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Tom Copeland
Tom Copeland

Tom Copeland was interviewed on April 28, 2007 by Sharon Bushell in Bellingham, Washington. Tom'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, Tom describes his experiences surrounding the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, his individual efforts to assist in the cleanup independent from the government, his theories of how the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill occurred, and the effects of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Tom also talks about his participation in the 1993 blockade of the Valdez Narrows by the local commercial fishing fleet, and his role as a representative to the the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council (PWSRCAC).

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-26-07

Project: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
Date of Interview: Apr 28, 2007
Narrator(s): Tom Copeland
Interviewer(s): Sharon Bushell
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Resources Library & Information Services, Alaska State Library, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


Brief history of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council (PWSRCAC)

Coming to Alaska from Arizona and fishing in Cordova

Disasters in Cordova

Dispute over relocation of the PWSRCAC offices to Valdez

The immediate aftermath of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Trying to get equipment to clean up the spill

Sitting in Cordova with nothing to do

Oil Pollution Act of 1990

Organizing the first "bucketeering trip"

Others help respond to the oil spill

Continuing the tale of the "bucketeering" efforts

Exxon as a "bottom feeder"

The need for the PWSRCAC

Getting paid for the oil cleanup and the creation of "spillionaires"

Why fishermen are the best qualified group for oil cleanup

Helping push legislation through Congress

His theory of what caused the Exxon Valdez to run aground

PWSRCAC guarding against complacency

1993 blockade of Valdez Narrows by the commercial fishing fleet

Ending the blockade

Lobbying for the passage of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


SHARON BUSHELL: This is April 28, 2007 and I am recording Tom Copeland in Bellingham.

SHARON BUSHELL: Okay, so Tom, we don't even -- we don't have to speak loud -- you don't have to do anything, just -- this is a --

TOM COPELAND: My kind of, my kind of interview.

SHARON BUSHELL: -- a pretty high quality rig here. So, tell me what you're -- tell me what it was --

TOM COPELAND: Let me go back to what I was saying before, you know. The oil spill has been well documented, most of us have told our stories several times, over the years, you know.

And I have, I certainly have nothing against RCAC, making sure of this, that the people - that it's covered again.

But, but I think the thing that's being missed here is, is the story of RCAC and it's founding and stuff because of course it came directly out of the oil spill.

And I think it's proven to be a spectacularly successful model of how to deal with a major problem with the polluting industries that compose a huge risk for the environment, but yet that we feel necessary.

And, and the answer is to, is to, is through legislation.

To insist that those people who are putting the public at risk, and making a profit at it, contribute to informed citizen review of their activities. Which is what RCAC is.

We get $3 million dollars a year from the federal, from the Alaska oil industry in order to oversee their operation.

We don't have any jurisdiction other than we, than we have funding, guaranteed funding, guaranteed independence and the same access that regulatory agencies have to the, to inspect their facilities and operations and stuff.

Now we're just strictly a jawboning operation, but that's been enough. It's made a tremendous difference. Anybody who goes through the post Exxon-Valdez history of oil transportation in Alaska will realize what a huge positive force informed local citizen activism has been.

Stabilizing and improving the system.

And I think it's night and day. And I don't think that there's much doubt about that in the local communities.

I mean we're, it's, we're perceived as being very successful and having created a very successful and safe oil transportation system, which is certainly minimizing the danger of having another Exxon-Valdez. Which is what everybody sought for.

And I think it should serve as a model for other industries which have a large footprint on the public domain.

And as a way to control their activities. And I think it's, word needs to get out that this is, A, has been done, outside of Alaska nobody knows about it. And B, that it's been so dramatically successful.

So that would be my pitch, if I was going to write a book, I mean if RCAC was going to spend money on writing a book, you know, it'd be about themselves and about their early history which has not been adequately documented and covered.

So I'll throw that out as a --

SHARON BUSHELL: Okay. Well, just to reassure you --

TOM COPELAND: I realize that's not this project.

SHARON BUSHELL: Well, I think that bits and pieces about the establishing of RCAC and it's mission is going to leak out because Joe had quite a bit to say about RCAC.

TOM COPELAND: Yeah. I'm sure he did.

SHARON BUSHELL: So, and we'll get your piece in there as well. So maybe we'll be addressing two things at the same time.

But, so tell me, tell me about your relationship with Alaska and the oil spill. You were fisher, you were a fisherman?

TOM COPELAND: You want to start at the beginning?

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. You were a fisherman?

TOM COPELAND: I was. I was, I've been fishing in Prince William Sound since 1963.

My family comes from Tucson, Arizona and my, and we pioneered our way up there in the 1963.

My dad and mom decided that they needed to show the kids Alaska, meaning a chunk of wilderness, before they, before we all grew up.

So we all moved up here. I was the oldest child. I was just graduated from high school.

And my younger brother and, he was a freshman in high school at the time, went fishing with my father on the Cooper River flats the year before the earthquake. And as pure cheechakos.

We never, you know, we'd done a little boating in Mexico before, but we'd never actually, certainly not done anything for commercial fishing before.

And went out on the flats and had a, we survived. You know, we did all the various fisheries. Cordova's renowned for having all of the different kinds of fisheries in Alaska and everyone does them all which is different from the rest of Alaska.

The rest of Alaska commercial fishing, you'd, you're either a gill netter or you’re a seiner or you’re a troller or you’re a longliner.

But you tend to do only one type of fishing. In Cordova that's not true. Everybody dabbles in all of the various types of fishing. Except for trolling which we don't have.

SHARON BUSHELL: -- well, I hate for --

TOM COPELAND: Well, you want to, we'll just keep going here. There's no --


TOM COPELAND: (Indiscernible). SHARON BUSHELL: All right. So --

TOM COPELAND: So anyway, the next, my, one year was enough for my dad and so we, the family moved back to Arizona in '60, that was '62, in '60, no, it was '63. In '64, the year of the earthquake, that '63-'64 winter, my younger brother and I built two skiffs down in Tucson, loaded them on a flatbed truck and drove up the Alcan in the spring.

Which turned out to have been a month after the big Alaska earthquake, which changed everything in Prince William Sound, and more specifically on the Cooper River flats, the ancestral fishing ground of Cordova.

And, which was all only about 12 feet deep where people fished, and it rose 6 feet in the earthquake, so now it was only 6 feet deep.

Half of the water had left the flats. And gotten even shallower.

So it was a, it was a completely changed fishery in the spring that Steve and I started.

So everybody, to the certain extent, we were part of a big new era on the Cooper River flats. And particularly, but also in Prince William Sound.

A lot of the traditional fishing areas had either risen or collapsed vertically, and had destroyed the fishery source. So there was a, it was a completely changed commercial fishing situation.

Cordova didn't suffer much physical damage, but its fishing ground suffered mightily.

Sort of the same thing had happened 25 years later, to the day in the Exxon-Valdez oil spill.

We didn't get any oil on us down in Cordova, but out fishing grounds took the biggest hit of all.

And yet we find ourselves overshadowed by other groups of fishermen down stream from Prince William Sound, who were actually more physically oiled in their communities.

But who didn't suffer nearly the economic effects that Cordova suffered.

So it's been a kind of a ironic situation for Cordova.

It's tucked up well enough onto the west side of Prince William Sound, but it doesn't directly get hit with oil spills, but it certainly was turned in, almost into a ghost town by the Exxon-Valdez.


TOM COPELAND: Cordova was, yeah. And -- and many of the other ironies of course, are that Cordova has by far the best airport in Prince William Sound.

We had the only scheduled jet, at the time in 1989, we had the only scheduled daily jet service in Prince William Sound.

And yet during the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, not one ounce of oil response equipment was unloaded at that fabulous airport in Prince William Sound.

Every bit of equipment that was flown in, which was most of whatever showed up, was flown into the itty bitty little mountain ringed airport in Valdez because Valdez was the center of the response. It was the oil town.

You know, our -- our bested rival.

We had whipped Valdez into nothingness for 50 years prior to the oil company showing up and they rebuilt this ghost town of Valdez into the biggest town in Prince William Sound.

And so the only thing that anybody cared about were Valdez effects.

Well, the point of the matter is Valdez profited from the oil spill. You know, the money ended up in Valdez and they don't care about the fishing grounds of Prince William Sound, other than the highway to drive the oil through.

So there's a lot of bitterness about, about the difference between Cordova and Valdez in the oil spill. Cordova suffered the oil spill and Valdez profited. And it was, has not been portrayed that way in the media.

And, and it's one of the reasons why one of the biggest fights we had within RCAC over the first 6-8 years was relocating the main staff and office to Valdez.

That was very unpopular with all of the other communities who made of the board of RCAC.

Because of this story I just told you, everyone is well aware that Valdez profited from the oil industry itself and then greatly from the oil spill itself.

SHARON BUSHELL: So relocating from where --

TOM COPELAND: From Anchorage is where the RCAC was organized and ran for the first 8 years or so.

We had our main office, almost all of our personnel were in Anchorage. And very particularly for the reason that we didn't want to move into an oil town and be influenced by the politics of an oil town.

And, uh -- but it became more and more apparent as time went on that one of the lessons citizens learn when they're well financed and organized is that you get the main bang for your buck when you work with very low echelon people within the industry.

By the time, what we need to do is when there's a project started in the terminal or with the transportation system, we need to talk to that guy who's first been tasked with scoping out the project.

And we need to influence that person before he puts anything on paper.

Because it's much too late to change the course of a project once it hits the president of Alyeska's desk in Anchorage and then we walk in and say, ah, you got it all wrong, blah, blah, blah.

Right. And we would, we were not nearly as effective in making our voice heard until we actually moved most of the office staff down to hated Valdez.

And, just because of the force of necessity. I mean, you know, it made, it du -- it became apparent to everyone, almost everyone that we needed to do that.

But it was one of the hardest decisions we ever made, was to, was to move our main focus into Valdez.

SHARON BUSHELL: So how effective would it have been, or would it have been possible to have branches or RCAC in all of this spilled communities?

TOM COPELAND: Nothing for it to do. It never made any sense. We -- we toyed with that idea for a short period of time, but in reality, our job was to make sure there was, there was no need for public relations in all the downstream communities.

The only reason that we'd ever want a small office in each of the communities is if we had another Exxon-Valdez spill.

And -- and our job was to prevent that, not capitalize on future oil spills, so it never made any sense to do it.

And we, I think we toyed with it for a year or two and spent a little bit of money in that direction, but the only reason to have those is, would be during a subsequent spill.

And -- and we all felt that we could stop future oil spills from happening. That's, has always been our focus, is prevention. I've, have been the odd guy out on the board and in the committees for years by focusing my efforts in response.

I'm interested in oil spill response, not particularly in oil spill prevention.

I -- my organization, of course, is primarily interested in oil spill prevention.

And so I found myself involved in one of the oil spill prevention disputes over the years, but my focus has always been on what do you do once the oil is on the water.

And how do we avoid the most searing event in my life, which was the two weeks right after the Exxon-Valdez spilled the oil. And nothing was done by anyone.

To -- it was very clear from day one or two, that Exxon had no real plans to actively go in and clean up the oil. They were counting on Mother Nature to blow it down to Japan.

And-- and in all likelihood, that was a good gamble. It's early spring in March and early April and Prince William Sound is a fairly violent time for weather.

And they could count on a big storm coming up that would push the oil out in the Gulf of Alaska where they would at least have a better excuse for not doing anything with it.

And letting it naturally weather was a nice line of theirs early on.

But (chuckle) it almost makes you believe in God.

The preternatural beautiful series of days and weeks that we had right after the oil was spilled, it was just like today.

For -- in Prince William Sound for six long agonizing weeks.

Day after sunny, beautiful day, while the oil soaked deeper into the beaches and washed in and out with the tides.

And it was unbelievable. And it just drove people insane, myself included. I flew up the --

SHARON BUSHELL: And let me ask you this, Tom, it drove you insane because nothing was being done?

Because the weather was making the problem worse? What --

TOM COPELAND: Well, because it, the weather had, had refused to cooperate and this notion that it would blow the oil of Prince William Sound.


TOM COPELAND: And where it couldn't be reasonably captured, and in fact, stayed in Prince William Sound for weeks.

And -- and eventually part of it left. And, but half of it stayed behind forever.

And, -- and it was just maddening to see, to know that we could, for the first, well, let me, let me back up here for a while.


TOM COPELAND: I flew up on day four. Mary and I were planting the apple orchard down here at the time and Bill Black, the person you just talked to on the phone, drove out to give us the news that -- there was a huge oil spill in Prince William Sound.

So I handed Mary the shovel, literally, and said, I'll see you when I see you, and went down and jumped on a plane and flew up right away.

And I was a board member of CDFU at the time.


TOM COPELAND: Fishing -- Cordova Fisherman District United. The local fishermen's union. The oldest fishing union still extolled on the west coast as a matter of fact.

And I had fought my way back onto the board, on the anti logging ticket at that time. And I was mainly an activist in reviewing the Forest Service plan for Prince William Sound and stuff.

But I was on the board so I felt I needed to get up there and try to make commercial fisherman a part of the response.

Well, at one of the -- it became -- when we got up there, it became apparent that nothing was happening and nothing was likely to happen. In the first 10 days of the oil spill, Exxon switched its responsible party four times.

They had four different people come in to take over the spill.

And not only, we'd, just about the time you'd get that guy educated enough to where he was calling back east saying, hey, we better do something, they'd replace him with another guy who needed to get three or four days of indoctrination before, before he ran out of excuses for doing nothing.

And then they'd send the next guy in. They did that four times.

And -- and meanwhile, the Coast Guard refused to take responsibility. The Coast Guard, at that time before OPA 90 the Coast Guard was supposed to manage the responsible parties response.

But it was the responsible parties responsibility to actually go out there and cause the response to happen.

The Coast Guard was only supposed to be there in a kind of a safety regulatory overseeing.

But the Coast Guard was very adamant from the start that they, was not their responsibility to respond to this oil spill, it was Exxon's.

And they refused. One of the, and for, and it turned out, Bill Black,

came up with me and was manning the phones, you know, the, like the day three some fisherman who'd just, without any orders at all had gone out and helped tow boom around the Exxon-Valdez while it was still on the reef.

And the Baton Rouge, which was starting to, the one part of Exxon's response that was very professionally as near as I can tell, accomplished, was the lightering. And a very interesting person for you to re, talk to would be the official RCAC hero of the oil spill, which was, oh man --



SHARON BUSHELL: It'll come to you.

