Scott Sterling was interviewed on October 15, 2005 by Sharon Bushell. The location of the interview is unknown. However, because Scott lives in Anchorage, Alaska it is likely that is where the interview took place. Scott's interview was conducted as part of Sharon Bushell's work on the book, The Spill: Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster, by Stan Jones and Sharon Bushell. (Kenmore, WA: Epicenter Press, 2009). In this interview, Scott talks about his work as the attorney for the City of Cordova during the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, working with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, and negotiating with the oil industry for public oversight of operations for improved safety.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Oct 15, 2007
Narrator(s): Scott Sterling
Interviewer(s): Sharon Bushell
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Being the attorney for the City of Cordova and hearing about the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
City Council buying equipment to protect the fish hatcheries
People committing themselves to help
Job as city attorney and formation of oil spill response committee
Dealing with crisis
Working with Dan Lawn of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
Sadness and excitement about work done related to the spill
Work with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council (PWSRCAC)
Negotiating with the oil industry
Challenges of early days of PWSRCAC
Good people worked with
Ruthlessness of oil industry
Regret not expanding public oversight to Trans-Alaska Pipeline
Success of oversight in preventing future disasters
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
SHARON BUSHELL: At this point we've got a lot of really great stories that tell a very vivid exciting story. And so what we are looking for is drama.
We’re looking for concrete images so that the reader -- we do not want this -- to a reader to pick up this book flip it to any page and think, ugh, this is dull and put it down.
And I've -- unfortunately at the beginning of the collection of these stories I got a lot of stories like that, but I’ve gotten better as time has gone by and we've weeded out a few, but we want to keep those in.
And we want you to tell your story as sexy as possible. Just in a word.
I mean, you know, stories are now considered sexy or not sexy so -- I mean -- you don’t have to make anything up.
And also be -- be assured that before this story goes even to Stan for review, it goes to you so that you’ll have an opportunity to review it.
SCOTT STERLING: Oh, no problem. SHARON BUSHELL: Okay.
SCOTT STERLING: No problem. SHARON BUSHELL: Just, well, you know, that’s a courtesy that --
SCOTT STERLING: Sure. SHARON BUSHELL: -- usually is not extended and I just want to you know that.
SCOTT STERLING: I’ll just start at the beginning. In 1989, I was young -- somewhat young, attorney and one of my clients was the City of Cordova.
And it had been my practice under my supervisor’s direction and the City Council’s direction to fly over, you know, periodically for meetings or as needed to advise and represent the city.
And I felt it a distinct honor and privilege to do that. SHARON BUSHELL: Sure.
SCOTT STERLING: Because the firm I worked for had been the city’s attorney since the early 1960’s. SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh.
SCOTT STERLING: When the city and its people went through a -- including going through the Good Friday Earthquake.
SHARON BUSHELL: Right.
SCOTT STERLING: And the weekend of Exxon Valdez, I was in Anchorage when it happened.
I heard about it instantly from the City Manager Don Moore of Cordova at that time.
And the next day I flew over to Cordova in a small plane piloted by Jeff Roth, who was one of the lawyers in our firm.
And as we flew over Prince William Sound, the Coast Guard Cutter Mustang was making her way toward Exxon Valdez.
And I looked down -- we were flying pretty low. And it was a beautiful clear day. And I looked down and I saw Mustang, a vessel that I was familiar with because I had lived on Kodiak where she was home ported at the time -- had been for many years.
And I looked down and in the distance I could see Exxon Valdez hard aground on Bligh Reef.
And I looked at the Sound and the Mustang was cutting -- She was operating at full speed ahead, and she was cutting a wake of brown, frothy brown water.
It was just the ugliest thing I'd ever seen in my life, and I just gasped.
I just went "Oh my God." SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: Oh my God.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: Because we were still -- normally when you fly over to Cordova, you know, you’re -- you’re fairly -- you’re not going to fly right over Bligh Reef or that close to the Valdez Arm, but --
So I was kind of in a state of shock, I think, you know, like with a lot of other folks.
