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Topic: Climate & Pollution     Department: Letters

Shilling for Big Oil?

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In 1993, the mayor of Cordova, Alaska, committed suicide. In his final note, he mentioned Exxon. This tragedy represents the lasting shocks that continue to ripple through many communities still affected by the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill 25 years later. While Krista Langlois' story was focused on the ecological aspects of the disaster, to describe the Cordova fishermen as "sitting on their hands" was rather offensive ("The toxic legacy of Exxon Valdez," HCN, 3/17/14). The billion-dollar settlement mentioned as a possible "silver lining" fails to inform readers of the wake of destroyed lives and communities that Exxon never took responsibility for. Exxon successfully appealed a ruling against it for over $5 billion until the Supreme Court whittled it down to $500 million, a penalty that represents a few days of profit for the company and left the plaintiffs with almost enough to pay their bankruptcy attorneys. This article felt very much like an advertisement on behalf of Exxon Mobil.

Jeff Letey
Salt Lake City, Utah

Krista Langlois responds:

While the lives destroyed by the spill have been well documented, my story (as you mention) focused on the lingering scientific impacts and resulting policy changes. The intent was not to be callous toward human suffering, but rather to synthesize ecological consequences that are only now being fully understood. The story's description of entire populations of whales nearing extinction, 20,000 gallons of oil lingering after a quarter-century and a herring fishery that still hasn't recovered are hardly selling points for an oil company.

The phrase "sitting on their hands" was meant to suggest that Cordova fishermen weren't able to fish for herring, not that they weren't doing anything to help clean up the spill. The words "silver lining" were used by several people I spoke with who were directly involved.

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