TOM COPELAND: It'll come to me. Bill Deppy (ph). Bill Deppy (ph), who was the, an Exxon skipper, a tanker skipper who was charged with the lightering of the Exxon-Valdez.

They flew him up from wherever he was and, and he got the Exxon Baton Rouge along side the tanker in a minimum amount of time.

It was there within, I think within 24, 36 hours. A very quick move, anyway.

And it was a very dangerous thing. I mean the Exxon was sitting on the bottom, sitting on the reef, with its bottom torn off.

And they had to bring another tanker of slightly shallower draft in and tie up along side it. So it was only a very finite number of feet underneath the hull of the Baton Rouge as they're pumping her full of oil and lowering her draft.

So she was coming down on top of the reef at the same time that they could have easily left two tankers up on top of that reef.

If a storm had come up or any number of things, it could have been a very critical operation.

And, but in fact, they successfully lightered 75% of the oil off of the Exxon-Valdez.

Thank God. And as near as I can tell, there's some critics of, from the, what's their name, Rick Yant (sp?), disputes the amount of oil that was taken off.

And there was some evidence for the fact that perhaps they only got 60% of the oil rather than 75%. But, hey, we're thankful.

SHARON BUSHELL: Right. TOM COPELAND: We're very thankful.


TOM COPELAND: And Bill Deppy (sp?) did a superb job of accomplishing that mission and, and he was later our favorite Exxon liaison person for 8 years at RCAC.

He was, he did two tours of duty with us, a Exxon representative and went a long way to healing a number of the wounds.

Which have mostly reopened since he's left. But --

SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, he's a defector, oh God.


SHARON BUSHELL: He's a defector?

TOM COPELAND: Oh, no, not of Exxon, of, he just, he's had new assignments finally, after eight years.

SHARON BUSHELL: Well, that's good too, though. Maybe.



TOM COPELAND: But he'd be a great person to talk to.

TOM COPELAND: And he's, and I, on, when he left, I made an official proclamation, it passed through the board of RCAC to make him the hero of the oil spill from our point of view.

He's the guy that picked up most of the oil, thank God.

And, but any way, Bill Black manned the phones and, and anyway, these guys came in.

One of them came in who had been draped, trying to drape this chicken shit boom that Exxon had, I mean that Alyeska had, trying to hold it together around the tanker in some sort of, you know, containment.

And it kept breaking and it was junk, it was rotten and, you know, and finally one of the guys from the Baton Rouge leaned over, it was probably Bill Deppy,

I don't know this for a fact, but anyway, somebody leaned over and yelled, hey, what you guys ought to get is some of that Navy boom.

The Navy's got the boom you need. So this guy ran back into town and told Bill Black about it and CDFU and so Bill got on the phones and he wife down here got on the phones and spend in total, hundreds of dollars calling around trying to find this boom.

And in fact, they finally got a hold of the Base Commander back in New Jersey that had both the boom and the skimmers.

30 Marco (sp?) Class III skimmers, loaded on C-5 Alphas and had them loaded up since day one. And this was like 10 days into the spill by the Bill and Rose found them. And --

SHARON BUSHELL: -- just say what you mean.

TOM COPELAND: All right. Hope the tape was not on.

SHARON BUSHELL: It wasn't. It wouldn't matter anyway. Okay.

TOM COPELAND: So, and the problem turned out to be that the Coast Guard refused to a, the Navy had to be asked by the Coast Guard to send this equipment to the scene, to the oil spill. They were perfectly willing to send it, the Navy was --

SHARON BUSHELL: But they had to go through --

TOM COPELAND: -- from day one. SHARON BUSHELL: -- the Coast Guard.

TOM COPELAND: But the Coast Guard had to say, please send this equipment.

And it was the chain of command. And the Coast Guard was refusing to do so. It was Exxon's problem, not the U.S. Government's problems, it was Exxon's problem. And unfortunately, Exxon couldn't ask the Navy for the boom and the skimmers, it was government equipment, right? Not private equipment.

The government had to ask for it. And, and so we called everybody and raised hell. Called all the senators and everybody and finally we got it. Three weeks into the oil spill.

Three weeks it took. And the Coast Guard never did ask for it.

What happened was that, I met the fellow who walked into President Bush's office at the White House and said, sir, we have to send that equipment, that Navy equipment has to go.

Whether the Coast Guard will ask for it or not, we have to send it. And Bush said, okay, send it.

And so he ordered the direct presidential order to send the Navy equipment to Prince William Sound.

Coast Guard never would ask for it. Never did ask for it.

And it, and with, if we'd gotten that equipment two weeks earlier, the spill would have been a whole different story.

I mean it wasn't a lot of equipment, but it was some equipment. We could have made a difference.

That was the problem with the first two weeks of the oil spill, nothing was done.

Not one damned thing. They dropped some piss tested rock wipers -- piss tested rock wipers on Smith Island to wipe the rocks, but the oil was out all over the water and coming back in so they'd no sooner get something wiped and it'd be oiled the next day. They could wipe the same rock every day.

You know, and they were getting a smidgen of oil with their soak up pads.

That's the oil that was being recovered for the first two weeks. Exxon had no equipment, Alyeska had no equipment and the Navy equipment couldn't be accessed because the Coast Guard didn't want to take responsibility for federalizing the spill.

And they were problem correct. Exxon probably would have walked away entirely the first time the Coast Guard lifted up the phone and said, send that equipment, Exxon would have said, okay, we're out of here. Back to New Jersey.

It was probably what would have happened, you know. And so that's the kind of politics that were swirling around.

And, you know, we were focused on it, Cordova in particular was focused on it. Believe me, this whole, the whole town was mobilized, you know?

SHARON BUSHELL: Okay, let me break in here to ask you something that is, keeps tweaking me is coast, having lived in Alaska for a substantial period of time and having gotten around a number of communities, never having gotten to Cordova, I keep flashing on the isolation.

The geographical isolation of Cordova, which is of course, relative. But nevertheless, you guys in Cordova were rather isolated except, you know, for flying, for flights in and out and so forth.

TOM COPELAND: Well, we weren't isolated in any aspect except you couldn't drive there.


TOM COPELAND: We have, you can't call us isolated when we have the only daily jet scheduled flights in all of Prince William Sound including -- It was much easier to get to Cordova, both before and during the oil spill, than any other community affected by it because we the only daily jet service from Anchorage.

SHARON BUSHELL: Okay. Well, that's probably good --

TOM COPELAND: So it's not --

SHARON BUSHELL: -- that that comes up.

TOM COPELAND: You can't call us isolated. See, that's the problem. That's, that's what Exxon and the state, everybody, kept saying. Oh, you're so isolated over there, so isolated. We're not isolated over there. We're not isolated at all. That's not true.


TOM COPELAND: What is true is that he didn't want to use the airport. You know, they didn't want to use the airport because, gee, they wouldn't have been able to hang out in the oil town, they'd of had to come to the fishing town.

That was the problem. And Exxon isn't going to voluntarily, Exxon made the mistake of flying a few guys down Kodiak a week after the spill and they were lucky to get out with their lives.

You know Exxon didn't just traipse around to the other communities, forget it man, they were lynched -- you know, they'd have been lynched.

The only place they were safe was in Valdez. And that was, that was, I think, the primary motivation, and the other one was the media.

The media was entirely short-sited and focused on Valdez. They thought the were in the middle of the wilderness and super isolated when they got to god damn Valdez.

You know? Oh man, you see these guys, they show up they're tearing the labeling off their fresh new Levis that they brought for this trip.

You know, the Exxon guys had them starched and ironed with a crease in them.

They're Levis. You know what I mean it was a culture clash, you know? And so anyway --

SHARON BUSHELL: So you guys are, here you guys are sitting in Cordova --

TOM COPELAND: We're sitting in Cordova going god damned insane, tearing at each others throats, you know.

The Coast Guard's first duty with Cordova, the first thing the Coast Guard did with Cordova was make sure that every fishing vessel owner in Cordova knew that if they left the harbor with their boat, they would never be allowed in another federally funded harbor anywhere in the world. They would be a boat without a harbor.

They would be denied any access to federal harbors, forever. So don't even think about going out in Prince William Sound and trying to do something.

You know? You'd be the man without a port.

And that was their, that was the Coast Guard's position, to just stay out of the god damn way, you know?

Well, we stayed out of the god damned way for two long, hot, sunny, stinky weeks.

Hearing tales, no good tales were coming back from either Valdez or, we had a contingent in Valdez right away. The president of the Union was up there working with Exxon logistics right away, trying to coordinate something. But nothing was happening.

He'd spend three days educating the Exxon muckity muck on local geography and the talents of the oil indus, commercial fishing industry and how many boats we had, et cetera, et cetera, which none of the Exxon guys appeared to believe.

You know, they couldn't believe that there were thousands of boats in South Central Alaska. That in fact, we were a maritime culture.

And that we could certainly go out there and house 10,000 people tonight, safely, on the water.

You know, and feed them a gourmet meal to boot. You know, there wasn't a, you know, Exxon was totally, once they got started, when Bush, about the time he ordered the Navy's stuff sent, he also told Exxon in no uncertain terms to hey, we want a response.

We except a response out of you guys.

This was, like, day 20 of the oil spill. 18 or 19, day 18 or 19 of the oil spill when Bush finally issued his proclamation and said, you will perform a massive cleanup in South Central Alaska, and get after it boys.

It's only going to get worse. And so Exxon, at that point, made a big, oh, of course we are, sure we are, it's unbelievable and difficult and uh, uh, uh.

You know, and finally turned around and started focusing on doing something and which, for them of course, meant, how do we get 10,000 bunks and mess halls and everything out in the middle of this God forsaken wilderness.

And of course CDFU had been telling them for two weeks that, just give us the word.

Take the locks off the harbor and we'll all drive out there. We put tens of thousands of people on the water, we'd be out there right now except for you guys.

You know, let's just go out there and do it.

There's nothing hard about it, you know. But it took another month to get revved up, you know?

And -- and by that time the oil was all down by Kodiak and Catmandu (sp?), you know. And, such as it was, it wasn't all down there and we actually picked up quite a bit in Prince William Sound.

But anyway, by the end of two and a half weeks, we'd torn each other apart in Prince Wil, in Cordova.

You know, fisherman are not a -- we're kind of different from farmers I think. I don't know, maybe farmers are the same way, but we only, we don't clump up very easy, you know.

And there were, tend to be fairly individualistic. And we all had our different ideas on what a proper response to this calamity was. And --

SHARON BUSHELL: So there was not fishing, there was no cleanup, there was no --

TOM COPELAND: There was nothing. SHARON BUSHELL: That would be just --

TOM COPELAND: Nothing went on except a lot of hot air. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.

TOM COPELAND: You know, and finally the State, you know, the State was as much a part of it as anybody else.

They'd approve these non-existent stock piles of equipment and everything. They were as culpable as any, they were in fact more culpable than any other party.

Well, the Coast Guard had its own, are you aware that the, of the actual cause of the oil spill was not the drunken skipper, but was in fact the regular radar operators not watching the radars that night? Are you aware of that?

SHARON BUSHELL: Well, I have, I've been told by --

TOM COPELAND: The National Transportation Safety Study points it out very distinctly.

It's a official document of the U.S. government.

And their finding was that drunk as he was, Hazelwood, did the right thing that night. In calling up the Coast Guard and telling them that he was leaving the normal tanker lanes in order to avoid ice.

And they were all sitting around in that room playing cards or something because no one bothered to look at the radar. They claimed over and over again that their radars were inadequate.

Well, the radars weren't inadequate, they didn't ever switch the range knob.

They played cards while the Exxon Valdez, after notifying them that it was leaving the tanker, normal tanker lanes on a very icy night to avoid the ice, never bothered to change the range knob, so he drove off their screen.

They had it, they, and that was what happened. No one was paying attention at the Coast Guard radar control.

The traffic control center.

SHARON BUSHELL: And this is, this --

TOM COPELAND: And it's in -- SHARON BUSHELL: It has, in fact -- TOM COPELAND: -- the National Transportation Safety study. SHARON BUSHELL: See now --

TOM COPELAND: It was testified under oath, the whole thing. That's the, those, that was the proximate cause of the oil spill, was Coast Guard inattention to the working, functioning radars.

SHARON BUSHELL: That's the reason that this book could potentially be very important. Because --

TOM COPELAND: That, yeah. SHARON BUSHELL: That kind of, people are (indiscernible) --

TOM COPELAND: Well, and that's why we got OPA 90 That's why we have RCAC -- SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.

TOM COPELAND: -- is precisely that. A number of us went back to D.C. in '89 and '90 and told a number of congressmen this very story.

And said that we can't trust the Coast Guard. You can pass all the laws making the Coast Guard responsible for oil spills from now on, which OPA 90 did. They are now responsible. Once, once it gets over a certain size, the Coast Guard has to take over immediate responsibility for the cleanup.

That was a main change of OPA 90, because of this two week delay. In fact forever delay. They never did take over. And with the Coast Guard. And --

SHARON BUSHELL: But you're saying that open, open -- TOM COPELAND: OPA 90. Oil Pollution Act of 1990.


TOM COPELAND: OPA 90. The first oil transportation safety act ever passed by the federal government.

In 1990. And, and, but the, a number of fisherman were back there telling the legislators that this was not enough. This was not sufficient. Because it was the Coast Guard that had caused the oil spill. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.

TOM COPELAND: The Coast Guard was not paying attention to what was going on.

You know, they had complacency ruled that night, in Valdez Arm, and we couldn't allow that to happen again. And the only way we could think to not have it happen was we have the local citizens in charge. We're the only ones who care.


TOM COPELAND: You know, the oil industry doesn't care about oil spills. Hell, it's just another career move for them. And likewise for the Coast Guard and everybody else, you know. They just don't want to get their shoes oily.


TOM COPELAND: You know? And, and the only people who really can be trusted to pay attention, year in and year out, to stay focused on it, are the guys whose property and lifestyle are going to be destroyed.

And us, you know, Cordovans.


TOM COPELAND: You know, Prince William Sound or Kodiak. Seward, Seldovia. And, and we were, by God, we got it. We got a great section in OPA 90 dictating both RCAC and the Cook Inlet RCAC.

And, at minimum funding levels. And we've proven to be, hi, hi Sarah.