And we got to Cordova and we landed at the Eyak airstrip, which is the old city airport close to town.
Landed on skis. We were still on skis at that time.
And I didn’t leave the town, I think, for five or six weeks after.
We ended up staying in a closet somewhere in different places.
The City Council was meeting in more or less continuous emergency session.
There were endless meetings, endless conferences. Political aspects of the spill were enormous not to mention everything else.
And therefore there were a lot of politicians, staff, lawyers, you name it, not to mention Exxon itself
and Alyeska which deployed enormous numbers of people everywhere.
But one of the most vivid images for me was the night that the City Council met and voted to spend the money to buy the spill equipment for the hatcheries.
And taking a complete chance, because frankly the state and federal governments were doing nothing and Exxon was doing nothing and Alyeska was doing nothing.
And the decision was made to expend public funds to protect the hatcheries, which underscored several things, I think.
One was the absolute relationship the -- what’s the interdependence -- symbiotic relationship between Cordova and fish and fishing.
And another was that [phone ringing] the people closest to the spill who lived there whose lives were centered there who cared most about what happened
were the people most willing to put their own lives and their own money and their own bodies on the line.
Another vivid image I recall was Tom Copeland. You probably interviewed Tom or will.
Now someone who can tell a good story is Tom.
SHARON BUSHELL: I got Tom’s story.
SCOTT STERLING: But Tom, I remember being down and talking with Tom, and he said, "Well, I'm going out there and just scoop up oil with buckets cause they’re not doing anything."
And I thought that was admirable, but more vivid was when he came back.
I mean he came back with buckets of oil and smeared with the stuff.
And I just thought, oh my God, you know, this is what we’re doing.
We’re scooping up a super tanker with Zodiacs and buckets.
Another vivid image was Kelley Weaverling who I admire greatly and I thought he exercised great leadership of a moral kind.
I also thought that many people who otherwise aren’t well known or active in politics or anything like that
behaved admirably and altruistically and selflessly to help their neighbors and to help their friends -- to help
the people and the creatures and everybody else.
Being a city attorney was -- it was probably, you know, one of the most dramatic and compelling things I’ll ever be involved in, I would think.
Certainly, looking back on it now I realize that it was not just an extraordinary event, but it was a historical event.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yes.
SCOTT STERLING: And you -- when you’re at the center of things -- you know, Cordova was in a painful position, because we weren’t directly being oiled,
but the economic impact was enormous. And the psychological impact was severe. I mean truly -- truly severe. SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh.
SCOTT STERLING: It created and caused an exacerbated divisions and animosities in the town that, you know, were -- were bitter and it cost a lot of -- cost a lot of time and money over time for people.
Another person that I hadn’t really known before the spill but got to know very well was Marilyn Leland. SHARON BUSHELL: Yes.
SCOTT STERLING: Who I thought was amazing in terms of her energy and her common sense, her leadership.
Same for Michelle O'Leary, another person who when it got around to OPA-90 [Oil Pollution Act of 1990], probably was the single most effective voice of Prince William Sound in the Congress.
So that bill probably should have her name on it, actually.
SHARON BUSHELL: I’ve got an interview with --
SCOTT STERLING: Although many -- many people contributed. And -- and I played a little bit of part in it, but in the city, but -- but Michele and R.J. and some people like that.
I just ran into R.J. in Palmer and we had a great reunion.
SHARON BUSHELL: I just was at his house a few weeks ago. I love that house.
SCOTT STERLING: Oh, the house is amazing. SHARON BUSHELL: I love that house.
SCOTT STERLING: Yeah, no -- I know. It’s an amazing place. You know, he’s quite a guy.
SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, yeah. So tell me what a day in the life of the -- the attorney for the City of Cordova was like at that time.
You had -- you had an office in Cordova?
