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Alaskans call oil-spill payment 'tragic'

The Supreme Court cut Exxon's payment far more than many residents had expected.

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Lost livelihood: Fisherman Mike Webber in Cordova lost much of his livelihood to the oil spill. A native Alaskan artist, he carved a 'shame pole' ridiculing ExxonMobil's aid.

Yereth Rosen

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Two decades after the Exxon Valdez supertanker veered off course, slammed into a reef in Prince William Sound, and created the nation's worst oil spill, some Alaskans say they've been hit by another disaster – a legal one.

A US Supreme Court ruling Wednesday trimmed punitive damages for the 1989 catastrophe by at least 80 percent. So, instead of the $2.5 billion that some 32,000 plaintiffs had been awarded, the court decided the damages should equal no more than the $507.5 million already paid in compensation to private plaintiffs. Reaction in Alaska was fast and furious.

"Tragic," said Gov. Sarah Palin.

"Adds insult to injury," said Alaska's congressional delegation in a statement.

"A slap on the wrist" for Exxon, said Tim Joyce, mayor of the fishing hub of Cordova, which was at the center of the disaster.

Not long ago, some Alaskans worried that the fishing hub would sprout "spillionaires" – ordinary people suddenly rich from lump-sum Exxon payouts. Now in Cordova, there is talk of giving up homes, fishing permits, and the town itself, said Riki Ott, a local fisherman, scientist, and environmentalist. "There are some people, they look like they've been shellshocked."

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