SHARON BUSHELL: Okay, let me, I'll stop this for a second.

TOM COPELAND: -- stuff, you know.

SHARON BUSHELL: Okay. All right. So could you remember where we were? Can you pick up from there?

TOM COPELAND: Yeah, yeah. So, anyway, things were getting pretty, pretty brutal in Cordova by this. We were like too many rats locked up.


TOM COPELAND: We aren't used to being locked up in our port by the Coast Guard (indiscernible). And you couldn't go anywhere, you had no excuse but the politics or even the, even the real fisherman, the guys who never had time for the union or anybody, they were just, they were the highliners, right?

They were too busy killing things to do any politics.

Even those guys couldn't be out there doing their normal stuff. They had nothing to do but come up and complain to CDFU about how nothing was happening.

Well, right, nothing was happening. Right.

Well, two weeks of that was plenty. And, and on my birthday, April 7th, 1989 I hit the great idea.

You know, I was just totally frustrated, going out of my mind and, with everybody else and I finally decided that the problem was that we were all trying to do something in unison.

And in reality, the only way to attack this oil appeared to be on an individual basis. Just, I mean it was my mental hygiene that I was concerned about.

You know, I was going nuts. I was going to do something. I was going to pick up the AK-47 and, you know --


TOM COPELAND: There were a lot of people talking about scoped rifles is the answer and all this stuff. You know, it was getting pretty wild. And so I hit upon the notion that I just needed to go get my share. Of the -- of the oil, right? And it just, for my own personal benefit. And I was walking out of Cordova Outboard and spied this little one inch air powered diaphragm pump for fuel transfers.

It was, you know we, we move a lot of gasoline around from boat to boat, and, and it's notorious for causing explosions and fires.

And with the electricity, you know, driving the pump. So this was an air powered pump. It was an air powered diaphragm transfer pump.

Little miniature thing, you know, cost 800 bucks. And I said, wow, that's my birthday present.

I mean, look the diaphragm pumps will pump anything.

You know, it doesn't matter the viscosity, it'll pump mud. You know, and I said I can pump some oil with that, you know? I don't care what it looks like.

So I went, you know, I, and we all had thousands of five gallon buckets in town because we were, normally this time of the year we'd be kelping, which involved picking up herring roe on kelp and salting it in the five gallon buckets and selling it to the Japanese.

So there were tens, tens of thousands of five gallon buckets in town.

And, and so I rounded up a crew and headed out. Regardless of what the Coast Guard was saying.

You know, they, clearly were impotent. And I didn't care whether I came back or not. You know?

And so I grabbed a couple of friends and off we went on the first bucketeering trip, which is what these pictures are from, here.

SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, okay. TOM COPELAND: Yeah, we got up on the, on, that's the northwest bay on the northern tip of Knight Island.

And we wandered around out there for a day or so and got, Exxon had a number of people in boats on the water by then, they just didn't have any skimmers.

They didn't have any way to pump the oil up. So they were, we went to, Herring Bay was the, was the favorite place in the and where all the worst of the oil was, mostly.

So we ran around in the Herring Bay, which is also on Knight Island. And it was full of oil all right.

And there were several chartered boats in there by then and there was some boom that they had boomed up quite a bit of the oil with.

And which had the, booms full of oil were just floating around in the middle of bigger amounts of oil. And so we went over there and stuck our little diaphragm pump and tied up to one if these circular booms and stuck the diaphragm pump over the side and started pumping and by God, it worked.

You know, we were pumping into this (indiscernible) here. We had a tote on the back deck and with little hoses coming in and we were pumping off the water into this tote on the back deck of the JANICE N, and then, and then we’d siphon –- this was a siphon hose, you know, coming out and taking the water back out off the bottom.

SHARON BUSHELL: God, that must have felt good to finally be doing something.

TOM COPELAND: Oh, it was fabulous. See this picture here? This is, this is the very first morning with the set up.

You see, that’s that same tote sitting there behind me.

And look at the crew, here. And the first time, its, just started working. I mean this is the first morning. Look at that. They were ecstatic. We’ve gotten a lot of hell for that picture because we look too, they look too happy.

SHARON BUSHELL: Look too happy.

TOM COPELAND: You know, well, believe me, we were happy.


TOM COPELAND: We were ecstatic. Man, we’d actually made a difference. We had, that’s more oil that anyone had picked up that, that’s day 17 of the oil spill.

And that’s the majority, on day 17, I’ll be you that’s the majority of all the oil that had been containerized from the Exxon-Valdez.

That’s 100 buckets we did that day. 500 gallons. And I bet it the first 500 gallons that was picked up. I can’t prove that.

It was about the time the Navy skimmers were starting to show up in town. There was a, you know we were, it was, it was simultaneous with Exxon’s finally having some sort of actually oil presence out there.

And responding. But I bet this was the first.


TOM COPELAND: And -- and I had a good friend, one of my fishing partners, Floyd Hutchings, was a very able fisherman and he was, he was out in the middle of, in front of Prince William Sound on the day of the oil spill in a longliner.

Longlining for, for halibut. And over the first 12 hours or so he realized one of the big problems was was that no one could communicate.

There was, there was, there were not repeater stations at that time for VHF radio in Prince William Sound.

So the, the Exxon officials in Valdez couldn’t talk to the tanker, they couldn’t talk to the any of the, the reconnaissance boats that were downstream.

And a few aspects of the Alyeska oil plan did sort of work.

And one of the best ones was Clean Seas. The north slope response organization immediately trucked several thousand feet of boom on flatbed trucks down to Valdez and got them on a landing craft and went out and tried to do some protective booming downstream of the Exxon-Valdez.

But they didn’t have enough personnel to man the booms. And one of the lessons we learned right away was you never leave a boom untended. If you put a boom out and leave, it’s worthless.

It’s end, it ends up hanging from the trees within a day or two. And Ex, and northern Prince William Sound was festooned with thousands and thousands of feet of boom laying up at the high tide mark, doing absolutely no good. But it was out there, it was a resource to be used.

And about the time we got, we pumped about, oh, just a bucket, we just, we didn’t even bucket any of the of stuff down in Herring Bay before the Exxon guys showed and ran us off. They was their oil.

They’d boomed it up, it was their oil, they didn’t need any help, get the hell out of here. And, besides, you’re not legal, you know, you’re not supposed to be out here, rrr, rrr, rrr, and all of this stuff. But they said, hey, we hear, one of them came up to me and said, hey, I think there’s a lot of oil up in Northwest Bay.

And there’s nobody up there. I said, okay, I’m out of here, man.

And so I ran up there and, sure enough, the whole bay was full of oil. And we had, we had it to ourselves. And so this is the Northwest Bay.

This is a, which, about an hour from Herring Bay. And as you can see, there’s a, there was a boom across the top of the bay up here. And it’s still there.

You can see it right there. But it, it was originally, but the tide, you know, they had it strung from side to side, and in that case it stayed up there, but it, it, every low tide it stretched and opened up a big hole between and the beach and then this river of oil would come running out.

And so we got in the river of oil, some oil is moving about have a knot and it was about an inch thick coming down this beach there.

And we put a Zodiak out in it and starting pumping away. There’s a picture of the whole operation here.

This is my, anyway, these are, do I, where was that one picture. Here it is. This one.

You can see we had a crew man in a Zodiak with the little diaphragm pump And he was just pumping away. We didn’t even have this boomed up, it was thick enough coming down that beach that we could just stick the hose over the side and pumping away and then we’d pump up on to the deck and we had an air compressor running this thing.

And pump and fill up the tote and then we’d siphon the water off the bottom and then, and then start brailing with flour scoops, the oil out of this tote and into the buckets.

And here we are scooping, I don’t even think we had flour scoops yet, we’re using a little bucket, see.

And it’s filling up the main buckets and then putting them down in the fish hold.

And I’d gotten a hold of my, anyway, my friend Floyd, who recognized the lack of communications early on, and repositioned his longliner in the middle of Prince William Sound and was acting as an unofficial VHF radio relay station, transferring all, one, you know, he could, he positioned himself so he could pick up Valdez and then he, from there, he could relay to most of the other parties in Prince William Sound.

And I did that for several days until, until Alascom got a communications relay station set up on Bligh Island which happened, well, Alascom also did a very good job of their part of the Alyeska response plan.

Now North slope, the three things that went right were, Bill Deppy lightering the Exxon-Valdez.

Thank God that they had professionals doing that. And North Slope responded immediately and brought us, you know, it wasn’t, they didn’t make a material difference except for bringing a much needed stash of boom to Prince William Sound.

And so that was a resource that the fisherman could use from then on. We just had to go up and drag it off the beach.

And put it to good use. And believe me, we did. And the third thing was Alascom Communications that showed up and built a radio relay station on Bligh Island and solved a lot of the communication problem. Didn’t solve them, but at least got people talking to each other. Thank God.

And those three things worked. Nothing else worked. And, but in any case, Floyd, once Floyd got relieved of his vital communications thing, by that time he was a famous guy with Exxon logistics, so he moved into the plush offices of Exxon-Val, of the Exxon logistics in Valdez. And he was doing the best he could to give a little bit of reality to those Texans, you know.

And, and so based on my first bucketeering trip, I managed to get a hold of him on a secret radio we had and I told him, I said, get a hold of your boss in Exxon and tell him that I’m coming to town with 100 buckets of oil and I expect to get paid for these buckets.

And I’ll negotiate a price at the dock. And if I don’t like the price, we’re going to have a Valdez tea party.

And by that time the whole world’s media, this it two weeks into the spill. Everybody was there.

Rolling Stone, famously was there. And I made the yearbook, you know, and so that’s my claim to fame is that, and then you can make more money working for other skippers, but I’m the only skipper who got his crew, mentioned by name, in Rolling Stone.

SHARON BUSHELL: All right. Yeah.

TOM COPELAND: So, you want fame or fortune, boys?

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. I hear you. That’s --


SHARON BUSHELL: Now that tops things out in a persons life. Yeah, my son --


TOM COPELAND: This is the ’89 year book. It’s --


TOM COPELAND: -- 40 or 50 pages. And it, and they treat me real well, but every fact about me in there is wrong. So --


TOM COPELAND: -- it was simultaneously real good --

SHARON BUSHELL: Okay, this is, this is the year book for December 14 to 28, 1989. The special double issue of the Rolling Stone.

TOM COPELAND: Right. And it’s a very good story. The guy, the guy was just in a hurry the night I met him and he got the facts on my all wrong. But --


TOM COPELAND: But anyway, the most, the majority of the story is very well done.


TOM COPELAND: But anyway, so where were we? We were --

SHARON BUSHELL: You were telling me --

TOM COPELAND: Oh, and I, so I, so anyway, I had, I, we bucketeered for two or three days and then got the 100 buckets filled up and my crew quit me in disgust. They couldn’t handle it anymore.

SHARON BUSHELL: And why is that?

TOM COPELAND: Because it’s nasty work.

SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, yeah. Right.

TOM COPELAND: And we, of course, being illegal, I mean we were being buzzed by helicopters, the, with, you know, with megaphones telling us to immediately cease and desist.

We were breaking federal law, we’d never be able to enter a port again, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You know, all this shit. They didn’t want anybody out there, you know.

Coast Guard’s only position was we don’t need any help, stay the hell away. You know.

SHARON BUSHELL: And how big was your crew?

TOM COPELAND: Two. SHARON BUSHELL: Just you -- TOM COPELAND: We had a crew of two.

SHARON BUSHELL: Okay, there’s just the three of you. TOM COPELAND: Yeah. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.

TOM COPELAND: And, but they were, you know, things were, Kathy had to fly back to Cordova, she had two young kids, I mean back to Anchorage, Seattle. She had two young kids down there.

And Mike was, Mike stuck around for awhile. But, but anyway, I lost my crew after two or three days and we had the buckets filled anyway, so I dropped them off and ran up to Valdez to have the Valdez tea party.

Because I had no indications that there was going to be any welcome mat rolled out, you know.

But by God, I got up there and they were just setting up the vessel decon, the first thing they did was set up a decontamination thing.

It was like, and the odd thing was that, one of the many things that happened was that we started treating spilled oil like it was radioactive.

I mean it is very low level radioactive. But we treated it like it was made out of plutonium.


TOM COPELAND: I mean it was like, oh my God, keep that shit away from me, you know?


TOM COPELAND: And it just because the, the liquid of the devil, you know.


TOM COPELAND: And, and so the first priority was to set up these fancy decontamination centers outside of the, of federal harbor.

Where you had to go through this sanitization process before you could enter the harbor. And I was in a mood so I stormed right past it and tied up to the end of the transit float.

And I’d talked with Floyd that day and they knew I was imminently due and they, and I was not looking for any delays. Something was going to happen that afternoon.

You know, they were going to hand over a big wad of money or I was going to dump this shit in the Valdez Harbor and take my chances, you know, with the media.

SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh (affirmative). Yeah. Yeah.

TOM COPELAND: And by God, I pulled up to the end of the transit float and the head of Exxon logistics was there to meet me. Along with Floyd. And his first words out his mouth were, "We’re buying it. Do not throw anything in the water.

We are purchasing this oil from you." I said, "Okay, now you’re talking. Let’s negotiate." And I wanted $100 a bucket, which is what the kelp would have been worth.

That I would have much preferred to have filled these buckets up with.

So you know, 100 bucks a bucket. And of course the Exxon guy was just, oh, God, that’s, it’s not worth nearly that much. Not worth nearly that much. And I said, oh, I said, well, a, it’s no longer oil, it’s toxic waste.

It has negative value. And I’ll tell you what. If you want to do another avenue, I’ll, if you get a lawyer down here, I’ll sign a document saying I just want to be paid the average amount that you spend to pick up a gallon of oil.

I’ll take the average. You know, which is what, several thousand dollars a gallon so far, boys? You know, this is bargain oil. This is cheap oil, $100 a bucket, you know.

So we hammered and hawed down there at the end of the dock for a while and I settled for $20 a bucket and a half contract which they were finally starting to do right at this time.

They, everything was finally starting to happen. The log jam was breaking and there were contracts being let to fisherman to go out and do various projects.

And, including starting to use these Navy skimmers. The Navy skimmers needed two boats apiece to tow them.

They didn’t, they weren’t self propelled. And of course Exxon had nothing, so it’d come down to, guess what, the only boats around are commercial fishing boats, guys.

