Exxon Stops Oil Spill Cleanup

Exxon's promises to clean up after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill have not been kept, Congress adopts a bill slightly reducing old-growth forest cutting, and some new publications cover the environmental news beat.

| January/February 1990

If at first you don't succeed, quit.

That could be the corporate motto of Exxon. No, come to think of it, it would be If at first you don't succeed, claim that you did anyway. Then quit.

Following the grounding of the Exxon Valdez on Bligh Reef last March, Exxon nobly accepted full responsibility for the damage done by its oil and promised to clean up after itself, a job the company said it could finish by the end of the summer. Through the summer months, Exxon issued frequent statements congratulating itself on the progress of the cleanup.

Impartial observers were not so sanguine, however. Independent scientists, fishermen, representatives from the state government, journalists, and others reported that progress (if pulverizing the hardened crude oil and washing it back into Prince William Sound can properly be called progress) was wretchedly slow and that, despite Exxon's glowing report cards to the contrary, not one mile of one single beach had actually been fully cleansed of its petroleum grime.

Then, late in summer, Exxon started to sound cagey. It announced that cleanup operations would be suspended for the winter, starting on September 15. It promised to come back in the spring and have a look around; it made no promises about resuming cleanup or restoration activities. Then, a week or so before the target date, Exxon announced that it was clearing out. It declared victory and was withdrawing, much the way some people said we should have extracted ourselves from Vietnam.

The difference here, of course, is that this is a battle Exxon is morally obligated to keep on fighting, probably for years. No one knows just how thoroughly it is possible to clean a soiled body of water and its shoreline in that part of the world, but it's abundantly clear that whatever Exxon has done to date is utterly unsatisfactory.

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