Oil spill legal experts reunite for 20th anniversary of Exxon spill

Events in Fairbanks and Anchorage center around improving oil transportation and citizen involvement

03/18/2009

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NR: SG-2009/NR288

Anchorage, Alaska—Alaska Sea Grant legal scholars who successfully encouraged the state to establish citizen advisory councils, conduct scientific studies, develop oil spill contingency plans, and enact other oversight and safeguard measures in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) will reunite in Alaska to mark the spill’s 20th anniversary and discuss steps still needed to protect Alaska's coast.

Alaska Sea Grant is a statewide marine research, education, and advisory program funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State of Alaska. The program is based at the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

Following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, Alaska Sea Grant convened a four-person legal research team that made a series of recommendations to the Alaska Oil Spill Commission (AOSC) aimed at helping the state exercise greater regulatory authority and influence the content of the landmark federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

“The legal team worked closely with the oil spill commission to frame the debate and craft the final report on many specific sectors of policy and law,” said Zygmunt Plater, legal team member and professor at Boston College Law School. “Some specific ideas recommended by the Sea Grant team and the commission have been judicially or legislatively adopted, such as the establishment of regional citizen advisory councils, the state's Citizens' Advisory Commission on Hazardous Substances, legal preemption advisory, tank farm management reforms, and provisions in the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990.”

The Alaska Sea Grant Legal Team recommendations were delivered to the Alaska Oil Spill Commission, and ultimately, these recommendations influenced new state and federal laws. For example, the Prince William Sound Citizens’ Advisory Council and the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council can find their roots in the legal team and oil spill commission findings. Oil spill contingency plans are also part of the current state and federal regulatory process, thanks in part to the Alaska Sea Grant Legal Team recommendations.

Four public events, three in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks, will reunite members of the legal team and others who played critical roles that helped Alaska strengthen its marine transportation standards.

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program and the National Sea Grant Law Center at the University of Mississippi are sponsoring the events in cooperation with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council (PWSRCAC).

In Fairbanks on March 19 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), legal scholars Zygmunt Plater from Boston College Law School; Harry Bader from the Betula Group, a private consulting firm specializing in international resource management issues in physically and socially challenging environments, and former UAF professor; and Charlie Cole, former Alaska attorney general, will present a special seminar on citizen involvement in marine transportation safety.

On March 24 in Anchorage, legal team members Plater, Bader, and Alison Rieser, from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, together with former Alaska attorneys general Walt Parker, John Havelock, and Charlie Cole, will recount their 1990 recommendations and how they were adopted by the Alaska Oil Spill Commission, and ultimately by the State of Alaska, to improve the safety and reliability of marine transport of crude oil and other hazardous substances.

Also on March 24, at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Sea Grant and the PWSRCAC will show a new retrospective video about the Exxon spill, titled "Then and Now: The Alaska Oil Spill at 20." The half-hour video showing will be followed by discussion with PWSRCAC officials and ASG Legal Research Team members Zygmunt Plater and Harry Bader, focusing on citizen oversight and other regulatory aspects of marine transport of hazardous substances and high latitude shipping safety.

Public events in Fairbanks

Through the Lens of EVOS: The Unpredictable and Critical Role of Citizen Input in Environmental Crisis Management

Thursday, March 19, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the Vera Alexander Learning Center, O'Neill Building, University of Alaska Fairbanks

This special seminar on citizen involvement in Alaska marine transportation safety will be videoconferenced to Juneau, Kodiak, and Seward.

Public events in Anchorage

Spills in the North Pacific and Arctic 1989-2008

Monday, March 23, at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center, Anchorage

Members of the Alaska Sea Grant Legal Research team will participate in a daylong seminar sponsored by Pacific Environment and led by former Alaska Oil Spill Commission chair Walt Parker on shipping safety in the arctic and subarctic.

EVOS: A Time of Creative Opportunities

Tuesday, March 24, from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center, Anchorage

A panel discussion on the 1990 Alaska Sea Grant Legal Research Team recommendations and how they were adopted by the Alaska Oil Spill Commission, and ultimately by the State of Alaska, to improve the safety and reliability of marine transport of crude oil and other hazardous substances. This discussion will be videoconferenced to Kodiak, Seward, Kenai, Valdez, and Homer.

Then and Now: The Alaska Oil Spill at 20

Tuesday, March 24, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at Rasmussen Hall, University of Alaska Anchorage

The showing of a new retrospective video about the Exxon spill, followed by discussion with PWSRCAC officials and ASG Legal Research Team members, focusing on citizen oversight and other regulatory aspects of marine transport of hazardous substances and high-latitude shipping safety.