These trustees can’t be trusted: Play-acting is an abuse of public trust

For 30 years now, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has been making decisions on disbursing funds to support research on and habitat protection of resources, fish and wildlife injured by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. And as we move further from the horror of that awful incident, the Trustee Council moves further from following any true public process.

As explained in the Federal Register, a Public Advisory Committee (PAC) was created to advise the Trustee Council: 

“The Public Advisory Committee consists of 10 members representing the following principal interests: aquaculture/mariculture, commercial fishing, commercial tourism, recreation, conservation/environmental, Native landownership, sport hunting/fishing, subsistence, science/technology, and public-at-large. In order to ensure that a broad range of public viewpoints continues to be available to the Trustee Council, and in keeping with the settlement agreement, the continuation of the Public Advisory Committee is recommended” (Federal Register, October 7, 2022).

Both were authorized in 1992 and have collaborated since then, until the past 12 months.

I’ve only served on the PAC for a year and a half, so I can’t draw on a long record of experience in this position. But what I have seen recently tells me that the PAC isn’t valued, and that the Trustee Council is now going through the motions, a weak semblance of public process.

In September of 2021, the PAC spent two days — in addition to all the time that we as volunteers spent preparing for the meeting — evaluating just over 70 proposals that were received by the EVOS Trustee Council in response to a call for proposals in November 2020.  Because the dollar value far exceeded the funds available, we worked to make recommendations to the Council based on our community experience and knowledge of past research and habitat efforts.


When the Council met in October, 2021, it made very different funding decisions than what the PAC and the EVOSTC Science Panel recommended, later claiming that the body didn’t realize it couldn’t combine the Habitat and Research sub-accounts, which by law have been separate since 1992.   

I disagreed with that approach, but that is not my complaint here — of course there will always be differences of opinion on how to allocate limited resources. My sense of betrayal comes from having spent another year, and two more meetings — again, with volunteer time spent preparing for these meetings — only to have the Trustees vote to do what they intended to do a year ago. We were asked to weigh in on three scenarios for resolving the funding shortage. We listened carefully and weighed the options. The next day, an hour and five minutes into the Trustee Council meeting scheduled to last four hours, a motion was made to enact a very different scenario than what we agreed to support the day before.  No discussion ensued after the motion was made, a vote was taken, and the meeting was adjourned. So, the Trustee Council gets to appear as though it had observed genuine public process, and has effectively voted to dissolve the Habitat subaccount.

Abusing community volunteers’ time and trust for the sake of going through the motions of a sham public process is an inexcusable act.

Kristin Carpenter

Chair, EVOS Public Advisory Committee