Commentary: Court makes right call on Valdez spill

A federal appeals court struck a blow for justice Monday when it awarded the maximum allowable punitive damages in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case — and told Exxon Mobil to pay interest dating back to 1996.

That means thousands of Alaskans – Natives, fishermen, other plaintiffs and their attorneys – will share about $1 billion in payments from the oil company.

The decision comes almost 15 years after a jury in Anchorage awarded the plaintiffs $5 billion in damages. Over the years, in rulings that bounced back and forth between U.S. District Court here and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, that award was whittled down. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court set the maximum award at $507 million and left the argument over when the interest clock began ticking to the appeals court.

Fifteen years. If justice delayed is justice denied, then justice has gone begging a long time in this case. Exxon Mobil can still appeal the Ninth's decision back to the high court. Alaskans would rather see Exxon take the high road: Continue payouts begun last fall, pay the billion and finally close this case more than 20 years after oil fouled Prince William Sound in the worst spill in North American history.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.