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Alaskan Testifies at Senate Judiciary Hearing

Lessons of Exxon Valdez presented by former commercial fisherman

Recalling the devastation and loss brought to thousands of Alaskans after the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, Cordova resident and former herring fisherman Joe Banta testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee today at a hearing entitled "Exxon Valdez to Deepwater Horizon: Protecting Victims of Major Oil Spills." U.S. Sen. Mark Begich recommended Banta testify before the committee to give a real life account of the multiple impacts of the oil spill on Alaskans.

Banta, a 20-year member of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, talked of the biological, multigenerational financial, and community effects of the Exxon Valdez disaster.

"My father's herring fishery was gone and his salmon seining fishery was impacted. My fishery was gone. My sons have had no opportunity to participate in this unique Alaskan way of life," Banta testified. "Twenty-one years after the spill, there is no indication that this way of life is ever coming back. After three generations of participation in commercial fishing in Prince William Sound, my family no longer fishes commercially in any way."

Sen. Begich told the committee he appreciates the focus on making sure the victims of the Deepwater Horizon disaster don't suffer the same injustices experienced by Alaskans.

"Thousands of Alaskans, sadly fewer and fewer each year, were only recently compensated for the damage. Livelihoods and ways of life are forever different," Begich said. "As we assess the lessons learned two decades later, one truth rises above all others: We must be committed to paying the price of vigilance, because the price of complacency is too high."

After the Exxon Valdez spill, Banta went to work in 1990 for the newly formed citizens' organization, the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council (PWSCAC), authorized by Congress in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The oversight panel was established to give local citizens a voice in the operation of the oil industry in Alaska.

Begich currently has an amendment pending in Congress establishing an Arctic Regional Citizens Advisory Council, modeled after the PWSCAC. He has introduced legislation designed to promote responsible energy development in the Arctic by ensuring the federal government has thoroughly planned and prepared for potential oil spills in the region. He also has a bill requiring any company responsible for any oil spill that wants to develop federal oil and gas leases in the future to set up an escrow account held by the U.S. government with enough money to compensate those affected by the spill.

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