Thousands of them, you know. So we got pressed into service finally. And at the height of the response, there were over 1,100 commercial fishing boats engaged in the response.

You know, and the current plan that I’m reviewing right now, the new 2007 plan, is incorporates over 700 fishing boats in the response. Half of them pre-trained, half of them trained once the oil’s on the water.

The fishing, they’re over 300 boats will respond within the first 72 hours. And then another 400 boats are needed to fill out the response plan over the first two weeks.

So, so we, it’s night and day today on this. The backbone of the Prince Williams Sound response is commercial fishing boats that go through an annual training cycle.

It’s like being in the National Guard in the old days. And, for everyone. And they make enough money being trained every year to pay their harbor fees, basically. So it’s a, it’s a good program and everyone relies on it. It’s going to work.


TOM COPELAND: I’m very faithful. If we ever, on the odd chance we ever have to use it, it’ll be very, very successful.


TOM COPELAND: And we tell Exxon, don’t you dare spill any more oil in Prince William Sound because we’ll set a new standard for cleanup, you know.

We’ll set, we’ll shock the world with the amount of oil we give back to the oil company that dares to have another Exxon-Valdez.

SHARON BUSHELL: So, and that was going to be my question is, what makes you say the odd chance? I mean considering there aren’t double hulls on the tankers yet, are there?



TOM COPELAND: Everyone but Exxon. Exxon’s the bottom feeder. One of the things that took a long time to learn was that, and one of the stories you should tell in this book that hasn’t been told, is 1993 blockade of the Valdez Narrows --

SHARON BUSHELL: Let’s hear it.

TOM COPELAND: -- by the commercial fisherman.

Very successful operation. And, and I was there for that. I mean we could talk about that later on today if you want. But, what got me on that?

SHARON BUSHELL: Exxon, bottom feeder.

TOM COPELAND: Oh, yeah. At that time we shut down the entire, we had a dispute with Exxon, of course, over, it had been five years and we were still not seeing any money from them for civil damages.

And more to the leadership of that the, we had, I’ll go into that later. But in any case, during the blockade, we didn’t differentiate between the oil companies.

They all were in league with each other. The famous story was that British Petroleum gave Exxon oil during the oil spill so that they could keep their stations running down here on the west coast.

That there was a big transfer of oil from British Petroleum to Exxon so that the Exxon boys wouldn’t have to close their stations down, because they weren’t getting any oil.

And that, that sort of was our position on the various oil companies. They’re all in league with each other. You know, it’s them or us.

And so during that blockade, we didn’t differentiate between Exxon and the rest of the oil tankers.

And it because a famous dispute right away during the blockade because British Petroleum was aghast.

They said, what are you talking about? You think we are in league with Exxon? Exxon is our biggest enemy. You know.

And from that, you know, and about, that was about the time I be, came realize that they were saying that British Petroleum for once was not speaking with a forked tongue. That in fact, it’s true.

They will go out of their way, and Ex, and British Petroleum, that day, during the blockade, went out of it’s way to embarrass Exxon, using us as their tool.

They actually sent one of their tankers in to break our blockade on television, you know. And Exxon, of course, wouldn’t be caught in the same frame with us. Man, they were 50 miles away.

You know, they weren’t going to give us a moment, you know. But British Petroleum gave us the moment, because they were so outraged that they were having, again, to pay a penalty for Exxon’s bottom feeding. Exxon is a famous bottom feeder. It’s the worst of all the oil companies by a huge lead.

And one of the many things they did was this double hull thing. We got double hulls in OPA 90.

I, that’s an interesting story, how we did that. But the rules were clear. You had about 15 years to change your single hull tankers out for modern double hull tankers. And all of the oil companies, save Exxon, have done that.

They’ve gone beyond the requirements of OPA 90, they built their tankers ahead of time, they put redundant systems throughout them, they built a modern fleet of state of the art oil tankers that are much, much safer, inherently, than the single hull tankers like Exxon-Valdez.

And all but Exxon, Exxon stalled and stalled and tried to get out of it and tried out of it and they finally managed to get a, a, what do you call it, amendment into the Patriot Act.

They were running out of time. They’d reached the point where they had to commit to building these things or they were not going to make their OPA 90 deadlines. They were going to have to cease operations in Alaska.

Or in, you know, with the tankers they were using. And, and so they got a thing in the Patriot Act saying, well, now that we’re at war, now that we’re at war, the Navy needs priority in all of the boatyards around the country and stuff. And so we just can’t be building any more tankers right now.

So Exxon got a two year moratorium on the rules, you know. Which people figure they made about a hundred million dollars in profit by that move. Assuming they had pay to some of our fabulous legislatures a few millions dollars in bribes.

But the cost of being able to delay their double hull construction for an additional two years made them something like a hundred million dollars, against Chevron and British Petroleum and Conoco Phillips who had all done the right thing. And once again, Exxon walks away laughing.

You know, they haven’t learned a single lesson except that being the bad boy makes them the biggest corporation in the world. You know, and they’re teaching it all, of course, to Wal-Mart who’s their rival. So don’t expect anything good to come out of Wal-Mart.


TOM COPELAND: Being a good guy does not pay in capitalism.

Being the bottom feeder pays. You know, and that, British Petroleum spent a little period here trying to emulate them, which has come to end, thank God I think.

You know, they allowed the North slope stuff to go completely to hell over our, it’s not our jurisdiction, the North slope. RCAC has not jurisdiction on the pipeline or --


TOM COPELAND: -- up north. But we had been ca -- we know enough to have been very worried about the situation up there. And we’ve been telling the state and federal government for years about it.

And, to no avail. And now it’s finally come home to roost for everyone. But, but that’s a great example of the need of an RCAC.

The people that, the problem is it’s not a populated enough area. But the natives have been very effect on RCAC and I’m sure they can be on the North Slope as well.

They, we need a local citizens’ advisory group federally mandated, industry paid for on the pipeline of the North Slope to keep this stuff from happening.

Because the state will not do its job if it doesn’t have citizens, well informed, well paid staff working for local citizens hanging over their shoulder saying, look at here, looky here, you’re not doing your job.

You know, do we have to go do the newspapers? What do we have to do to get you to do your job.

That’s what we have, that’s our job. That’s what RCAC does. It threatens the state and the federal government with embarrassment if they don’t do their job.

And we make sure everybody knows about it and it’s very effective. Over the years it’s very effective. And, and that’s what the North Slope and the pipeline need as well.

And I, and I hope it happens. There’s a push for it, but, you know --

SHARON BUSHELL: So you, when you keep speaking of RCAC in plural, so you’re obviously on the board of directors?

TOM COPELAND: I was on the board of directors. I’ve retired.

SHARON BUSHELL: For a, since the spill or when did you take office?

TOM COPELAND: Well, I was one of the 50 fisherman who went back to D.C. in the summer of 1989 to protest the lack of any federal oil spill legislation.

And the fact that the Coast Guard didn’t feel responsible for protecting the citizens of Prince William Sound. That’s the story for Alaskans, of, especially for Prince William Sound and downstream communities, is the inaction of the federal government. Sound familiar?

I mean it was, it was just like Katrina only 20 years earlier, you know. And in fact, and Katrina, was not nearly as bad because in Katrina, eventually the Feds fessed up after several days that, yes, in fact, they did have some responsibilities here. The Coast Guard never did.

During the Exxon-Valdez the federal government never admitted it had any responsibilities below the office of the President.

You know, finally George Bush said, hey, I guess I have to take control here and force the government to do something. And he did, you know, to his credit.

And, two weeks late, but, you know --


TOM COPELAND: -- he did. Or we’d have never got those Navy skimmers which were the backbone of the skimming operations that collected somewhere between 6 and 15% of the oil, depending on who you believe.

But it was 6 up to 15% of the oil that did not impregnate the gravels of Prince William Sound, you know. We can be thankful for that.


TOM COPELAND: And it was at least something. And it was not so much that, people don’t under, you know, people just say, well boy, a massive oil spill like that, you just can’t really do anything, you know. And well the hell you can’t.


TOM COPELAND: You know, and not only that, you need to do something. And not just for the environment, you need to do it so you can live with yourself.


TOM COPELAND: You know. I mean it became, it was, we went, we, the whole town of Cordova went nuts during those two weeks. You can’t, I, it was not a healthy community --


TOM COPELAND: -- at the end of those first two weeks, man --


TOM COPELAND: -- because we were pissed. We were pissed and impotent and constrained and we were not a bunch of happy campers, you know.

And, and people have not gotten over it. You know, people like myself and Bill Black and numerous people in Cordova have not gotten over it.

You go to Cordova, you’ll get a, I mean I can’t image writing a story of the oil spill without visiting Cordova.


TOM COPELAND: You know, and I could give you some names of interesting people to talk to there, if you want. But it was, you know, I had to get out of there.

And I, then this bucketeering thing was desperation. You know, you had to do something.

You just had to do something. You were not going to, this was not going to be able to go down (indiscernible). It was not business as usual, you know.

And it drove us out of town and we did this. We were at risk, we were breaking every federal law known to man out here on this bucketeering stuff, you know.

But we got legitimized at the time down on the end of the dock where I signed, I took $20 a bucket and half a daily contract. I was, we got a 50% contract so we’d be covered by all the, you know, legalese.

And so I was getting $1,700 a day instead of $3,500. And then $20 a bucket. And I would, they limited me, they were terrified that I had a billion gallons locked up somewhere and was just, and a hundred guys ready to do this buckets and, you know, was going whack them for several million dollars.

So they put me on a limit of, I forget what it was, 200 buckets a day. It was, I mean it wasn’t, there was no minimum, course, they didn’t want any of the stuff.

You know, and that’s the point you have to make again and again. The problem with having the responsible party in charge of the cleanup is that oil has negative value once it hits the water. It’s toxic waste.

And the more oil you recover, the money you have to spend, you know. The, and Exxon has made this point several times.

There’re fairly candid guys, Exxon villains are, you know, they’ll talk the truth at you once in a while.

And what they say is, why should we pick it up? Why should we pick it up? We’re going to be sued by everybody under God’s creation.

You know, the maximum fines are going to levied against us, you know, in a major spill like this. There’s no way we’re going to get a substantial percentage of it. You know, they’re position is 10 or 20% is all you’re ever going to get anyway, you know.

Which is wrong. But that’s they’re position and they, they’ve got the government believing it.

And, and so why should we pick any of it up because then we have to store it. It’s toxic waste, you know.

You know where all of the 6 to 15% we did recover in Exxon-Valdez is today? Be an interesting little sideline, go visit the oil. It’s sitting out in eastern Oregon in a, in a landfill.

You know, my buckets are out there, all of the other stuff, huge containers full of Exxon-Valdez crude oil and sea otters and, you know, whatever else they bucketed up. It’s sitting out in eastern Oregon. Trucked down the Alcan.

Trucked down the Alcan to eastern Oregon and put in a landfill is where it is.


TOM COPELAND: Now that would be an interesting picture, wouldn’t it?

You know, and it’s costing Exxon money to this day to pay its storage fees on that stuff.

SHARON BUSHELL: That’s a dirty little secret.

TOM COPELAND: Why would they want it back, you know. What’s the, what’s, where’s the up side for them? That’s what they keep saying, where’s the upside?


TOM COPELAND: Where’s the up side.


TOM COPELAND: And I keep saying, well, you’re, and you even, and eventually you come down and say it’s a moral, it’s your moral duty.


TOM COPELAND: And they say, well, we’re doing it aren’t we?

SHARON BUSHELL: What’s that? Moral duty --

TOM COPELAND: We’re out there. We’re out there. We’re morally doing it. We just don’t, there’s not a lot of, it’s not like we’re finding new oil. Then, oh boy, we can really focus on finding new oil.

SHARON BUSHELL: That’s familiar. That’s our moral obligation.

TOM COPELAND: But, and that’s why the Coast, that’s why the government has to be in charge. There’s just no upside for the spiller. There’s no upside.

There go -- I mean the regular, the fines and stuff are miniscule, of course, because they’re based on small harbor spills and stuff.

So even ratcheted up to 25 million gallons they don’t amount to, you know, an hour’s profit for Exxon, so, you know, there’s no impetus for them to do anything until the government, until Bush said, oh yes you will, you know.

SHARON BUSHELL: So Tom, tell me what it was like when you got back to Cordova after having dealt with the Exxon people.


TOM COPELAND: I didn’t go back. I went back out on my, on several -- SHARON BUSHELL: You just went to work.

TOM COPELAND: -- subsequent bucketeering exhibitions.

And by this time fishermen were being, were being drafted in huge numbers. Boats were, they, the feds had reversed their no leaving the ports thing.

And fisherman were being, hundreds of boats were being hired by Exxon. This is, and right as I did that first bucketeering exhibition, that’s when Bush told Exxon to get on the stick.

And told the Coast Guard to get on the stick and told the Navy to send everything they could send.

And all of this happened within, finally, very few days. It should have happened two weeks earlier. But, and when the oil was still there, you know, and pickable an stuff. But it happened two weeks later.

And, but from the next few days after that were a marvelous change with it, you know, it’s amazing how much you can get done in 4 or 5 days once you all get lined up and decide you’re going to do it.


TOM COPELAND: You know, and the boom and the skimmers show up and the various barges have come up from Valdez and, and the fisherman were released, you know, to go do it and there were people having fist fights in the lines to get hired by Exxon, and you know, the rush was on.


TOM COPELAND: Get to Valdez, don’t be late, you know?


TOM COPELAND: And a lesson was burned into the commercial fishing community, the fishing boats. And it was still before the season. People were scattered, there were hundreds of people in Hawaii, you know. There were people in Washington state, there were people all over still enjoying our wintertime’s activities, you know?

And people responded at various degrees of urgency. Coming back up and getting their boat ready to go. Because the first two weeks it was like we had no role to play.

So the first word out as these guys checked in from Hawaii was, there’s nothing for you to do, man. They won’t let us go out of the harbor, they won’t let us do anything, right?

So people hung out in Hawaii, you know. Keep, kept on surfing and were late.

They were late. And boy, the guys who were there, panting, ready to go, made a lot more money on the cleanup than the guys who waited until they go the word that there was big money getting made by the locals before they got up there.


TOM COPELAND: And boy, I mean that lesson will take generations to forget. Let me tell you, no one is going to be late again.


TOM COPELAND: Never, you know? It was the biggest paycheck in Prince William Sound for a number of years. And, you know, and you got be truthful about that too.


