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Public Papers - 1989 - April

White House Fact Sheet on Federal Assistance for the Alaskan Oil Spill Cleanup

1989-04-07

The oil spill in Prince William Sound, simply put, is one of the greatest environmental tragedies in American history. More than 10 million gallons of oil went into the waters of the Sound. The spill has been deadly to marine life, mammals, and birds on a substantial scale. Adding to the threat of the situation was the possibility that more than 40 million additional gallons of oil still in the ship might have been discharged if further damage to the ship, still on the reef in exposed waters, had occurred.

The remaining oil on the Exxon Valdez has now been unloaded to the extent possible and the tanker refloated. Thus, the danger that this tragedy could have been magnified by several times in size has now been removed. Now it is time to focus private and public resources on the job of cleaning up the oil, protecting fragile areas from the spreading pollution, and restoring damaged areas.

The Exxon Corp. has acknowledged its responsibility, and it will be held strictly accountable for all damages caused by this incident to the maximum extent of the law. Exxon is currently conducting extensive operations designed to recover spilled oil. In addition to Exxon's current efforts, a substantial Federal response has been mounted, coordinated by the United States Coast Guard. At present, this effort involves almost 400 Coast Guard personnel, as well as vessels, aircraft, helicopters, and large quantities of equipment.

The President has determined, however, that this effort should be expanded; and he has today directed a series of additional measures.

Accelerating Cleanup

1. The President has asked Secretary of Transportation Samuel Skinner to serve as the President's personal liaison to the cleanup efforts. Secretary Skinner will be responsible for mobilizing and coordinating all Federal Government Departments and Agencies as necessary. Adm. Paul Yost, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, and Vice Adm. Clyde Robbins will assume personal oversight direction of the cleanup effort, working with Exxon and the Governor of Alaska.

2. The Department of Defense has been directed by the President to make available all facilities, equipment, and personnel that can be effectively utilized in assisting the cleanup of spilled oil. Planning for this effort, which will be coordinated by Maj. Gen. J.D. Smith, the Director of Military Support, has already begun. Elements of all military services will be available as necessary to support oil cleanup operations.

The operations that are anticipated will include utilization of Armed Forces ground personnel in the cleanup of affected beach areas, additional personnel and equipment to assist in skimming and booming activities related to oil in the Sound, and construction of facilities for civilian and military personnel participating in the cleanup efforts.

As on-site coordinator of cleanup efforts, the Coast Guard has been assured of the availability of necessary Department of Defense assets. It has been charged by the President with the responsibility of utilizing the maximum practicable effort to begin the restoration of affected land and water areas.

Use of military forces will not displace civilian employment by Exxon or by Federal Agencies. By constructing facilities in remote areas, the military effort will facilitate future use of civilian personnel in cleanup-related work.

3. The President calls on Exxon to increase the number of civilian employees and locally owned vessels employed in oil cleanup operations. The President believes that simple, expeditious, and nonexclusive claims procedures should be established by Exxon for those damaged as a result of the spill. This assistance should include temporary funds pending resolution of permanent claims.

4. The President has directed that a program for volunteers willing to assist cleanup efforts be established during the coming summer months. Volunteers and other civilian assistance will supplement military personnel in cleanup operations.

Promoting Recovery

5. In addition to these immediate cleanup efforts, the President has named EPA Administrator William Reilly to coordinate efforts to promote the long-term revival of the ecology of Prince William Sound. EPA will draw on the expertise of leading scientific and oil spill experts in developing long-term recovery plans.

6. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the Department of Commerce, the Department of Interior, and the Department of Agriculture have already commenced a scientific assessment of the ecological damage from the oil spill and the development of a plan for long-run restoration, rehabilitation, and replacement of the damaged natural resources. As a part of this effort, the Departments will assist in the development of plans for restoring fish and wildlife stocks and habitats.

7. The President will shortly submit comprehensive oil spill liability and compensation legislation, and he urges Congress to consider and act upon such legislation promptly. In addition, the President believes ratification of pending international oil spill agreements should receive priority attention by the Senate.

8. The President has directed Secretary Skinner, working with Exxon, the Alaskan congressional delegation, State authorities, and other agencies, to develop appropriate loan programs to assist those who have suffered economic losses, and to report back to the President on such programs within 10 days.

9. Finally, the tragic consequences of the Exxon Valdez situation have demonstrated the inadequacy of contingency planning for emergencies of this type. As a result, the President has directed a review of contingency plans of this type nationwide to determine their adequacy in light of the lessons of this situation and the critical importance of an adequate capacity for a timely response. The National Response Team, established pursuant to the Clean Water Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, has been directed to undertake this reevaluation of existing planning and to report findings and recommendations within 6 months.

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