SCOTT STERLING: Well, I operated out of City Hall. We had to -- well, the first thing we did --
well, not maybe the first thing, but real close in time was create the oil spill response committee.
And we hired Mead [Treadwell] to be our coordinator, and later Tim Robinson took that job. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: Again, two also very amazing people.
SHARON BUSHELL: Got their stories. SCOTT STERLING: That I was really, you know, glad to know and work with.
SHARON BUSHELL: Right.
SCOTT STERLING: And I can only hope they say the same about me. I don’t know.
We’ll have to see how these stories come out but --
SHARON BUSHELL: Well, they haven’t said anything bad about you.
SCOTT STERLING: Well, they must not know me. That was -- it was thought that -- and I was in on this pretty heavily.
It was thought that we need a community based response -- coordinated response under the aegis of the city so there's some legal structure and some political structure to it
that would give the town a voice in what was happening and give it a role.
And these things morphed eventually into the Oiled Mayors [organization] and sort of the political action group -- political action that took place.
And so for a while it worked. And it was, I think, in the -- sort of immediate shock period, you know, that kind of summer afterwards, it was a good thing.
And it did a lot of good, but it ran its life eventually.
A typical day for me probably would have been pretty long like everyone else. I would've been up early.
Most of my time would have been spent with the members of the City Council and the city manager and other city personnel.
Dewey Whetsell, another extraordinary individual.
Cordova is like this, you know, amazing small place that is overflowing with amazing people
that just walking down the street you might meet five Ph.D.’s. SHARON BUSHELL: I know.
SCOTT STERLING: Who are doing things like, you know, fishing or, you know, some kind of community-based project. It’s -- it’s -- it’s an extraordinary place, it really is.
SHARON BUSHELL: I grew up next door to and went all the way through all the schools with Bobby Van Brocklin.
SCOTT STERLING: Well, there you go.
So you know what I’m talking about. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: Another person. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: Who I really liked. SHARON BUSHELL: Yes.
SCOTT STERLING: But that would be a typical day for me. I would spend a lot of time phoning and faxing.
Didn’t have that many cell phones back then, I don’t think.
Juneau, Washington, D.C., Valdez, in terms of Exxon, and then the local Exxon people meetings with them.
And then public meetings and trying to implement what the council wanted done.
The city attorney’s job is to give sound advice and representation,
and in a crisis it even becomes a little more acute because you kind of operate on unfamiliar ground.
But of all the entities involved the city was the only one with legal power to take extraordinary measures that could be enforced.
So we looked very carefully at those things and we -- buying the spill buoys -- or not the buoys but the containment --
I’m losing track of the word.
SHARON BUSHELL: That’s okay. You’ll have an opportunity -- SCOTT STERLING: Yeah.
SHARON BUSHELL: To put it in later.
SCOTT STERLING: You know, Stan will probably marvel that I can’t remember this.
SHARON BUSHELL: No, no, no, because you get it before Stan gets it.
SCOTT STERLING: But, but there's -- SHARON BUSHELL: So you put it in.
SCOTT STERLING: But anyway all these things would come together and then there would be frequent meetings.
Mayor Kohler, Bobby, Mead, myself, Don Moore, Marilyn, Connie Taylor, R.J. All these folks would be heavily involved.
And I don’t know if you know Richard Harding, the elder, the Reverend Harding?
SHARON BUSHELL: No. SCOTT STERLING: Oh, okay,
well, his son now I think has his congregation, but -- SHARON BUSHELL: I see.
SCOTT STERLING: Reverend Harding was one of those people who like an unsung hero provided a lot of spiritual --
and comfort, and counseled the people and never got much recognition for it, but he was tireless -- tireless.
And then -- and then I would spend a lot of time just trying to help the city manager tackle practical issues.
Where are we going to put spill workers? Where are we going to house them?
How are we going to feed them? How are we going to make sure they have what they need?
Who’s going to pay? How are we going to adjust all this? All these things are just coming down.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: In an endless stream of crises. SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh.
