the corporate world. No matter how big, or how wealthy, no company is above the law. The next morning, O�Neal is met by a throng of reporters as he climbs the steps of the US District Courthouse in Anchorage. O�Neal's been up all night, but he's ready. A reporter asks if he has any comment for the people watching at home. O�Neal replies, you've got to hit these guys and hit them hard. If something isn't done about what happened in Prince William's Sound, it's going to happen next in your own backyard. Then O�Neal hurries up the steps and into the courthouse. After five years of waiting, the residents of Prince William's Sound are finally getting their chance to confront the company that spilled 11 million gallons of oil in their backyard. And the entire state of Alaska is riveted. Every morning, hundreds of spectators pack the courthouse hallways trying to get into the courtroom to watch the proceedings. Over the course of the four week trial, dozens of expert witnesses produce 10,000 pages of testimony in a case so large and complicated that the judge installs a state of the art computer system to track all of the evidence and display it on a bank of monitors facing the jury. Aerial photos of the spill, ships logs from the Exxon Valdez, shots of Exxon employees, steam cleaning the beaches of the sound. What isn't on the screens is the evidence O�Neal believes is crucial for his case. Things like personal photos of the fisherman and happier times. Evidence showing how their permits and boats have lost value, and photographs of the aftermath of the spill, including the damage caused to the animals and the ecosystem on which the fisherman relied. The judge ruled all of this inadmissible, on the ground said it could make the jurors too sympathetic to the fisherman's case. O�Neal has suspicions about the judge's motivations. Judge Hezekiah Russell Holland is a member of the petroleum club, an elite social organization whose members have ties to the oil industry. He got into the club after representing several oil companies, including heavy hitters like Mobile as an attorney before he became a judge. O�Neal feels like he's fighting with one arm tied behind his back, but he has one other strategy to pursue. It centers on Captain Joseph Hazelwood's history of alcohol abuse and Exxon's negligence in doing anything about it. After Captain Hazelwood's first DUI arrest in 1984, he checked himself into an inpatient alcohol rehab program. Exxon management gave him a 90 day leave of absence and sent him back out on the water again. One year later, Exxon memos reported that Hazelwood was drinking again, but no action was taken. As reports of drinking continued to trickle in, Exxon continued to turn a blind eye. Hazelwood was a skilled captain, loved by his crews, who always delivered the oil on time. They even gave Hazelwood and his crew their annual Fleet Safety Awards two years in a row. In 1987, Exxon put Hazelwood in charge of their newest anchor, the Exxon Valdez. The last drinking report reached Exxon managers just two weeks before the Valdez reign a ground. The captain was spotted drunk in San Francisco, on the eve of his departure for Alaska. And again, Exxon failed to intervene, and Hazelwood set sail for his final disastrous Alaska run. O�Neal brings all of this out over the course of the four week trial. During breaks and testimony, Exxon employees serve coffee and tea to reporters from silver teapots and China cups with saucers. How can O�Neal, whose office is decorated with folding tables and chairs, compete with that? Fishermen are expecting the worst. This is their last shot. Their only hope of maybe possibly getting something back from the company that took so much away from them. On June 9th, the two sides rest their case. It's up to the jury. All anyone can do now is wait. On the morning of June 13th, 1994, after four days of deliberations, the jury sends word that they have reached a verdict. The crowd pours back into the courtroom and takes their seats, watching nervously as a jury file back in. If the jury finds Exxon guilty of negligence, the trial will continue to the damages face to decide how much money Exxon owes. If the jurors rule that the spill was an accident, with zero negligence on Exxon's part, then the fisherman received nothing, and the trial will be over. The fate of more than 10,000 Alaskans hangs in the balance. George Holland turns to the jurors and asks the foreman if they have reached a verdict. Jury foreman Ken Murray squares his shoulders back and says, yes, we have your honor. Murray unfolds the paper in his hands. We find the Exxon Corporation, negligent. The courtroom explodes in cheers, applause, and stomping boots. Judge Holland tries to maintain order, striking his gavel over and over, but the fisherman watching from the back of the room can't contain themselves. As a hoot and shout, Brian O�Neal holds a hand over his eyes, trying to hide his tears. It took five years, but the fisherman have finally been heard. Exxon will be held accountable for the damage they did to the people of Alaska. Eight weeks later, the jurors award the first round of damages. Commercial fishermen and native Alaskans are asking