I keep thinking that I’ve spent all my vitriol on Exxon, and that there’s nothing left. And I’m continually surprised. The well just never seems to run dry.
We all know the story. Jury awards $5 billion. Exxon appeals and the amount is reduced to 2.5 billion. Exxon appeals again and the Supreme Court reduces it to $507.5 million. Or so we thought. Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers spoke from headquarters in Texas, and reminded us that they “set an upper limit of $507 million”, and when asked whether Exxon would argue for lower damages he said, “We are really going to wait and see what transpires through this process.” Really.
I don’t know Alan Jeffers, and he may be a stand up guy, but if I were writing a screenplay, he’d be sitting in his big Houston office leaned back with his cowboy boots up on the desk, sucking on a stogie as he drawled, “We’re really gonna wayt’n see whut transpaaaahrs through this process.” He hangs up the phone, blows a smoke ring, and chuckles.
This $507.5 million the Supreme Court bestowed on the plaintiffs is for punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded to punish defendants for reprehensible behavior. Their purpose is to be felt by the guilty party. So how punitive is this $507.5 million that may or may not be challenged by Exxon? Let’s put it into perspective. The median household income in Anchorage is $55,564 per year. That means 1/2 the households make more, half make less. We’ll start there.
Let’s say Mr. and Mrs. Exxon were an average household making $55,564 annually, rather than the largest and most profitable corporation to ever have existed on Earth, with net profits of $40.6 billion last year alone. And let’s say they did something really bad to you and were ordered by the court to pay punitive damages. They would have initially been slapped with a $6,839 punitive fine and ordered to pay you. They would have appealed it on the grounds it was excessive, and gotten it reduced to half the original amount – now they owe you a $3,419 fine. Still feeling this was way too excessive, they would have appealed it again and gotten it reduced to $694 the rough equivalent of one economic stimulus check…or half a permanent fund check for one of them. Punitive? Hardly. But now, after almost twenty years, they remind you that $694 is the upper limit, and they’re not sure what they are going to do now. They’re not getting out the checkbook just yet. They’ll have to see what ‘transpires’.
Oh, and by the way, Mr. and Mrs. Exxon both work for you, and they also rent a big room in your house. What would you do? Well, I’d probably start by firing them, and then tossing their stuff out on the street…but that’s me. Our governor, and our congressional delegation pontificate about being ‘extremely disappointed’ in the Supreme Court, but are noticeably silent when it comes to confronting Exxon itself.
As far as I can tell Mark Begich is the only one putting any pressure on Exxon to actually sign the checks, and acknowledging the fact that they owe us. The rest of the pack just keep staring at the floor and being all sad and disappointed. No pink slip, no eviction notice, no nothin.
OK, now I’m really done.