SCOTT STERLING: And on top of that are the macro issues of the claims that are going to come from this. SHARON BUSHELL: Right.
SCOTT STERLING: What’s going to become of the fishing industry?
How is this going to play out? What kind of legislation are we going to get out of this?
SHARON BUSHELL: What -- what --
SCOTT STERLING: All these things. SHARON BUSHELL: Was there any precedent that you could turn to?
SCOTT STERLING: You know, we -- we looked. There are precedents for how to respond in crises like, you know, cities throughout the country and the world who've had to deal with flash floods and earthquakes and,
you know, railroad disasters and coal mine disasters and things like that. So there are some precedents.
But I think this one hit hard, because it was a technological manmade disaster number one, and because as David Grimes and Rick [Steiner] and those guys would, you know, pointed out frequently and correctly.
This hits us in the guts because it's us. It’s us. It’s our dependence. It’s our consumption. It’s our habits.
It’s our economy. This is the guck that we all need to thrive in our economy.
And now it's being plastered all over our faces and our animals and our land and our water and our livelihoods.
And boy, have the crows come home to roost.
And Rick Steiner and -- and David -- I just, for me anyway, were this like the moral lodestars in this whole thing.
If I ever thought I was drifting or, you know, sometimes my own opinions, you know, when you’re an attorney your opinions are subordinate to your client’s interests,
but quite often I felt like well, you know, I need to keep my head here because I’m not going to be a very good lawyer if I don’t exercise leadership in a calm way.
But by the same token I would get very upset, you know, very upset about it.
And those two gentlemen and Riki [Ott] also when I think about it and Stan [Stephens] eventually when we got to know each other.
We’re all people who I just thought had their finger on the moral -- the moral guiding light here.
And that we need to be clearheaded about why we all share some responsibility for this.
You know, and so it becomes a metaphor and it becomes symbolic and it becomes philosophical and it becomes a life lesson. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: You know, on an individual and group level.
And I was very grateful for those people having the wisdom that they did.
Because when you’re in crisis it's pretty easy just to spend all your time reacting, and you don’t even have time to think, you know.
And someone like David would think, and then he would tell you what he was thinking. SHARON BUSHELL: Right.
SCOTT STERLING: And he's such a gentleman, you know.
SHARON BUSHELL: I have to -- yet to meet him, but I am hopeful of getting in -- SCOTT STERLING: I -- I --
SHARON BUSHELL: He’s in Europe right now.
SCOTT STERLING: I sincerely hope you can spend a lot of time with David. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: And then Jonathan Wells, too. I hope you can spend time with Jonathan too, because that would be worth your while.
SHARON BUSHELL: He’s back in Europe, correct or --
SCOTT STERLING: In Shetland.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. SCOTT STERLING: Yeah.
SHARON BUSHELL: I'll have to see if there's a possibility that we can do that somehow.
SCOTT STERLING: I would recommend that.
And then the other person who --
Well, I've already reeled off an incredible list right and there's a lot more, but you can’t even begin to talk about Exxon Valdez without talking about Dan Lawn.
SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: And Dan Lawn is the single-handed -- most single-handedly responsible person for whatever good
and whatever reforms and whatever consciousness and awareness and prevention ever comes from this thing is to his credit.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, we’ve got a lot on tape -- SCOTT STERLING: Absolutely --
SHARON BUSHELL: On Dan Lawn -- SCOTT STERLING: And I am one of those people that Dan will tell you and everyone else will tell you
that having been in the trenches with Dan, you know, not an easy guy to get along with, right. Whether you’re a friend or foe.
I think that Dan is the Diogenes of the whole thing. SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh.
SCOTT STERLING: And I think that he made people uncomfortable because he just uncompromisingly sticks to the truth.
SHARON BUSHELL: Right.