for 1.5 billion in compensatory damages for decline in fish prices, permits, and marketability. But there have been no long term studies of the continuing effect of the loss of fish and livelihoods around the fishing industry. The jury can only weigh what has happened up until now. They are given a giant stack of boxes filled with documents and a questionnaire that requires calculating the effect on five species of salmon over a seven year period. One baffle jury member asks, how are just average people supposed to figure out what these PhDs can't even agree on? It takes some five weeks to do the calculations and come to a decision. And when they emerge, they award the fisherman 287 million, far less than the 1.5 billion the fishermen were asking. But lead attorney Brian O�Neal hasn't lost hope. There's still one last phase of the trial left, the punitive damage phase. The question the jury needs to determine in the amount of the award did Exxon behave recklessly? Did cutting crew costs in half create conditions to endanger the ship? Did they overlook his woods history of drinking? The fishermen are asking for $15 billion. It's the fisherman's last chance. O�Neal has prepared witnesses to strengthen his case. But before he can call them to the stand, Judge Holland strikes down more of the plaintiffs evidence. O�Neal isn't allowed to bring up two Exxon spills that occurred between 1988 and 1990 to show a pattern of recklessness on the part of the company. O�Neal also isn't allowed to show financial data about the company, which would demonstrate that Exxon makes so much money that he could afford to pay a billion dollars a year for 10 years without any material impact on his business. However, the judge rules, Exxon is welcome to share evidence of the extraordinary efforts Exxon made on the cleanup. On the last day of the penalty phase, Exxon calls her final defense witness to the stand. The witness is Exxon Chairman and CEO Lee Raymond. Raymond sits at the very top of the 91,000 employee Exxon hierarchy. High above the Exxon officials who were tasked with responding to the spill when it happened, men like Don Cornette, head of Alaska operations, and Frank Ayurasi, Exxon shipping president. Raymond sits so high above them, he can't even remember their names in pretrial depositions. When its O�Neal's turn to cross examine Raymond, he gets right to the point. Raymond spent his whole career climbing to the top of a cutthroat business, and he learned to dodge along the way. O�Neal stays on him. But what do you think? Do you realize that self help programs like alcoholics anonymous would require you to acknowledge the full scope of your mistakes before you move on with your life? I don't want to be argumentative, but I'm not looking back. O�Neal nods. Maybe Raymond has a pressing legal reason for refusing to admit responsibility. Mr. Raymond, are you planning on appealing someday? The defense attorney yells objection, but O�Neal's already gotten under Raymond's skin. I can't think of a single event that shook the bedrock of this company like this. We did a major internal inquiry. And that is what O�Neal was waiting for. Really, Mr. Raymond? Strange. I haven't seen report. Do you have a copy? No. There was no report. I conveyed the findings to our board every month, verbally. O�Neal leans against the rail of the jury box, looking from one juror to the next, and asks Raymond his last question. So you updated your board on this every month for three years. But you can't remember the names of any of the key exon players involved. The question hits home with the jurors. Two weeks later, they award the fisherman $5.3 billion. The largest punitive damages award for a pollution case in the history of the United States. Outside the courthouse, Brian O�Neal stands on the steps, holding his three year old son in his arms. A reporter asks if he has any comment. We're ecstatic, he says. It's enough money that when it gets distributed among the fishermen and native Alaskans, it will allow them to make a new start on their lives. As the press begins to disperse, an exon lawyer comes up behind O�Neal, smiling at the boy in his arms. Q.Kid, he says, he'll be in college before you get any of that money. Back in Cordova, Ricky Ott appears out the window of her second floor office. Car horns are blaring down below. People are dancing in the streets. She looks down first street towards the harbor, where boat horns blare and bells ring and fishermen hug and jump up and down on the docks. It's the happiest Ricky scene in the town since this bill. That night, at the reluctant fishermen in, she overhears men and women discussing what they're going to do with the money. Pay down their houses, try to get back their boats, make equipment repairs they've been putting off since the fish disappeared. But some residents are skeptical. What if X on appeals? Maybe they should wait to celebrate until they actually see the money. A handful grumble that $5 billion might seem like a lot, but they'd rather just have the sound back to the way it was before the spill. In Anchorage, X on's temporary offices at the top of the Captain Cootell are being packed up. But X on's attorney Patrick