TOM COPELAND: A lot of people turned into spillionaires.

SHARON BUSHELL: Right. Now I’m, I want to ask you this. As, as a self-proclaimed outsider, this is the question I intend to ask more people than just yourself. But being a, staying home with a couple of little kids, my husband is a school teacher, back in the spring of ’89, I didn’t have too much of a concept of what’s going on.

Didn’t have any connection with the fishing community or anything maritime. But I keep hearing this term, spillionaire and, you know, knowing that people were all, I had an awareness and certainly I read the newspaper and watched it on television.

But over the years, I have known that there was this, this flash point between certain people who were involved in the cleanup and an ongoing animosity about it.

And I’m beginning to glean what that is about, but I would like to hear your impression as an out, as the self-proclaimed outsider.

Which is to say that you had come --

TOM COPELAND: Oh, I don’t think there was an inside or outsider thing on the --


TOM COPELAND: -- spillionaire deal. A lot of non-resident became spillionaires.

SHARON BUSHELL: Well, no, what I mean to say is that in the community of Homer we have people who literally live side by side and, and people who turned their vessels into the, part of the cleanup effort and worked for Exxon or --

TOM COPELAND: Well, everyone did that.

SHARON BUSHELL: -- and, well, okay then I should narrow that down and say people who bought several other vessels. Who saw their opportunity and --

TOM COPELAND: I may not be the smartest guy.

There was a famous out, non-resident in Cordova who was the refrigeration guy. He came up every summer and worked on refrigeration systems for all the boats and stuff. He was not a fisherman himself, he was a refrigeration guy. But he was a, he was character.

And he happened to be pals with, just at this same time they set up the VECO came to town and hired a, some Anchorage guy to come down and represent VECO Engineering.

And they were the party that was contracting the fishing boats and stuff. They were the money tentacle of Exxon and in Cordova, the VECO office.

And that’s where you went to get your, get signed up and, you know, become a spillionaire, was at the VECO office.

And this guy happened to be a friend, this guy who was running the VECO office happened to be an old acquaintance of the refrigeration guy.

And so this guy, the refrigeration guy, suddenly runs around and starts buying every derelict vessel in town. He bought like 11 boats.

In two days, right? And got them all on $3,500 a day contract and --


TOM COPELAND: -- plus they were under contract while he was doing engine repairs to get them running.

That would get out there. Some of them never did make out on the water, but he collected hundreds of thousands of dollars for them. And this exact question was put to him by the local newspaper editor during the, those same few days. As soon as it got out, it was, you know, it’s a small town.


TOM COPELAND: Everybody knew exactly what was going on right away.

And he was, wasn’t trying to hide it, he’d say, yeah, I’m an old pal of what’s his name over there. He says get all the boats you can, you know. So I mean, and his famous quote in the Cordova Times was, I may not be the smartest guy on the dock, but I can add.

And believe me, nobody wanted to be in line behind that guy.


TOM COPELAND: So it was like, oh no, it was from bad to worse, you know.


TOM COPELAND: So people were scrambling. But the lesson that was learned by the commercial fishing fleet was don’t be late.


TOM COPELAND: And that’s why we have such good participation in the current response plan by commercial fishing boats.

People want to get their training, they want to go to these three day drills once a year. And practice with the equipment, the boom and skimmers and stuff because they don’t want to be, you know, they don’t want to be the last guy to get called, they want to be the first guy next time.


TOM COPELAND: There’s a real commercial, you know, commercial fisherman are commercial guys.


TOM COPELAND: It’s all about the money. SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.

TOM COPELAND: You know, and believe me that this is just a, this is another fishery for us. What I’ve spent the last 12 years telling the oil industry, the federal government and the state government is that of all the people on this planet, there is only one group that thinks recovering oil off the sea is an easy task, not a hard task.

And that group are commercial fisherman. We don’t see it as a mission impossible to go out there and collect a major oil spill and bring it back to town. That’s what we do for a living.

We are professionals and going out, leaving port, going out into the wilds of the coastal sea, collecting vast amounts of organic material and bringing it back to town.

That’s our specialty. We’re designed to do it and we’re multi-generation people born to this trade.

Believe me, this is easy. Let’s take a look at the facts. Oil isn’t even afraid of you. It’s not trying to run away.

It has no survival instinct out there, you know, it has no friends. The federal government and the state government are not trying to make sure that some of them survive for the next generation, you know.

You know that we’re not limiting by, were not limited in the equipment we can use, we can, anything we can devise is just fine, you know.

As big as, big a nets as we want, you know, we can do it. I mean this is child’s play, you know.

There’s nobody looking over your shoulder saying, oh, you can’t do that, you can’t do this, you can’t do this, you know. And you can see it from the surface of the water.

Herring, one of our big fisheries, you can’t see. You have no idea where it is.

You have to have an airplane in communication with you over the top of your boat to tell you where the fish are because you’re, they’re invisible from the, from the, you know, the flying bridge of the boat.

You can’t see them. So you have to be set, you net has to be set by an airplane, you know.

And that’s the story I always tell. I was in on the single biggest bite in human history. And it was 1992, Togiak herring season.

You know, I’d, there were 250 seine boats, mine being one of them up there in Togiak. It’s very isolated, northern side of Bristol Bay.

And there was a tremendous herring resource and it was very well managed by the Alaska Fish & Game Department who were taking lots of consultations with the highline herring fishermen and stuff and deciding exactly when we wanted to take this, this herring mass. And we harvested 250 thousand tons.

250 thousand tons of herring in 20 minutes when they opened the season.

I mean everybody got to set, 250 seine boats got to set their nets exactly once on this resource. And within eight hours, we had them all pumped aboard a fleet of 100 tenders under food grade conditions.

And 24 hours later, there was not a boat in Togiak Bay. 250 thousand tons of herring is exactly the same amount that Exxon-Valdez spilled. And we picked it up in Togiak in 20 minutes.

You have no idea how good commercial fisherman are at this shit, you know.

And I’ve told that story 100 times various power players, and they’ve listened over the years, and we have a major part of the response plan in Prince William Sound now.

And it should be the same down here. I spent the last two years talking to, you know, extensively to the State of Washington on doing the same thing in Puget Sound.

But they haven’t had their spill yet so they’re not interested in making any waves down here. It’s one of those things you can’t get inoculated against, you have to suffer the full blown disease before you can get an immune system to it.

It’s a, it’s a pity because they have great commercial fishing fleet down there that could make mincemeat out of a spill in a Puget Sound, but it won’t because they refuse to train them, you know.

And so they let the, and one of the other stories I tell is the current state of, in 1989 in particular, the state of oil spill preparedness was analytical to, analogous to if a, let’s say Alaska Airlines crashed a jetliner in the Golden Gate Bridge, you know.

And the word would then be, well, Alaska Airlines broke the bridge, they have to fix it, you know. That’s where we’re at and that’s, for a large account, that’s where we’re still at. You know, the federal government has more responsibilities to oversee it getting done now, but it’s still a responsible parties has to fix the mess.

And, you know, would we do that? We would let, would we just wait for Alaska Airlines to fix the Golden Gate Bridge? I think not.


TOM COPELAND: I think we’d hire the experts to do it.


TOM COPELAND: You know, well the experts in oil spill response is not the oil industry. Sorry, they may be the responsible party, but they are not the professionals.

The professionals are commercial fishermen, you know.

It’s so close to what we normally do, it’s just a very easy quarry that only, that only appears very seldom, thank God.


TOM COPELAND: But if with a little bit of training and preparation, we could knock the shit out of oil spills, major oil spills.

And if they ever dare to spill anything major in Prince William Sound again, we will. The biggest spill they had, we cleaned up very adroitly. Where is that? Here, this part.

This is 2001. This is the biggest spill in Prince William Sound since the oil spill, is a 25,000 gallon diesel spill from a sunk fish processor. And we cleaned it up entirely within three days.

Diesel is notoriously difficult to clean up. It evaporates so rapidly, thank God, that it’s, that it’s vaporizing to the extent that 50, 30 to 50% is all of it.

There were no beach impacts from this spill. You know, we got, we, the state gave us 30 to 50% percent credit on picking it up. This is where, look at the skipper.

SHARON BUSHELL: She’s from Homer. I know her.

TOM COPELAND: You know her, yeah.


TOM COPELAND: That’s a great interview. And she is bored, man. It’s too easy.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. But she’s like 25 in this picture or something.

TOM COPELAND: Right, right.


TOM COPELAND: And they did a superb job. And that was, that was the only actual time the fishing vessel plan has been activated in Prince William Sound on a real spill.

And, and it worked superbly. Worked superbly. Everyone gave us kudos for making it look like child’s play. Which is what it is for commercial fisherman.


TOM COPELAND: You know, and, so anyway, in ’89 and ’90 I was back in D.C. for several weeks helping to push the legislation through the congress.

It was very gratifying. I went back in ’89 on my own, pretty much.

There wasn’t much organization amongst any of the fisherman who were back there in ’89, but I was completely independent of what organization there was. And I had one issue, which was they had proposed a number of special requirements for Prince William Sound in terms of preparedness.

We had double escorts on all the tankers and all this kind of stuff. And a number of very specific response requirements that were going to be much higher than anywhere else in the country.

We had managed to get a lot of good stuff in OPA 90 particular to Prince William Sound.

And we were not going to have another spill. One of the goals of OPA 90 was once is enough for Prince William Sound, boys.

You screwed it up so you really have be careful from now on in there and spend the money to get ready and all, et cetera, et cetera, right?

And it was a good piece of legislation, but they had drawn the map of Prince William Sound leaving out the major hazard.

Seal Rocks and Hinchinbrook Entrance is clearly, from any mariner’s point of view, the number one hazard on the tanker route.

You know, that’s where we’re going to have the, you know, it took a drunk and a number of instant, you know, a number of problems, the Coast Guard not watching the radar, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, to have a wreck on Bligh Reef, that’s what the Coast Guard Commandant said when he first showed up.

He said, how did you do that? My daughter could drive a tanker past that and not hit it, you know. I mean, you know, he was just aghast that that was where it happened. And where everyone assumed it was going to happen, and still assume it’s going to happen is at Seal Rocks.

They’re very nasty place right in the middle of Hinchinbrook Entrance. But they had drawn the line for the special requirements and federal legislation between Hinchinbrook and Zaikof Point which, Seal Rocks is like 500 yards outside it.

So it was being left entirely out of the extensive planning for oil response. You know, just by this, you know whoever drew the map had gotten it wrong and of course everyone, no one would change it, you know.

So I had to go back to, I went back there with my charts and everything and managed to get the line redrawn in committee.

You know, I just said, hey, I am a mariner there, I, you know, ask around boys, you’re about to screw this up big time.

And I didn’t, they didn’t, I expected I was going to have to come up with documentation and a million arguments and all this stuff and it took me about five minutes with the right guy. He said, oh --


TOM COPELAND: -- there’s a rock there? Holy shit. You know-- Okay, we’ll do this, tunk, tunk, you know. Done deed, you know.


TOM COPELAND: And that whets your appetite when you actually manage to personally change federal law.


TOM COPELAND: You know, it’s a, oh, this plane ticket was worth it, you know.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. Yeah. That’s heavy stuff.

TOM COPELAND: And so I was hooked on public involvement at that point, with --


TOM COPELAND: -- in this oil thing and I, and I managed to have a very successful career, if I say so myself, in, as a citizen activist in safe oil transportation in Prince William Sound.

And it’s been very gratifying to be a part of RCAC, which is about, it’s, it’s a learning, I mean, you know, we had a lot of ups and downs and I’ve, and I got thrown out of RCAC one time over a very contentious issue. And, but I got myself back in, you know. And we’ve, you know, it’s a family, man. It’s brutal, you know.

And one of the more brutal things was moving to Valdez.


TOM COPELAND: You know, that damn near, as close as anything else, to dissolving the minimum amount cooperation necessary to have an 18 person membership from 10 different towns.

All of them were antagonistic to each other, of course. And especially antagonistic to Valdez, right?


TOM COPELAND: And, but, but eventually we came to the, our reluctant decision that, yeah, we had to move to Valdez and tough it out in the oil town. And it’s, it’s worked. It’s worked.

We still have an office in Valdez, I mean in Anchorage because the, but it’s only about a third of the employees in Anchorage now. At least two thirds in Valdez.

SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh (affirmative). I haven’t seen the Valdez office, but I’m familiar with the Anchorage office.

TOM COPELAND: And, we have wonderful people. The great thing about RCAC is that one of the great strengths of RCAC is we have long term employees. You know, both the state, federal government and Exxon and the industry, Alyeska, rotate people through so rapidly.

You know, they do a two year tour of duty and they’re gone. Well, who brings them up to speed when they show up?


TOM COPELAND: You know. I mean the, of course the various agencies are trying to do that, but we have people that have been around for 10, 12, 15 years now.


TOM COPELAND: They know this stuff backwards and forwards and they can take a person aside early on in his stint and say, hey, you want to stay out of trouble?


TOM COPELAND: And do some good? SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.

TOM COPELAND: You know, here’s, here is the long term analysis of this problem and where we’re trying to point, the direction we’re going to point it in. Do what you can do to help us along.

It’s been very successful. And people turn to us for advice. You know, because we, just because we’ve physically been there so long. You know, we are the local experts. You know, it’s --


TOM COPELAND: -- what all fishermen think happened.

It, it was brought up before the National Transportation Safety Board study, but we had no proof, and we couldn't get anybody that could talk.

So it's, it's not any, it was investigated, but, but the wreck took place, the most famous thing about where the Exxon Valdez went aground is that it's smack dab in the middle of the old steamer channel, the, the history, have you heard this at all?


TOM COPELAND: The old steamer channel was a shortcut up to Valdez from the rest of Prince William Sound. The mail boat always took it, historically.

A siren would run the old steamer channel and stuff, the, and the, the navigation lights were set up to facilitate running the old steamer channel.

It's between Bligh Reef and Bligh Island. It's the same, it's 600 feet wide and 60 feet deep. And it's a, it take, it saves a considerable amount of time, not going out and around Bligh Reef.

But it also, more importantly, Bligh Reef functions as a stopper for the largest icebergs that come off Columbia Glacier, so it's an ice-free, relatively speaking, it's the biggest stuff isn't going to get in there, and, and the ice tends to stay in packs, and if the biggest stuff won't move over there, the little stuff doesn't go over either.