SCOTT STERLING: That doesn’t mean he's fault free or can’t make mistakes,
but I think that as much as it was painful at the time and as angry as I would sometimes get in fighting with Dan over this or that,
I look back on it now and I'm grateful to him for being truthful and honest at all times.
SHARON BUSHELL: We’re having an -- I don't know if I should put this on the record or not. In fact, I think I’ll just turn this off.
Understand Dan’s importance and plan to attend to it. So --
But tell me -- I need to know more about you.
I need to know how did this affect your personal life?
SCOTT STERLING: Oh (laughter). Well, it was inasmuch as I was single at the time and to the extent my law firm found it feasible to allow me to participate in all this.
It was thrilling in the sense that hardly a day would go by that you did not have to deal with this or think about it in some way and I --
Because I have an interest in politics and I'm a lawyer and like to think of myself as a good citizen,
I found it to be extremely challenging and interesting to try and get some reforms enacted into law. To support the people who were doing that.
I found it personally -- I was sad a lot of the time, I think, now I look back on it even though I’m pretty much a happy and positive individual.
That I may have been more depressed than I realized, because I think some of it rubbed off on me, but I -- since I didn’t live there, I had a home in Anchorage.
But I was there a lot.
I felt like, oh, well, I get to escape periodically. And so I would.
Eventually I was back -- kind of even before RCAC got started I was back at my job.
And I had other things I had to do, as well.
At one time the City Council and my bosses talked about me being the acting city manager because Mr. Moore was going to leave,
but it was decided that would be -- we couldn’t act as attorneys and take that role on and all that. But I would have found it interesting to do.
I kind of regret that the friendships have kind of gone because I didn’t -- I couldn’t stay active in the organization indefinitely. SHARON BUSHELL: Sure.
SCOTT STERLING: I was extremely gratified that I was the leader of the organization for a while.
And allowed to take a leadership role.
SHARON BUSHELL: Incredibly unique opportunity.
SCOTT STERLING: I always tell people I’m good at two things. One is washing dishes and the other is running meetings.
And I did feel that I was able to take over and at least the meetings went better and we got more done.
The whole separate subject of the relationship with Alyeska is worthy of a tome in and of itself.
SHARON BUSHELL: Well, let's hear it.
SCOTT STERLING: The unique nature of the contracts, which again is a credit to Ann Rothe and Michelle O’Leary and people who really were actively involved in trying to get something going with Alyeska before the spill.
But which morphed into RCAC eventually.
And then to have it enacted into law was the real coup, because no one hardly ever gets anything from the oil industry in law that they don’t want.
So it was a big coup. It really was.
And it took a lot of very skillful, hard political work to get it there and --
SHARON BUSHELL: And let me interject this question. SCOTT STERLING: Sure.
SHARON BUSHELL: These folks -- I mean not speaking of anyone in particular, but just in general, did you feel an adversarial sense?
SCOTT STERLING: Absolutely, yeah.
SHARON BUSHELL: I mean to the point of rudeness or just --
SCOTT STERLING: Oh, I think there were -- there were always --
I tried to act as professionally as possible and was even forced in the position of having to discipline some people for
very ill-considered remarks that were made that were -- kind of poisoned the atmosphere of what was already a pretty adversarial relationship.
But I always subscribe to the view -- and I’m pretty confident that the other senior leadership, I guess now you would say, would agree which is that it's meant to be adversarial.
It's meant to be arms length.
It's meant to be skeptical.
It's meant to be pointed.
It's meant to be not feel good. SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh.
SCOTT STERLING: Okay. And there are some things that it's almost like anything else. It taught me a lot about negotiating.
It taught me a lot about the pure seductive nature of money -- immense money such as the oil industry possesses.
And their global reach.
I probably knew it intellectually, but didn’t really understand it until I got involved with RCAC.
That the global reach of a BP or an Alyeska, which, you know, technically is just their little non-profit operating company, but symbolically it stands for so much.
They are immensely powerful people. And they are furthermore unhesitatingly ruthless and unhesitatingly able and willing to use their power.
