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Sean Parnell Still Works for the Oil Companies

By Shannyn Moore – Cross-posted from the Anchorage Daily News

On Thursday, May 20 1993, Bob Van Brocklin left a suicide letter.

“The stress from Exxon which brought about my financial stress was too much to deal with alone. The end should be good and maybe my spirit will live. I have a lot of fear right now, but faith is all that is left. I wish I could have done more good for others but I guess my time is up.”

Bob was the former mayor of Cordova. He shot himself.

Bob sat in the Cordova High School on the 28th of March 1989, four days after the spill. Don Cornett had been sent by Exxon to reassure local fishermen and their families.

Mr. Cornett made a promise to Mayor Van Brocklin and everyone else that day. “I’m going to show you what we are doing about it. And we are doing the best job that has ever been done on an oil spill. And watch, just watch. …You have had some good luck, and you don’t realize it. You have Exxon. And we do business straight!”

“We will consider whatever it takes to keep you whole. You have my word on that – Don Cornett. I told you that.”

Exxon did not keep that promise.

Sadly, Bob Van Brocklin wasn’t the only suicide over the Exxon spill. Many Alaskans, desperate for their lost identities, took their own lives.

Twenty-three years ago I was herring fishing in Sitka. Healthy runs promised a banner year.

Moving north at 9 knots through the Inside Passage in late March is like traveling with spring; coloring a black and white world as whales surface to breathe and dolphins and sea lions frolic in the wake, gorging on herring.

Then the Exxon Valdez “fetched up.” The oil spill response team had long been let go — its equipment iced in to dry dock. This catastrophic event was not the simple failure of one company with a mythical drunken captain and a leaking tanker; it was systemic and pervasive cost-cutting at the expense of safety. BP, major owner of Alyeska Pipeline, had failed to honor their agreements. Laws to protect the environment were passed to approve the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. They were challenged in court shortly after the first drops of oil ran through to Valdez. State and federal government agencies looked the other way.

On June 23, 2010, William Allen Kruse, a charter boat captain hired by BP as a “vessel of opportunity” out of Gulf Shores, Alabama, died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Friends said the oil spill had weighed heavily on his mind as it had on many local fisherman no longer able to support themselves and their families.

I know what it is to go from being a fisherman to an oil spill response contractor. I did it in 1989. It feels as dirty as the beaches — like you’ve just made a deal with the devil. The term “spillionaire” that was thrown around to describe those who made money from the cleanup effort doesn’t make up for salt sea spray on your face and the annual promise of full nets.

Domestic violence, bankruptcy, alcoholism and collective depression washed up for years following the Exxon Valdez crisis. Twenty-three years later, the herring fishery in Cordova is still decimated — genetic lines of fish erased.

The despondent and repercussive waves of the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster haven’t been fully realized. Being a fisherman isn’t what you do, it’s who you are — the Gulf of Mexico or Prince William Sound is just geography. The toughest fishermen can’t win; they drown in court. The slow erosion of identity is invisible compared to the black wake of a catastrophic oil spill.

The collective amnesia we experience after an industrial calamity is bizarre. How did Alaskans fail to remember Sean Parnell was one of Exxon’s attorneys arguing against injured fishermen?

Parnell saved Exxon billions of dollars when he succeeded in halving their $5 billion judgment. Twenty years of court battles and eight years of George W. Bush birthed a right-leaning, pro-corporate stacked Supreme Court that further eroded Exxon’s punitive damages to $500 million.

Ten cents on the dollar after 20 years in court. Thanks.

Sean Parnell is still working on behalf of oil companies at the expense of Alaskans. His oil tax reform bill, HB110, promises billions of dollars more in profit to the most profitable transnational corporations in history, already enjoying record profits.

How many environmental “accidents” and the resulting toxic fallout will it take before we learn our lesson? What’s next? Wishbone Hill? Chuitna? Pebble? Drilling off-shore in the Arctic?

Good grief, we needed the Russians to rescue three whales a few decades ago and this year we needed them to deliver emergency fuel to Nome.

Will we need them again when the Coca-Cola polar bear drowns in oil?



7 Responses to “Sean Parnell Still Works for the Oil Companies”
  1. Anonymous says:

    If the Democratic Party of Alaska wasn’t such a weak in knees too afraid of the opposition political party this might not be the case.
    They could not get up enough intestinal fortitude to challenge electronic voting results in the past couple of elections and we continue to elect oil company lapdogs. Watch Rep. Don Young get the same percentage of votes which he supposedly has in the past couple of elections, because we all know that even the people who dislike Don will vote for him. LOL
    Lets not forget how 30,000 supposed Democrats went for Murkowski in the last election. AK Democrats are weak!

  2. laurainnocal says:

    I didn’t realize there were that many rethugs in AK. Oh, and let’s keep giving the oil company tax breaks.

  3. PollyinAK says:

    Alaskans can sign this petition.

    To be delivered to: The Alaska State House, The Alaska State Senate, and Governor Sean Parnell
    Article VIII of the Alaska Constitution states that Alaska’s resources should be managed as a public trust, providing for “maximum use consistent with the public interest…for maximum benefit of the people.”

    Current Alaska oil legislation (ACES) allows oil companies to make ample profits, whether the price of oil is high or low.

    Governor Parnell wants the Alaska Legislature to lower taxes on oil production. Contrary to Gov. Parnell’s assertions, in public testimony the oil companies have promised nothing in return for this free windfall: no increased development, production, or investment. Oil prices and profits are the highest they have ever been.

    Please say NO to lowering oil taxes.

  4. Mo says:

    Leah Burton explains very succinctly why voters in this state elect oil company sycophants again and again:

    “Alaska is now an extension of the Southern Bible-Belt, thanks to oil discovery and the flood of immigrants from Lower 48 that infested our state. I am 4th generation and the Alaska I grew up in has disappeared.”

    When you work for The Man, you do what he says, or you don’t get paid.

    Alaska: Arkansas North

  5. Dagian says:

    “How did Alaskans fail to remember Sean Parnell was one of Exxon’s attorneys arguing against injured fishermen?”

    Oh, my word.

    I hope that he is not merely shown the door, he is shoved outside in the bitter cold. In his metaphorical skivvies.

  6. PollyinAK says:

    How did this man ever get re-elected? I am too upset to say anything else. Thank you Shannyn for this great article.

    • Ivan says:

      Because the conservative independents and republicans in this state would vote for Satan if he was a republican incumbent who waved the flag and shouted god bless America.
      There is no thinking required , you just take it on FAITH that they will represent your best interests .
      Men like Parnell are the essence of the Alaskan republican party, the republican party is only a tool for business men who want an unregulated ability to make a profit at the expense of everything or everyone.
      the irony is that a party built on the blood of Christ has sold its soul to big business ( and they think that Jesus would approve. )

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