Lynch tells reporters this is far from over. Because back at X on headquarters in Irving, Texas, Chairman and CEO Lee Raymond is furious. And vows to use every legal means available to overturn the verdict, even if it means taking it all the way to the Supreme Court. The appeal process will go on for 14 years. In 2006, the ninth circuit court of appeals reduces the damages by half to $2.5 billion. And still, X on doesn't want to pay. They immediately file another appeal with the United States Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the fishermen of Cordoba, Alaska, continue to wait. Early on the morning of June 25, 2008, Ricky Ott sits in her kitchen reading the papers. It's been 14 years since an Anchorage jury awarded the residence of Prince William Sound $5.3 billion in punitive damages. And they still haven't received a cent. 9.11 has come and gone. Cell phones and the internet have become indispensable tools in everyday life. A lot has changed. And Ricky Ott still lives in Cordoba, Alaska. She's retired from fishing to devote herself full time to the nonprofit organization she founded to help with the lingering social and economic impact of the spill. At 607 AM, her phone rings is reporter Yeroth Rosen from Reuters. Have you heard the news? She asked Ricky. The Supreme Court has come in with her decision. Ricky braces herself. They lowered the amount, Ricky, to $507.5 million. Ricky is stunned. That's a tenth of the original award and the rough equivalent of only four days profit for Exxon. If the fisherman see any of the settlement, it will amount to about $9,000 after legal fees. Less than $500 per season since the whole affair began. After 19 years of waiting, the fisherman will receive close to nothing. Outside, wind and rain lashes at the windows of her house as a summer storm moves in. It's as if Prince William Sound itself is reacting to the news. 21,000 gallons of oil from the Exxon Valdese remain underneath the beaches of Prince William Sound, still leaching toxins into the water. The herring never returned. Many fishermen were forced to sell their boats, permits, and homes, and a loss. And leave Cordoba for a place where they could still support their families. Because it stayed, struggle with divorce, and alcoholism. Fishing incomes never returned to pre 1989 levels, and the town of Cordoba will never be the same again. But some progress has been made with ship safety. A sophisticated new tanker piloting system requires that two tugboats, capped in by expert local pilots, guide every oil tanker through the sound to prevent another disaster like the Exxon Valdese. The change is slow coming. On April 20, 2010, an underwater explosion at BP's Deepwater Horizon Oil rig starts what will become the largest oil spill in history, almost 20 times larger than the Exxon Valdese. Rowing concerns about the environmental threat from that rig disaster in the Gulf. It's already formed a slick measuring hundreds of square miles, and as the oil moves towards the coast, it's threatening marshes, beaches, and wildlife in four states, Brian Todd. 210 million gallons of oil spew unchecked from an open well on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days, eventually covering 68,000 square miles of ocean. Three weeks after the news hits the press, Ricciott looks out the window of Alaska Airlines Flight 709, as it begins its descent into New Orleans, Louisiana. Below her, the Gulf of Mexico stretches to the horizon, and in the distance, the pale green water is blotted out by a reddish brown patch of oil that dwarfs the slick from the Exxon Valdese. The spill is six times larger than Prince William Sound itself, and BP is fighting the spill with technology that hasn't evolved at all since 1989. Containment boom, skimmer boats, and dispersons. BP is spraying the gulf with millions of gallons of core exit. The same dispersant Ricciott to keep out of Prince William Sound 21 years ago. As Ricciott's plane begins its descent into New Orleans, she takes a deep breath. Looks like the Exxon Valdese spill was just round one. Round two of her fight begins today. From Wondry, this is episode four of five of Exxon Valdese for American scandal. On the next episode, it's been 30 years since the Exxon Valdese struck a reef in Port William Sound, but the disaster still reverberates. We bring you a conversation with Marine Conservation Professor and Alaska Fisherman Rick Steiner about the state of things today, plus we'll hear from a journalist who covered the BP oil spill and how it compares to the Exxon Valdese. If you'd like to learn more about the Exxon Valdese spill, we recommend the books Not One Drop by Ricciott, and Out of the Channel by John Kebel. This episode contains reenactments and dramatized details, and while in most cases we can't know exactly what we've said, all of our traumatizations are based on historical research. American scandal has hosted, edited, sound designed, and executive produced by me Lindsay Grandford Airship, additional production assistance by Derek Barons. This episode is written by Benjamin Gray, edited by Andrew Stelser, executive producers by Stephanie Jenns, Marsha Lewey, and her nonloat has for one.