And when you get into the ring with them you had damn well better be prepared.
And I say that -- and then I should footnote that by telling you I was considered to be too soft on them.
I was to a certain faction I was too compromising and too politically minded and too much of a lawyer if you will. Okay.
So there you have it.
And I was a little -- maybe I was.
I couldn’t afford as a representative of a city, I could ill afford to say or do anything that would cast either my client or its interest into a shadow.
And so mindful of that constraint, I behaved accordingly.
And I think that some people never quite understood that.
Bill Walker understood it perfectly, because he and I were both municipal attorneys.
And I'm glad that Bill is now -- I think Bill is either the president or the general counsel for RCAC.
But whatever Bill is doing for the organization now, I think he would verify for you that whatever your --
whoever your interest group or community was that you were representing on the board you could hardly serve them well if you didn’t serve the organization well.
And you couldn’t serve the organization well if it was all out warfare all the time.
Because then it's not helping prevent oil spills.
It’s not reducing safety hazards and pollution emissions from the ballast water treatment plant.
It's not doing any of those things and it's not too good for morale.
Although there were people -- militant employees in the early days and militant board members who would, you know, if they’re, you know, given a choice would prefer a militant approach.
And the line between adversarial and militant, you know, put a motion on the table and take a vote because sometimes it would go and sometimes it wouldn’t. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: But in general because the American political system is built around reaching compromise through checks and balances,
and that’s I think the ethos that most people have, I found it easier to operate as, you know,
concede when you have to, but make sure you can get what you need.
And, but, yes, yes.
If you -- to a political scientist it could be no less than just a completely absorbing organization and topic to study.
And I found it to be -- the challenge of running a meeting efficiently and productively for 19 people at any given moment
whose agenda was very broad and whose interests weren’t always aligned,
I found that to be a very challenging and rewarding activity.
And I was very proud of my record and as a board president, at least in that regard.
And we did accomplish some other major things, too.
And so I felt pretty good about it.
Overall, it was very positive. We had a little reunion here a year ago October. I guess October of 2006.
Maybe I’ve lost track of time. Anyway,
but Jonathan Wells was visiting from Shetland and we had Dan and Ann Rothe and Marilyn and Linda.
And some other veterans, I guess, over to our house and we had a little party and a reunion. It was very -- it was very --
it felt really good. It was nice.
But, yeah, make no mistake, that contract is unique.
It’s embodying federal law.
It is a totally one-time opportunity to enact something that puts communities and citizens on somewhat of a level playing field with the oil industry.
SHARON BUSHELL: According to Walt Parker, that point in time is probably the one and only opportunity that it ever had to pass.
SCOTT STERLING: I’d agree, yeah.
And I respect Walt’s judgment greatly, and I’d agree with that.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. SCOTT STERLING: Yeah.
And I think that, you know, I was president of the board and Av [Gross] was the attorney when we had our first renewal battle with Alyeska. SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh.
SCOTT STERLING: And -- SHARON BUSHELL: What year was that -- was the renewal?
SCOTT STERLING: Probably it would've been well --
SHARON BUSHELL: 2000?
SCOTT STERLING: No, no, no, no, no, no, this -- we used to have to do it yearly.
SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, God.
SCOTT STERLING: No, no, we did the certification yearly -- the Coast Guard certification was yearly.
I think the first renewal was in ’92 or ’93.
Ann would know or Stan would know.
And my, God, did they put -- I mean they came at us with guns blazing. They wanted to toss the whole thing. They were going to sue us. They thought the whole thing was a disaster.
We had breached the contract in 5,000 ways.
They hired a former Attorney General of Alaska, Hal Brown, who happens to be a friend of mine and a friend of Av’s, but he did his job.
Hired Hal to come after us.
SHARON BUSHELL: Av, who?
SCOTT STERLING: Av Gross. SHARON BUSHELL: Oh.