So it's very ice-free, compared to the main channel. And for that reason, especially, the mail boat and other small boats that couldn't deal with the ice at all would use that channel.

And there have been several reports at the time of the oil spill, and fishermen would say, oh yeah, I've seen the tankers take that course, and blah, blah, blah.

My sister is one of the people who have seen a tanker take that course, and damned near ran her over one day, taking that shortcut.

But it's not authorized, you know. It's outside the tanker line. Tanker lines go out around Bligh Reef and up the middle of Valdez Arm.

But, but that night, when Hazelwood left the tanker lanes to avoid the ice, we can surmise his last words to Cousins, which were, now, we drove that old steamer channel last week. You think you can do it on your own?

And Cousins said, yeah, no problem, man. Just line up those two lights, the two lights north, two navigation lights on, it's on that, anyway, on the, on the east side of Valdez Arm, the two lights that are about five miles apart in, on the headlands going in.

You line those two lights up and make one out of them, and you're home, and you're right down the center of the old steamer channel. And that's what they were doing that night.

That's the only explanation for them going 11 knots. When they hit Bligh Reef, they were going 11 knots and accelerating. Well, you don't go through ice at 11 knots. You go through ice at 3 knots in a tanker.

They have never been able to explain their speed that night. And then that's in the transportation study.

You know, there's no explanation for the speed at which they were traveling.

They were late, they were behind schedule, and there was heavy pack ice throughout the narrows.

If they were going to skirt the edge of the ice pack on the outside of Bligh Reef, which is what the official story is that they were doing, they would have been going 3 knots, not 11 knots.

The only reason they could go 11 knots is their sure knowledge that there was an ice-free channel down the side of Bligh Island, between Bligh Island and Bligh Reef.

The problem was, the visibility was too good. It was a bright, clear night. And at, on a smaller scale, I and most other commercial fishermen have done this repeatedly, in that you cannot hug the shadowy side of the Channel close enough. It's just physically impossible to do it at night.

You won't, you can't drive your boat into that shadow as far as you should. And so you would invariably scrape the outside of your boat on the inside of the outside of the channel.


TOM COPELAND: Now you're trying to stay too far from that shadow. Time and time again, it happens to everybody. And it happened to Cousins that night. He was trying to run the old steamer channel, but he was too far away from Bligh Island, and he scraped the outside, the, the right side of the Valdez, Exxon Valdez hit the left side of Bligh Reef, which is exactly what happened.

You know, it's so classic, it's like, oh, one of those, you know?

SHARON BUSHELL: So what would have been --

TOM COPELAND: That's what happened. They --

SHARON BUSHELL: So what would have been so difficult about reporting that?

TOM COPELAND: They were, they broke, it, they would have been grossly negligent to have attempted that. And that would put them in a whole different category of, of liability. They were, be criminally negligent.

They were not criminally negligent, Exxon was not, in the final judgment. Now, there was a big argument that they should be made criminally negligent for knowledgably employing an alcoholic as a skipper on one of their vessels, but they had put him through rehab, you know, and all that kind of stuff, and they, they had, they managed, barely, to squeak out of that charge, you know. And --

SHARON BUSHELL: So you, so --

TOM COPELAND: But, and we couldn't prove it. We had to get Cousins or the, or the gal on, on the bow were, or, there were three or four people that knew what they were doing that night, but none of them would talk.

And, but that's what actually happened, see. And that's why we spent so much energy in, in 1989 and 1990, getting the double escorts.

The main reason for the double escorts is not their ability to rescue a tanker in trouble; it is to make sure that everything stays on the up and up. We now have three skippers --


TOM COPELAND: -- supposedly relatively independent of each other, whose career is on the line for anything like these shortcuts --


TOM COPELAND: -- and that's what -- SHARON BUSHELL: Okay --

TOM COPELAND: -- exactly what the fishermen wanted those escorts for, was to keep people from cheating. And --

SHARON BUSHELL: Okay, now, two, before I forget these two questions that are buzzing in my head right now, so, the buzz around Homer so much was, you know, that, yeah, Hazelwood had to go down, but that Cousins was in fact, he was more at fault.

But this is, in the scenario that you've described, it sounds almost as though Cousins was merely taking orders. I mean, it wasn't his call, where he --

TOM COPELAND: No, it's not his call. He's the first, he's the first mate --


TOM COPELAND: -- or, the third mate.

SHARON BUSHELL: So he was doing what he was told to do.



TOM COPELAND: Hazelwood.

SHARON BUSHELL: By Hazel, Hazelwood told him to do that, you know --


SHARON BUSHELL: -- take this, we just did it, okay, so that, so we're --

TOM COPELAND: It's one of the many things professionals do because they can get away with it. You know, that's why, that's why professionals exist, to bend the rules a little bit, based on their judgment, right? And they were late.

They were, they were very late; they were behind schedule.

And, and they were going to have to creep out of, of the Valdez Arm at 3 knots you know, through this pack ice that was going to beat them up, and scratch the paint, and all this kind of stuff.

They'd have made, they're being a lot more sensible, and these days, they wouldn't have been allowed to leave.

Right now, one of the many things we have, or, you know, that you have to have, anytime there are any kind of ice out in the Sound, you have to have an ice escort, and you have to do it in the daylight, you know, so you can see what you're doing.

But none of those rules were there that night, so he ha, he was being pressured, corporate, he was feeling definite corporate pressure to make up the lost time. He was behind schedule.

And they had done, I would, I can, I, we can't prove that they'd done it before, but you can damn well bet they'd have run, they'd run that shortcut before, and that's what he asked Cousins.

He said, you remember them, when we ran up the old steamer channel? You just got to keep those two lights together off the stern, and you go right through. No problem, right?

And the code said, yes sir, no problem, sir. But he, you know, if it had been a dark, stormy night, he'd have done it fine --


TOM COPELAND: -- because there wouldn't have been any visibility. But he was looking over at that cliff on the outside of Bligh Reef, Bligh Island, and he couldn't drive himself close enough.

It's, it's an optical illusion-y thing. You don't, it's not, you don't have to go into the shadow to have this effect. That big, black wall is over there, man, and it just keeps you, you don't want to point your boat at it, you know.

You're just, you're huh-yuh-yuh-yuh-yuh, I know I ought to be over there closer, but uh-uh-uh-uh --

SHARON BUSHELL: So how does --

TOM COPELAND: -- I can't do it, CRUNCH, you know, and -- SHARON BUSHELL: So how does --

TOM COPELAND: -- you hit the outside, you know, every time.

SHARON BUSHELL: So how does --

TOM COPELAND: Happened to me 10 times, if it happened once.

SHARON BUSHELL: How does that --

TOM COPELAND: And when you, and if they, if they had bothered to look out the stern of the Exxon Valdez at night, the following night, they have seen those two navigation lights as one to the north.

SHARON BUSHELL: Okay. So that --

TOM COPELAND: Pretty good coincidence, huh?

SHARON BUSHELL: That explanation, how does that square with what you said earlier about the Coast Guard's looking at their not detecting it on the radar? How, does that, that goes, it's, works in tandem with that?

TOM COPELAND: It's complacency. The key --


TOM COPELAND: -- word of RCAC. We talk complacency at every meeting. You know, that's our duty. Our duty is to guard against complacency.


TOM COPELAND: That's the bottom line of RCAC.

SHARON BUSHELL: So the Coast Guard wasn't looking, and Hazelwood made the call, Cousins took orders, and the whole thing went to hell.

TOM COPELAND: The proximate cause of the oil spill was the Coast Guard's failure to monitor the radars that night.

And then their disgusting story that they, they were under-equipped with radars, I mean, you know, that was rid, that didn't fly.

They came to Cor, the Coast Guard came to Cordova about day 4 of the spill or something and gave this big speech about how if they just had more federal funding for better radars, it never would have happened, and stuff, you know.

And 50 fisherman started throwing things at the commander, saying, you, worth, you know, our radars cost 2,000 dollars, you know, and they're, they're not 150 feet in the air like they are at Potato Point, you know.

I mean, you could read the name on the hull of the Exxon Valdez at 30 miles that night.

You know, it was ridiculous, what he was trying to say, and we threw him out of town, literally would not let him speak again, after he said that.

He had to leave, you know, because it was just this bald-faced lie, and everybody in town knew it.

Because we all owned radars. Every single one of us owned a radar; a lot of us own two or three radars, thank you very much, and it costs a FRACTION of what the Coast Guard had, and was old radars, you know.

It was no, you know, (whistling sound), they were not inoperative, and they were certainly up to the task, but you do, do have to change the range knob as the thing gets further away from you, or it drives off the god-damned screen.

SHARON BUSHELL: And you do have to put your cards down and look.

TOM COPELAND: Put your cards down and look once in a while. Right.

And that's why we got RCAC, though. It was not because we couldn't trust, you know, Exxon, everybody knew you couldn't trust Exxon. The message we carried in '89 and '90, back in, especially in '90, back to the Congress was, you can't trust the Coast Guard, you know.

We don't trust Coast Guard. Not a single person in Prince William Sound trusts the Coast Guard. They caused the oil spill. And they got off scot free. Nobody got demoted.


TOM COPELAND: Nobody got anything mentioned in their record, you know.

They all retired, right on schedule, and went to work for the oil companies, you know. That's what they all do, you know.

Every Coast Guard commandant, I mean, every captain of the port we've had in Prince William Sound, since long before the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and up to the present day, every one of them got a job working for the oil industry, immediately bonded, and within their two, year and a half, two years.

In Cordova, they immediately go to work at, they retire and go to work at several times their salary for the oil, the industry they're regulating.

You know, it's the, that's the deal. You make it to captain of the port, and then you retire and get, start getting $200,000 a year from Exxon, or British Petroleum, or Alyeska, or somebody.

And those are the guys I'm dealing with.

The guy, the head guy on the industry side of this renewal of the contingency plan that we're reviewing right now is the ex-captain of the port, the first one after Exxon Valdez, you know, and he's now working for Exxon as their head contingency planner, you know. (Laughs)


TOM COPELAND: You know. Right. And that message was not lost on the congress, and so they gave us what we wanted, which is $3 million dollars a year. Actually, we get $2 million dollars, in OPA 90, we got it up to over $3 million, here now, negotiating with Alyeska, because we perform a service for them.


TOM COPELAND: You know, I mean, they were, they're cold-blooded enough to realize, as much as they hate us, that they need us. And we haven’t had another spill. You know, they get fairly decent publicity out of Alaska and stuff, you know.

And, if we, had us on the North Slope, they wouldn't have had that spill up there last time --


TOM COPELAND: -- you know.

SHARON BUSHELL: So is there, this is, I have no idea how I'm going to be able to consolidate this story, because --

TOM COPELAND: Okay. Let me -- is how these things like the old steamer channel related to the double escorts for Prince William Sound.

That's the kind of connections that I find interesting over the years, you know.

We didn't get those double escorts because of their ability to, to li, as I say, save a tanker.

For the first several years, they were mud boats, you know, brought up from Louisiana.

They couldn't have done anything, you know, except be there, right? That was the point.

The whole idea was getting, was avoiding complacency, putting checks and balances into the system, so people had to pay attention and had to do their job.

We wanted a system that ran, you couldn't leave the dock with oil being transported through Prince William Sound if you didn't have two other skippers watching you for the entire route.

That's where the double-hulled tankers, I mean, the double escorts came from, not from some notion that they were going to be able to rescue the tanker.

You know, eventually we've gotten to a point where we spend a lot of time worrying about their ability to actually perform rescue under certain weather conditions and stuff, but that was not where it came from.

Where it came from --

SHARON BUSHELL: Accountability.

TOM COPELAND: -- was, was the, the feeling in, especially in the commercial fishing community, that we needed double and triple redundancy in, in, in making sure that people were doing their basic jobs and were not playing cards instead of watching the radar, and even as the Coast Guard argued in B.C. that it was unnecessary to do this, because they were on the job; it was their mission, you know.

That was what they were being tasked with, was to make sure that these guys stayed in the tanker lanes and all that stuff.

And we just had to point out to the Coast Guard the national, I mean, point out to the congress that a National Transportation Safety Board said otherwise, that they were playing cards and couldn't switch the radar knob, couldn't bother to turn around and look, you know.

And that's, would be, inevitably, the situation a few years down the road. The problem with oil spills is they are so infrequent. It's like getting ready for the influenza bug you know?

You can't really take it serious; it hasn't happened in 50 years.


TOM COPELAND: You know, we got these immediate problems. We got potholes in the roads. We got kids with, too many kids in the classrooms; we can't get ready for this stuff that's never going to happen, as long as everybody does their job, you know. And that's exactly the way it is, exactly the way it is in Washington state right now, you know, everyone focuses completely on prevention, and there's no response system.

And, and, and inevitably, those, those prevention systems wither away, because nothing has ever happened, you know.

And so they under-staff the radar people, and they do this, and they do that, and suddenly, the system's running without any prevention, either.

And then you have the big disaster, exactly what happened in Prince William Sound.

You know, with the history of the pipeline, it's amazing in itself. We took them to the US Supreme Court, CDFU did; my little fishing union took, you know, the lack of an, a marine environmental statement to the US Supreme Court, stopped them cold from building the pipeline.

It was going to take another three years to do the marine aspects that they should have done in the first place.

And the problem was, it was the wrong route. They should have, the much safer route was down through Seward, the traditional oil importation point in Alaska.

Resurrection Bay, a much shorter route to the open ocean. It's more expensive it's, we were, they were going to save 300 miles of pipeline by going to Valdez instead of to Seward; that's why we went there.

But it's a much more dangerous maritime route.

And we proved that up through the district and appellate courts, all the way to the US Supreme Court, that they had to do a marine environmental impact statement, and so the engineer con -- coincidentally, we had the '72, this is in 1972, and we had the first oil embargo, and the price went, you know, the little gas lines --


TOM COPELAND: -- and everything. And congress passed an emergency bill by, with the deciding of Spiro T. Agnew that it was a 50-50, or, 49-49, at that time, right, tie in the senate, and Spiro T. Agnew gave us the pipeline, cast the deciding vote.

And to override, you know, to pass the special law, saying no environmental impact would be needed in Prince William Sound for the national security. Got to build this thing, got to have it now, you know.

