Sunday, April 18, 2004

A Little One-Man Activism--An Exercise In Futility?

Mr. Lee R. Raymond
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Exxon Mobil Corporation
5959 Las Colinas Blvd.
Irving, TX 75039-2298

Dear Sir,

I notice in your current Public Relations statement concerning the 1989 Valdez oil spill, you make a claim for a “fully recovered Prince William Sound ecosystem.” Later in that same statement, you claim that the ecosystem of Prince William Sound is “healthy, robust and thriving.”

If those statements are true, how do you explain the severely depressed economy of the region in the years since the 11-million gallon spill covered 1,500 miles of coastline? Why hasn’t there been a herring season in ten years? Why are a third of fishers in the Port of Cordova experiencing clinical depression? Why do sixty percent of Cordova commercial fishers have to take second jobs to make ends meet? Before the spill there were fishers in Cordova whose permits were worth almost a million dollars. Today, those permits have depreciated by 90 percent. Don’t you find that just a little strange, given that the ecosystem of Prince William Sound is, as you say, “healthy, robust and thriving”?

It has been ten years since a federal jury awarded the people of the region $5.2 billion in damages. But your company has hired hundreds of lawyers and fought this ruling every step of the way. And you have hired your own scientists to negate or deny the damage that Exxon did there, just as they deny the science on global climate change.

Furthermore, in some court arguments, Exxon claims that under the Federal Clean Water Act, crude oil is not a pollutant. Crude oil is not a pollutant? Do you really believe that, Mr. Raymond?

I doubt that Prince William Sound is “robust and thriving.” But it seems that lies, corporate greed and corruption, are, indeed, robust and thriving. And what’s sad is that a company as rich as yours somehow believes it has to conduct business this way. Indeed, thinks it’s normal.

Yes, $5.2 billion is “punitive damages,” and you have the right to fight it, I suppose. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder if there isn’t still some room in the human heart for what’s right and decent. Do you suppose there still exists a place where people behave ethically toward one another now and then, and not just at the behest of lawyers and judges?

You see, I so want to believe that we’re not all of us lost, Mr. Raymond. I can’t help but think how easy it would be for you to reach out to the people of the Sound whose lives and livelihoods have been shattered.

What do you suppose it would actually cost in the whole scheme of things for you to make that kind of choice? What would it mean in this cynical world of ours, were a company like Exxon to seize the initiative in that way? Imagine your company transforming itself under your leadership—becoming an example for the rest, thereby perhaps signaling a real change in the way business is conducted, and how corporations treat ordinary human beings? I’m no expert, but I should imagine the impact of such an act would reverberate around the world. And what do you suppose that might be worth?

Am I an idealist? Yes. A “bleeding heart”? Probably. But I must tell you, Mr. Raymond: By not doing this thing that I believe is right, but instead turning your back on it—turning your back on these good people—there must be a cost for that. In dollars? No, not in dollars.

What then? What would be the cost? Perhaps only you know the answer.

God bless you, Mr. Raymond. And God bless the people of Cordova.

Grayson Harper


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