SCOTT STERLING: Was, oh, he was the general counsel for RCAC.
SHARON BUSHELL: Okay. SCOTT STERLING: For the -- up until Bill took the job. SHARON BUSHELL: Okay.
SCOTT STERLING: For a long, long time Av was our attorney.
And I thought oh, my God, they’re going to sue us over this.
They're going to sue to end this contract. And they threatened to do it.
And we just plowed ahead. We just plowed ahead.
SHARON BUSHELL: Let me ask you this. SCOTT STERLING: Okay.
SHARON BUSHELL: I know we --
SCOTT STERLING: You must think that we all babble on endlessly, but you can understand the enormity of it.
To average people it was just like oh, my God, all of a sudden you’re just like in the center of this -- this -- this monstrous --
SHARON BUSHELL: Absolutely.
SCOTT STERLING: -- thing, and it's on every level of life.
SHARON BUSHELL: And it goes on.
SCOTT STERLING: And it doesn’t end, you know. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: And so the organization in, you know, in its nascent period was very exciting to be associated with.
SHARON BUSHELL: Unfortunately, it looks like it is going to end.
SCOTT STERLING: Well, I would hope not.
I don’t think it should and I -- I would hope that it wouldn’t.
I -- I would be against that. I --
SHARON BUSHELL: Well, yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: Whatever needs to be done to keep it going should be done, in my opinion.
SHARON BUSHELL: But there -- I mean now that it's gone to the Supremes [Court] there’s, you know, you -- what can you do?
SCOTT STERLING: Oh, you’re talking about Exxon Valdez litigation? SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, yes.
SCOTT STERLING: Oh, no, no, no, I thought you were talking about RCAC itself.
SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, God, no.
SCOTT STERLING: No, no, no, I think -- yeah, well whatever.
I mean the litigation that’s a whole separate subject. SHARON BUSHELL: Yes.
SCOTT STERLING: I’m sorry, you were going to ask a question.
SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, I was -- my subject was going to be toward the tying up of the whole thing, but if you have more to say about
anything, the litigation or whatever you want, go ahead.
SCOTT STERLING: Well, Stan Stephens I think is also a remarkable individual. SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, yes.
SCOTT STERLING: And that’s another person who I, you know, consider a friend.
And who probably 99% of the time in agreement with,
but one thing I found interesting about Stan [Stephens] and Dan [Lawn] is that they were -- could be as stubborn as I am.
SHARON BUSHELL: Positive.
SCOTT STERLING: So we did have some pretty interesting battles along the way.
And I have to say of those gentlemen that whether you’re in agreement with them or not you’re well advised to listen carefully to what they’re saying.
SHARON BUSHELL: When I hear about Stan putting on his boots and walking the pipeline,
it's just like oh, my God, you know, this is --
this is a unique place in which we live and the people who attend to it.
SCOTT STERLING: Totally so. Totally so.
Ann Rothe was a tremendous -- I think again --
when I think of these people I think not only of our work, but I think of their moral bearings and their character. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: And just how true they are.
And what good really decent people they all are. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: And there are -- there are good and decent people that work in the oil industry, too, and I don’t want to sound like they’re not. SHARON BUSHELL: No.
SCOTT STERLING: But at the level that they operate on in dealing with something like this -- like communities that are affected by their operations directly,
they can be -- you have to play hardball with them.
And if I learned anything from my experience it was that don’t ever fool yourself.
And it's not just the oil industry. Maybe the oil industry is a symbol of whatever concentrations of immense power and wealth you may come across.
If you’re trying to obtain an agreement of some kind with them, be prepared that you’re going to be treated ruthlessly.
They are completely ruthless.
And that ruthlessness comes from knowing that they have immense wealth at their disposal and immense political influence.
And one thing that used to bother them more deeply and persistently was the idea that RCAC was using their money to lobby against their interest.
Ah, that -- that bugaboo would -- that would be endless.