And so we never did have a marine environmental impact statement, which led directly to the Exxon Valdez oil spill --


TOM COPELAND: -- you know. You know, because we had no protections out there; we had no real contingency plan, and the, the state's always been much more interested in making money off oil than protecting its citizens from -- from the aspects of it.

Look at what happened to Susan Harvey on the North Slope two years ago, when she tried to, you know, you know, make them clean up their act up there, and she was promptly fired, you know.

And, and she was the one that went public during the campaign on Tony Knowles, did, did in good ole Tony Knowles, the worst governor Alaska's ever had. Hooo.

That guy couldn't sell out to the oil companies fast enough. The worst environmental record of any governor. Much worse than Wally.

I was wearing a campaign button that's saying, another democrat from Wally during the reelection of that asshole. Tony Knowles.

Couldn't sell out fast enough. Go, check out the facts on Northstar sometime, you know.

Gave, you know, we don't get a penny for that oil, and we're going to inevitably pollute the Arctic Ocean with that project. There WILL be a spill up there. We cannot clean it up.

That's what got Susan Harvey fired, was her opposition to allowing them to do that Northstar project, because they have not been able to show they can respond to an oil spill up there.

They cannot respond to an oil spill. They'll have one, and we won't even know about it for six months, under the ice, you know. And we don't get a penny for it, not a penny.

It's so hard to do, according to the Knowles administration, that we can't really put any, you know, tax on it, and we just have to give it away, for some reason.

(Huffing sound) Tony. Don't get me started. But that, you know, and, and I think Susan had a part of doing him in. I heard nobody wanted Tony again.


TOM COPELAND: But, and it, the gal kind of doesn't seem too bad, all, right off the bat, but --

SHARON BUSHELL: Oh yeah, Lisa. Lisa Murkowski?

TOM COPELAND: Well, no, the, the new governor, what's her name?

SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, right. Sarah Palin.

TOM COPELAND: Yeah. People like her better than they liked Tony, from the oil point of view, I think.

SHARON BUSHELL: They sure like her better than they liked Fred, or, Frank.

TOM COPELAND: Yeah. But Lisa's, Lisa seems pretty good.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. Yeah, she's a lot more together than, if you're --

TOM COPELAND: She seems like a hard-working gal.

SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. Yeah, she --

TOM COPELAND: But anyway, you really ought to, I think you ought to fit in the, the blockade into this.

Now, your, your overseers may not agree, but, RCAC may not agree, but I think one of the great untold stories was the 1993 blockade of Valdez Narrows by the commercial fishing fleet.

Right from the start, we'd been telling the Coast Guard, and the oil industry in particular, that, make no mistake about who runs Prince William Sound: it's the commercial fishing fleet that runs Prince William Sound.

We're used to it; we can, we can re-supply ourselves, we can choke the Valdez narrows with boats anytime we choose, and we can re-supply those boats, and it'll take you months to get us out of that waterway. And they would go, (growling sound), that'll never happen, (growling sound), so, in 1993, we did it.

You know, we put a hundred boats across the Valdez narrows and shut them down; we shut the oil industry down for three days.

You know, would not allow a, a, a empty tanker to come in the port.

And, and it was very successful. We, you know, we did it, because we had a, a, not, you know, that Babbitt, Secretary of Interior for Clinton?

Bruce Babbitt, Arizona ex-governor was a, was a, interior secretary.

And he was touring the North Slope, matter of fact. And, during the middle of our "non season" of 1993, so we, we all stormed our way up these lower corners of Prince William Sound, up into the Valdez Narrows and formed a blockade. It was wonderfully done.

It was a marvelous three days. And a, man, million stories came out of that.

But then we sat down, Bill Black and I, you know, we're sitting on each side of Bruce Babbitt in Valdez, and he said, "What's this all about?"

You know, he, he ran a, had a huge fight with the editor of the Valdez Vanguard, throwing him out this, saying, you know, would not allow the press into this meeting with the fishermen, right?

Yeah, and he was screaming and yelling, and going to call the cops and all this shit, but he, Babbitt said, get him out of here, (laughing), you know, must have got him out.

And he, and Babbitt's first words were, so I hear we're here to talk about an exit strategy.

And Jim Graham was, yeah! That's what we're talking about, how to get out of this mess, you know.

Because, you know, by that time, they had, you know, it was right after Waco, you know, and, and, which was one of the reasons I think the Coast Guard was being so careful not to let it escalate, and we had been on the radio for days with them, saying, we're all Republicans out here.

We're small businessmen. We are not communists, you know. We want a deal. We are ready to negotiate, you know.

We don't like sitting out here in the middle of the federal waterway, you know.

The, the first successful blocking of a federal waterway in over a hundred years, the Coast Guard called it. They were very impressed. And we did it with a wonderful, wonderful three days. And --

SHARON BUSHELL: Well, tell me more about it. I, you can --

TOM COPELAND: Well, we all got up there, and, and --

SHARON BUSHELL: We, you're talking about Cordova fishermen?

TOM COPELAND: Yeah, Cordova fishermen. This is the Cordova seine fleet was fishing the cape, and there were no fish.

You know, absolutely no fish. And a number of my friends started talking, something that I had brought up. I was incapacitate, I had this, the scar here, going up here like this --


TOM COPELAND: I had stabbed myself in the thumb, broke a tendon, and had to fly to Anchorage to get a, chase-the-tendon-up-the-arm deal, you know.

I was in the hospital for a couple days and to drive to Valdez in a rental car to rejoin my boat, which my crew had run up there with the fleet, you know.

But, so I got to it kind of roundabout.

But, and so, I can't take credit for the instigation of this, of this blockade, although it had been one of my themes for years, you know, politically.

And they, my friends went, finally listened to me, by God, and we, they did it, first time I was not around.

And, and, but there were two motives which, the public motive was to get Exxon to pay. It'd been five years since the spill, where's our money, you know?

And that, frankly, was why 90, 90 of the hundred boats went, was to force Exxon to the bargaining table.

And, and, but the 10, the ringleaders, had a very different motive, and that was to, the very odd fact that, 5 years after the oil spill, the, the natural resource damage claim had been settled voluntarily between the federal and state governments and Exxon years before, right after the oil spill.

A hundred million dollars for natural resource damage.

And trustees' council did set up three state and three federal trustees spending this money, to recover the environment.

But they wouldn't spend a dime on either herring or salmon, the two big commercial species in Prince William Sound.

And their lame line was that that would be settled under the civil damages suit, which is a flat lie.

You know, we were not suing for natural resource damage claims; that had been settled.

Our, the, the money to fix up the salmon and herring runs were part of that natural resource damage claim, of course.

And, but we were just being lied to by the trustees of the council, saying it, it was going to come of the federal, the civil damages, which was, could not be, and what's more, it was ridiculous.

Anyone who's halfway in the law would know that's not the case, you know.

And, then we couldn't figure it out. I mean, we had a big union meeting, and, and one of the guys stood up and said, this smells like a deal the Exxon lawyers made when they voluntarily signed off on a hundred million dollars, that the, we couldn't use the money that would in any way produce evidence to be used against them in the civil damages suit.

If we could, if, if some of the research from that money had, further research had showed actual damage to the herring and salmon stocks, then we could, we could have sued for that damage.

But, so they wouldn't spend any money on it, on the herring and salmon. We hadn't spent a dime on, we spent millions for pedigree (sic) falcons, and muir casters (sic), and, and cormorants, and anything else, sea ions, sea otters, but not a dime for herring and salmon was coming out of that, of that huge pool of money.

And as soon as he said it, it just rang true, by, we, none of us had known much about lawyers in '89, but by '93, we were much more savvy about the way lawyers work.

And it, it just struck home, that that's exactly what had happened: Exxon had protected itself against any of this money being used that would, in any way, shape, or form that would, that would look bad for them in the civil damages suit. So we were getting no money spent on herring and salmon.

And we, and I had been saying that we could fix this with, our only chance with Babbitt, because Babbitt appointed all three federal members of the trustees.

You know, NOAA had one, and, and anyway, they all worked for the Department of Interior, and he appointed all three of them. And, so we just needed to get to him, and he was in the state, you know, about that, I had to go off to the hospital.

Well anyway, they got everybody organized on the, let's get Exxon banter, and we all went storming up there through a horrible, stormy night, and people risked their lives, running up the Valdez Arm that night, and it was halfway, they were so tenacious when they got up there, they had gone through a life-threatening situation with their families, some were, seining in Alaska is, is a family operation.

Half the boats had kids and wives on them and everything. But they'd blasted their way up through this fairly big summer storm and, and gotten up there, and, and blockaded, you know, had a hundred boats lined up in a line, great pictures of these boats lined up across the Valdez narrows and stuff.

And the Coast Guard just freaked out. They couldn't believe what was happening. It was like nuclear war for us or something, you know?

Active civil disobedience closing down a federal waterway is no, nothing bigger for the Coast Guard than, than maintaining open waterways, you know, or --


TOM COPELAND: And we had shut down the oil company. And we left our, the laden tankers could leave.

I mean, we didn't want to cause any safety problems, you know. They could, anything that was already in there could leave for the while, but nobody else could come in. They were, we were shutting the port down to traffic.

And we did it for 3 days. Then, and I was, I had gotten back there about, and was preaching to everybody, don't worry about it.

You know, the Coast Guard had come out, and they were, the Coast Guard was just frantic that nobody get hurt. Nobody gets hurt. Nobody gets hurt.

And there was this huge, and the biggest snag, deadhead snag I had ever seen in my whole fishing career was, happened to be in the middle of Valdez Arm right then.

It, we don't have trees nearly that big in Prince William Sound.

It had come in from the Southeast or somewhere. I think it was 6 feet in diameter, hanging vertically in the water, going up and down like this, you know. The thing, it'll take a boat out completely --


TOM COPELAND: --if it gets it, you know. And, giant snag, and, and we all knew it, about it right away, and everything, but the Coast Guard couldn't believe that we could be trusted to stay away from that snag, you know.

They just know somebody was, you know, they were treating us, Coast Guard doesn't differentiate between commercial guys and pleasure guys, you know, and --


TOM COPELAND: And, you know, we, there were, that thing was not a danger, but the Coast Guard was just preoccupied with it.

And so they, and that first night, the Coast Guard had, had convinced us, they'd flown in all the helicon, the thing that we had not anticipated, and it was scary, was that they brought all of the rescue helicopters from all over Alaska in, in to harass us, basically.

They were flying 4 or 5 of, flying around the top of us hundred boats, right at, trying to knock our antennas off the boats with the, with the rappel (indiscernible) is what it looked like. You know, when they were photographing us out the windows with cameras all day, getting everybody's number and name and everything like that.

And we had responded by laying out the survival suits on the back deck of the boats and, prepared to, you know --

SHARON BUSHELL: Go into the water.

TOM COPELAND: -- go into the water at a moment's notice, boys. We ain't moving. And the code that, we'd been negotiating with them all that, all day, of course, on this deal, you know, and they were threatening and threatening and threatening, and finally, they gave us the, the big word that afternoon, that you will leave this waterway immediately, or suffer the consequences, which at a minimum would be $44,000-dollar fine per boat.

And at the maximum, you may lose your boat entirely, loss of life as well, above all this shit, you know.

And, and Jim Gray, the, the spokesman for the group, he was a, famously not the leader; he was just the spokesman. He was in radio contact on the Bligh Reef, his boat was the Bligh Reef. (Laughs)

He was one of the "Spillionaires", I mean, you typically name your boat after how you got the money to build it, right? So he named his boat the Bligh Reef, you know. (Laughs)

And so he's talking to them. And he's a great real estate guy. I mean, he could, this is a big real estate deal, and he could close it if anybody could, you know. There's always a lot of complications in real estate deals. He says, I got a lot of training, here, and I'll get this thing closed.

And so he was negotiating away with them, and finally, he says, well, I can't speak for anybody. I'm not the leader. You'll have to talk to every one of them on their own. And he recommended that we remove ourselves from the waterway.

And a hundred guys, so he wouldn't go to jail, you know, he had this, he was going to do the right thing, but he couldn't talk for anybody else, and, and then, there's this wonderful tape that the Coast Guard must have in its archives, where a hundred boats come back and say, we ain't moving.

You know, and it, once the, it happened as soon as, as soon as we caught on, all the kids got handed the mikes, and it was all these 10-year-old kids, saying it back to the Coast Guard, we're not moving. My dad says we're stickin' and stayin'.

On and on, one boat after an, a hundred boats. Went on for half an hour, you know. And the Coast Guard must've had tears in their eyes. I mean, it was a, greatest, I boy, if I'd just had the foresight to have a tape recorder on.

But I told one of, the best captain of the port we had that, that I'd give anything for a copy of that tape, and he said he'd look into it, but they re-elected him. But, I know it exists.

But anyway, so they, after that episode, they, there was a long silence for awhile, and the Coast Guard had a big cutter out there with us, but was the Cordova boat.

It wasn't a cutter; it was a mine, a, a buoy tender, you know, a hundred-foot buoy tender.

But, and it had a brand new captain aboard. He'd only been in town for like a month.

He was, he, they sign them for 3-year tours of duty on these buoy tenders. And he's the local Coast Guard presence in Cordova.

And he was a great guy. He comes on the radio, and he says, you know, we'd been talking to him, and he says, I just moved my whole family to Cordova, he says.

I got my kids in school, we're going to the Baptist church, he says, and I'm stuck there for the next three years, boys. I really don't want to break out this house, or, you know (laughing), says, I hope to God we can avoid shooting at each other, because this is going to be, my, my family is not going to be happy about this situation. (Laughing)

He's a great guy. He was very a sympathetic character, you know.

And, so the Coast Guard finally gets back on the radio late that afternoon, and the Coa, and the choppers had been all over us, you know, (swishing sound), flying, and, and you come back on and say, okay, we're, we're really concerned about that snag and about just the danger that you're posing to everything, so we'll cut you a deal.

If you guys will agree to move out of the waterway over to Jack Bay for the night and anchor up there, that we'll give you two hours of warning before any incoming tanker traffic comes in, plenty of time for you to reorganize out there.

We're just, this is, we're not asking you to stop doing this, now, you know. That's been settled; you guys are felons, you know. But can we all, just as mariners, agree to take it easy tonight, you know?

Go over to the harbor, and we'll, we promise we'll call you, you know.

And everyone, (whispering) now, what do we do, you know? And I say, and I got on the radio and said, take them at their, take them at their word. I said, nobody's coming in here.

