Prince William Sound Regional Citizens` Advisory Council is an independent non-profit corporation guided by its mission: citizens promoting environmentally safe operation of the Alyeska Pipeline marine terminal in Valdez and the oil tankers that use it. The council is immediately accountable to those it represents: the people and groups with the most to lose from another catastrophic oil spill in Prince William Sound. They include communities and interest groups in a region stretching from the sound itself to Kodiak Island to lower Cook Inlet—all areas that were touched by oil from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The council`s 19 member organizations include representatives from communities, aquaculture, commercial fishing, environmental, Alaska Native, recreation, and tourism groups.
Citizens promoting the environmentally safe operation of the Alyeska terminal and associated tankers
Who we are
The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council was formed after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 to provide a voice for communities affected by oil industry decisions in Prince William Sound, the Gulf of Alaska, and Cook Inlet. The council is an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to promote environmentally safe operation of Alyeska Pipeline’s Valdez Marine Terminal and associated oil tankers.
What we do
The council works to reduce pollution from crude oil transportation through Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska. PWSRCAC monitors Alyeska’s Valdez terminal and tanker operations, conducts independent research, and advises industry and government on ways to prevent oil spills and respond effectively if spills do occur. PWSRCAC also increases public awareness of these areas and various other aspects of Alyeska’s operations, including environmental protection capabilities and actual and potential environmental impacts of the terminal and tanker operations.
The council’s influence depends on the quality of its analytical work on oil transportation safety, not on regulatory powers or political connections.
The council has an ongoing responsibility to sponsor accurate scientific research that monitors the environmental impacts of the Valdez Marine Terminal and tankers. The council regularly retains experts in various fields to conduct independent research on issues related to oil transportation safety.
PWSRCAC is unique in having no mission except promoting environmental safety and informing the public about it, while industry and government must manage competing missions.
Industry must balance the need for environmental protection against the pressure for profits, while government agencies are always subject to political pressure to promote economic development and minimize the regulatory burden on industry. The citizens’ council, by contrast, is relatively free from political and financial pressure. The council's advisory role and its diverse, community-based board largely insulate it from direct lobbying and other usual forms of political pressure.
The 1989 Exxon Valdez experience demonstrated that the oil industry could learn from people who live and work in the region affected by the terminal and tanker operations. A moral imperative also emerged from the Exxon Valdez spill: those people with the most to lose from oil pollution must have a voice in the decisions that put their livelihoods and communities at risk.
The council's structure and responsibilities stem from two documents:
Contract with Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.: The first document is a contract with Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the trans-Alaska pipeline as well as the Valdez terminal. Although this contract guarantees annual funding for the council, it also ensures absolute independence from Alyeska as long as oil flows through the trans-Alaska pipeline.
Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90): The second guiding document is the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990. In the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, Congress mandated citizens’ councils for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet. The purpose of these councils is to promote partnership and cooperation among local citizens, industry and government, and to build trust and provide citizen oversight of environmental compliance by oil terminals and tankers. Congress identified complacency on the part of the oil industry and government regulators as a root cause of the Exxon Valdez spill.
In February 1990, PWSRCAC and Alyeska signed a contract ensuring for PWSRCAC absolute independence from Alyeska, access to Alyeska facilities, guaranteed annual funding, and assurance that the contract would last as long as oil flowed through the trans-Alaska pipeline.
Under the terms of its contract with Alyeska, the council reviews, monitors, and comments on various aspects of the company's operations:
- Oil spill prevention and response plans
- Environmental protection capabilities
- Actual and potential environmental impacts of terminal and tanker operations
The council comments on and participates in monitoring and assessment of environmental, social, and economic consequences of oil-transportation activities, including comments on the design of measures to mitigate the impacts of oil spills and other environmental effects of terminal and tanker operations.
The contract also calls for the council to increase public awareness of Alyeska's oil spill response, spill prevention and environmental protection capabilities, as well as the actual and potential environmental impacts of terminal and tanker operations.
The contract states that the council may work on other related issues not specifically identified when the contract was written.
The council was initially funded at $2 million a year. The funding is renegotiated every three years; current Alyeska funding is approximately $2.8 million a year.
Although the council works closely with and is funded by Alyeska, the council is an independent advisory group. The contract is explicit: 'Alyeska shall have no right . . . to have any degree of control over the formation or operation of the corporation'
Before the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 there was no mechanism, other than public hearings by regulatory agencies, for citizens to advise the oil industry or otherwise speak directly on operations affecting their communities and livelihoods. Earlier attempts by Prince William Sound residents to give input to oil industry representatives were generally met with negative responses.
Much has been done in the years since 1989 to address the factors that lead to that catastrophic oil spill. New and revised federal and state laws and regulations are in place, and the oil industry operates with a heightened awareness of the consequences of a major spill.
Perhaps the most radical innovation to come out of the Exxon Valdez oil spill was the establishment of permanent, industry-funded citizens’ councils for Prince William Sound
and Cook Inlet to oversee both the oil transportation industry and its government regulators.
The Exxon spill could have been averted by stronger prevention practices and more vigilant government oversight. Better response planning in advance could have lessened the impacts of the spill. The first three days after the Exxon Valdez oil spill afforded nearly ideal weather for oil recovery. Seas and winds were calm. But the equipment wasn’t ready.
- The Exxon Valdez oil spill was not simply a freak accident. While Exxon Corp. was immediately responsible, other factors were also at work. The oil industry, government agencies, elected officials and the citizens of Alaska share responsibility for the complacency that allowed the spill to occur and failed to ensure a prompt, effective cleanup.
The oil industry failed to maintain adequate systems for preventing and responding to oil spills
Regulatory agencies failed to protect public resources because of ineffective or inadequate oversight
State and federal elected officials failed to pass laws strong enough to protect the environment and give regulatory agencies the funds they needed to protect public resources
Except for a few outspoken local citizens, many Alaskans simply failed to pay attention
The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council believes Alaska waters and the communities affected by the Exxon spill are, in fact, safer today. But we can never relax. Continued vigilance is essential to ensure that protections are not diluted and gains are not lost as memories of the spill fade.