So any time any of us would go to Juneau or Washington or anything, it would be well you’re lobbying with our money and that’s against the contract.
I mean you would hear that just daily. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: So, yeah, that was a -- certain recurring battles never ended, and probably are still going on today.
SHARON BUSHELL: No doubt. SCOTT STERLING: Yeah.
SHARON BUSHELL: Okay, so I -- by -- by way of sort of winding this thing up, what in --
What would be a glaring omission if it were not in your story?
SCOTT STERLING: You mean in terms of -- you mean just in terms of how I see it?
SHARON BUSHELL: Yes. Not necessarily in terms of how you've analyzed it. SCOTT STERLING: Right.
SHARON BUSHELL: Thirteen years later, but -- SCOTT STERLING: Right.
SHARON BUSHELL: At the time what -- I don’t know, I guess we’re back --
SCOTT STERLING: Well, I -- I -- it was, you know, for all the --
It was a crude experiment in some ways because you’re really throwing together a rather like a mini legislature. SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh.
SCOTT STERLING: You know. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: And -- it wasn’t, you know, our political structures -- we kind of set it up to run is like a -- like a book club initially.
I mean, you know it was sort of -- sort of small, but it had this immense constituency.
And it was very strange. I mean it took a long time, I think, for lines to be worked out and understood and how's this really going to work and how can we be effective because we’d just throw committees of volunteers together.
And we were all about direct democracy and direct participation and direct voice and not having lawyers who are used to representing others be, you know, lawyer --
We didn’t want a lawyer model even though we had lawyers obviously, myself, Bill, other folks, but I think it had a glaring omission.
Well, I don’t know about an omission, but I’ll tell you what I regret.
I regret that as Walt says and lots -- I totally agree that in this unique opportunity we had, politically and legally, that we did not extend the reach of this for the entire pipeline.
I honestly and truly believe that would've been the smartest best thing for Alaska, its people.
And even though they may not agree and never will agree, I think it would've been best for the owners and operators of the pipeline itself.
It is Alaska’s oil and we are the consumers of it and we’re the ones who should be responsible for it.
And we’re the ones who have a moral responsibility to keep stuff like Exxon Valdez from happening.
And we can only act to enforce our will through agreements and laws that are enforceable against the people who do the work.
I really wish -- because here’s the thing, the oil industry they don’t view it as oh, there's the pipeline and then there's the terminal and then there's the fleet.
That is not how they look at it.
They are systems engineers and systems planners and systems oriented people.
They run it as a system. Okay.
It should be overseen as a system.
And I do regret that we didn’t -- and it was discussed,
but it was just sort of thought of, you know, are we to exceed our grasp here.
SHARON BUSHELL: Right. SCOTT STERLING: You know. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: We don’t want to lose -- we don’t want --
Someone said we don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good.
So if we can’t get a perfect agreement, we’re going to get a damn good one. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: And, you know, I think history will say yeah, you did.
You got a good agreement. And you got a good law.
And despite all the headaches and subsequent disasters and everything else that have happened.
I can only hope -- it’s maybe hard to prove, but I do believe that it's helped prevent future, you know, similar disasters. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
SCOTT STERLING: And if and when one should happen again, if the things that RCAC is supposed to do are being done,
then it should be responded to in a much more effective way.
But you don’t want to know that.
SHARON BUSHELL: Right.
SCOTT STERLING: From having to test it in reality. SHARON BUSHELL: Yes.
SCOTT STERLING: So, I don’t know. God, there's a lot to think about with this.
SHARON BUSHELL: There is a lot to think about.
SCOTT STERLING: Jesus. I can’t even --
SHARON BUSHELL: I know. Well, --
SCOTT STERLING: God, I almost feel sorry for you. It’s like how are you ever going to --
SHARON BUSHELL: Well, I’ll tell you --
SCOTT STERLING: -- get this down to manageable --
SHARON BUSHELL: Well, when I get 110 pages from Riki and --