Settling a lawsuit, especially one filed over a controversy as emotionally charged as the fouling of Alaska's Prince William Sound by the Exxon Valdez, is often less satisfying to the complaining side than a clear victory in court. It is, however, eminently practical.
Thus, it is not surprising that people in Alaska, seconded vociferously by environmental groups such as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, have criticized the three-way, $1.1 billion settlement between the company, the state of Alaska and the U.S. Justice Department. Summed up, the big beef is that Exxon hasn't suffered enough. And indeed, a company that could swallow $2 billion in costs for its initial frenzied attempt to deal with the damage to fisheries, shorelines, marine animals and their habitats without a burp could clearly stand a heavier hit to its pocketbook.
The object of all this effort is not merely to keep Exxon in the dock, however. It is to let the state of Alaska get on with its business of monitoring and repairing what can be corrected in damaged Prince William Sound. For the Justice Department, winning a $100-million settlement of its criminal complaint over environmental damage sets a major precedent.