I say, can you imagine an oil company stupid enough to send a tanker in against us on the same frame of a video camera, you know?


TOM COPELAND: You know, there's no way they're going to do this.

You know, the smart move is for them just to hang out there in the Gulf of Alaska and let this thing play itself out. It, I mean, can any of us think it's going to go on for much longer?

Oh, you know, I mean, we're just making a point here, and they're not going to come in.

There's going to be no tanker coming in; nobody's going to get run over or anything. Let's just go to bed, you know, do what they say. We're already, you know, pissed them off about as much as we, we don't want another Waco here.


TOM COPELAND: And so, and that prevailed, you know. So off we, we all went over and anchored up, and (laughs), this is a nice, decide to turn your tape player off -- into the Coast Guard, and I, and since I was the only guy that knew where the commandant's office, where the captain of port's office was, I led the delegation in there, and you know, I, he was, he and I were not getting along at the time, and, and I was all bandaged up and everything.

But, but I introduced him to Jim Gray and the rest of them, and Gray made his pitch about how it's a real estate deal, here. We're all Republicans.

We want to cut a deal; we think there's a deal available, it's just, we're, I mean, getting everything together, here, and believe me, there's no need for gunplay, you know.

It's the, human safety has got to be the number one factor, from our point of view, you know. And the captain of port is saying, well, I really appreciate that. I know that about you guys.

I mean, everybody's like, we're not going to call the, the ATF of anybody, you know, and it's, you know, the ATF is what did Waco, you know.


TOM COPELAND: You know, and then, he said, we're not calling ATF or anything; don't worry about it.

We're, we just want to make sure everybody, you know, settles down here, and we get this waterway opened as soon as possible, you know. And, and he says, all except this James Michael (laughs) -- And Gray says, he's under sedation. (Laughs).

SHARON BUSHELL: (Laughing) That's funny.

TOM COPELAND: He's under, says, he's under sedation.

SHARON BUSHELL: I'm going to have to look him up when I get to Cordova.

TOM COPELAND: Oh, yeah. He's a great character. He's --

SHARON BUSHELL: See, I'm certain, already, I'm, I am, I can see where I --

TOM COPELAND: So the next day, we ran in, we continued the blockade, well, anyway, that was, that was that night. And then, so we pulled off and anchored up in Jack Bay. Well, of course, the Coast Guard, I think, were thinking the same thing that I was thinking, was that no, it would take a real fool to send a tanker in under these situations, you know.

It's much easier, it was a short-lived situation. I'm sure the Coast Guard was telling the oil companies, you don't need to bring something in. Just relax, you know, and said, let's not have this confrontation, you know. We'll talk them out of it in another day or so, you know.

And, and that's what I thought too, and I'm sure that's what the Coast Guard thought, and everybody else thought. But British Petroleum decided to, to, you know, they had been pissed from the first time we met them on this blockade thing.

They kept saying, it's not us. It's Exxon. We're not Exxon, we're British Petroleum. They're our enemies, too, you know.

And we kept saying, ah, you gave them gas during the, during the spill.

You're just, you're, your guys are all peas in a pod about all, and, and so, British Petroleum decided to show us that they were not, and then, and they brought a tanker in at dawn the next morning with, flanked with, with two Coast Guard cutters in front of them, roaring up the channel at 15 knots.

And we wouldn't have been caught napping, it was like 5:30 in the morning, you know?

And, except for one young crew had stayed up all night, they went roaring around, just like Paul Revere, waking the whole hundred-boat fleet up at 5:00 o'clock in the morning, throwing things and banging them, you know, and, (shouting) get out there! They're coming! Get out there!

And so we all jump up out of bed and roar out there in the middle of the bay, you know, and formed up our line, you know, and, and then they came roaring right up to the last possible, looked like they were really going to go through, and so I was telling people, okay, get ready to put your survival suits on.

The next move is for a thousand people to hop in the water. Let them come through that, you know. I can just see them running over people in the water with these three big warships, you know. And, but at the last minutes, as guys were starting to put their survival suits on, they turned around, and they, they turned a big brody, and we got it on film, of this tanker just doing this great 360, ah, 180, and heading back out, you know, at the last possible minute.

The Coast Guard never did call it off, you know the, you know, the, they, they were being flanked and escorted in by the two, and they would have run right through us.

You know, according to Brit, I had a good friend in British Petroleum, and he said, and he was the guy calling shots for British Petroleum; he was the head guy on scene.

And, and he was up in a chopper, that, and he was just screaming, you know, obsceni, British obscenities at the top of his voice, kill, because we were on his channel, you know.

He, you know, we were talking to him on his own private cha, we'd, we know the radio people, you know, so we can get on anybody's radio channel, and we were on all their channels all the time, and then let them know that we were on all their channels, you know.

So he knew we were listening, and he was putting on this great show, kill the babies, kill the women, kill everybody (machine gun sound), you know, on and on, you know, just a mile a minute from this chopper up there.

And, and I caught him when we went in to meet Babbitt. So anyway, they turned it around in last minute, you know. And we didn't know who turned it around, and I, and he, so we went in to meet with Babbitt that afternoon, he had gotten down to Valdez, and we were still maintaining the blockade where we'd turned them around by this time.

And Babbitt shows up, and, and as we're walking up to the meeting, his, his, he comes down, grabs me, and says, he says, I, I, I want you to know, Tom, I wasn't really trying to kill you.

I said, sure sounded like it, you know. (Laughing) And he said, he says, no, man, I was trying to get the Coast Guard to turn you around, turn us around.

He said, I'm just a lowly employee, here. I can't be turning tankers around. He had to maintain my, my thing. I says, I, I was just trying to be as belligerent as possible so the Coast Guard would, you know, take command and say, okay, that's enough.

Hold it, hold it, hold it, you know, turn that baby around, you know. And then, I mean, I said our tanker was following orders from the, from the cutters, of course, you know. And I, but he said, they never did.

He says, I finally had to just do it. He said, it was getting to the point where we couldn't turn the tanker around any more, you know, and so I finally had to bite the bullet and turn my tanker, right? He said, the Coast Guard would have run right over you guys. (Laughs).

SHARON BUSHELL: Geez. That's pretty scary.

TOM COPELAND: So he got it to (indiscernible) anyway, so we all retired into Valdez that night, I mean, with, the boys stayed up, but the leadership went into Valdez to meet with Babbitt.

And, and so he says, he starts the meeting by saying, so, I hear we're talking about an exit strategy here, right? And everyone jibbers, oh, absolutely. That's the whole idea. Exit, good. Nobody gets hurt, and we all walk away from this (indiscernible), you know.

So he says, well, what's it all about? And so I, it fell to me to present the argument to him, which was that, do we have to settle, dime on the dollar with Exxon in the civil damages suit before you guys will start to look at what's wrong with salmon and herring stocks in Prince William Sound?

It appears to be what the situation is. Why haven't you spent a single dime on salmon and herring in the past 5 years, 4 years?

And, and I said, it's, looks to us like a deal you've secretly made with Exxon to not develop any evidence for us to use in our trial.

Well, how about we just agree not to use the evidence in our trial? Are you guys trying to starve me? You know, everybody here is starving to death: no salmon, no herring, no, no investigation of what's wrong with them.

You know, just nothing out of you guys, no response to the major commercial species in Prince William Sound to date, and no explanation that holds water, you know. And, and, and Babbitt says, hmm. (Laughs)

And he turns to his, to his chief aide and says, you hear anything about this, and the guy says, I'll know tonight, he says. (Laughs) And Babbitt says, well if there's anything to this, we can fix that. (Laughs).

I pointed, I said, I said, have you control the three, I said, this whole, from our point of view, this whole thing was to get you to come to his meeting, so we could talk to you, because you appoint the three federal trustees, and we want to know, what about our salmon and herring? Very simple question.

What about our salmon and herring? What have you done in four years for our salmon and herring? Why haven't you done anything?

And he said, oh, no problem on that. Shake hands, get the hell home, you know. And he promised to, you know, speed along the Exxon money, too, but nobody, that was not a serious thing in, in the inner circles, you know. I mean, we knew we have no ability to make Exxon pay up ahead of time.


TOM COPELAND: And -- and, but anyway, the upshot was, within a week, they had set up the, the SEAs program at trustees' council. $20 million dollars, allocated for salmon and herring research in Prince William Sound.

And, and it's been one of the most spectacular, successful programs that, that the trustee's council ran. It's been going on forever, and it's generated tremendous data about both salmon and herring.

And, and they put out a fancy supplement to a scientific journal about 2 or 3 years ago that I briefly saw and have not been able to secure another copy of, that, that big, fancy four-color supplement to this journal about, just about the SEAs program.

And the first paragraph says, we got the money because the fishermen blockaded Valdez Arm.

SHARON BUSHELL: Well, you were, what, don't, do you recall the name of the journal? I mean, they may have that on file, someplace at RCAC.

TOM COPELAND: I've looked.

SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, you have.

TOM COPELAND: I've looked. And I've, I've gotten some leads on it, but I haven't been able to get it back in my hand.

And the, the best lead was from the, the, there's a database for all of the trustee council's stuff in Anchorage. And they didn't have a copy, but they knew what I was talking about.

You know, the gal, the librarian that runs that, that archive for the trustee council. And she directed me in the right way, and, and I tried to find it at the, oh, the U, UW library and stuff.

SHARON BUSHELL: Uh-huh (affirmative). Yeah.

TOM COPELAND: I haven't been able to come up with it. It's not available online.


TOM COPELAND: And, but anyway, so there's that. But it, and it's just an interesting off side. But it, but it was beautiful, because it's so dramatically in the first paragraph.

It stated very clearly, that this is a direct result of the fishermen 1993 blockade of Valdez Narrows, and (laughing), and we got our $20 million dollars, and here's what we done over the past 10 years with it, you know.

SHARON BUSHELL: Okay, you know --

TOM COPELAND: So it was a very highly successful civil disobedience that, vanishingly rare in this country, you know.

SHARON BUSHELL: It seems to me that the three stories that you, the theme of this interview has been three stories that are the same theme: that, you're talking about the power of the individual, when they really decide to take charge.

You're talking about your bucket brigade, you're talking about the blockade in '93 --


SHARON BUSHELL: And you're also talking about RCAC, that when --

TOM COPELAND: The most, or, the, the thing you left out there was, was, not just me, but, well, in 1990, I bet there were a hundred commercial fishermen from Prince William Sound in South Central Alaska that went back to D.C. during the actual passage --


TOM COPELAND: -- of OPA '90 and lobbied all of those people hard. My, Floyd Hutchins, the guy who was the communications guy I told you about earlier -- he and I did 135 office buildings in three days.

135 congressional staffs. 135. Alyeska flew the vice-president out to get us drunk in Tip O'Neil's bar at the end of the second night to try to stop us from the third day.

SHARON BUSHELL: That's just the way you get Alaskans cranked up.

TOM COPELAND: But, no, we hit every swing guy on the, in the vote for OPA '90. Floyd'd get me in the door, he's a real charmer, and then I'd be the pitch man, you know, once we got in there.

And about 5 minutes an office, man, in and out, you know. And, and they were, we were not, only one of several delegations that were making that same route, you know, all coordinated by this, by this lawyer for, works for, off and on for the state back there.

And, but even, anybody would, they never really had us. It, there wasn't like one group doing it; it was like 10 groups.

You know, our, CDFU was there, City of Valdez, City of Cordova, there was a lot of players doing, this is before RCAC got started.

See, it was started as a result, they started, actually, to be precise, concurrently with that effort.

Alyeska saw the writing on the walls and set up a voluntary, voluntary group that they thought they could control a little better than what was being written in the federal legislation, and then, and so they, RCAC, the, became extant, was the voluntary alternative to the federally mandated one.

It's a little different than what's called for in federal legislation. And I've had, and most of us think it's stronger than the one that we'd have gotten from the federal legislation, as it turned out.


TOM COPELAND: And a better, better design than, than what's showed up. And in the final analysis of the federal, oh, and, for, and that's the difference between Cook Inlet and us. Cook Inlet is the federal version.

And Prince William Sound is the private enterprise response to the imminent threat of the federal version.

And, so there's an interesting thing there, too that could bear some looking into.

But that's, the, the thing that, the last thing, you're right. The last thing, lesson for me, on this whole thing, is the power of the individual to change things. It's not that you're powerless in an overwhelming, you know, capitalist system that you can't respond to.

No. It's very, it was very responsive to us. After a while, there was a lag time, that awful two weeks, you know. But that, well, you know, we, from that point on, we've been very successful in getting our will --


TOM COPELAND: -- having our say, you know, and getting it done.

And, and it's night and day; it's night and day. It's, you know, it's very amazing, going back to D.C. and helping to see a bill written.

You know, one of the stories I like to tell is how we got double hulls.

There was a British equivalent of "60 Minutes," muck-raking journalism, you know, you know, over there, called, "The Eye," or something like "The Scottish Eye", I think it was "The Scottish Eye." And it's supposed to be quizzical and money counted, you know.


TOM COPELAND: (Indiscernible). And, parsimonious.

And, but anyway, their story was, in the wake of the Exxon Valdez was, no need to worry. The new oil terminal in the Shetland Islands has been built, much stricter environmental requirements than what we get away with in the former colonies.

You know, we could build a ship-shod shake, because British Petroleum has 50% of the pipeline, you know.

They, they're the big boys up there. Exxon only has 25%.

So, but it's always been a British Petroleum pursuit. And, and so their point was, well, we built this sister refinery in Alaska, it's true, but it hasn't, doesn't have near the environmental controls that we enjoy in the Shetland Islands, our home territory -- you know, and it was just, it was about a 20-minute tape that was just calculated to raise the ire of a US congressman, you know.

And George Miller had got a copy of it, the, the great representative from Long Beach, California, my favorite guy, if I had to pick somebody for president, it would be George Miller.

Wonderful, wonderful congressman. And, I've been, known her (sic) for 20, 30 years now.

But he was, he was the guy that got OPA '90 passed. And, and he was our main say. And he'd slipped us a copy of this tape. It was, of course, no copyrights or anything. It was totally legal.


TOM COPELAND: I got it, and then, and my, one of my tasks was to go get 50 copies of this printed up and, and distribute it around to the, to the remaining swing voters at the time it was being passed.

And so I'd, I'd shown up at Capitol Hill that morning; it was the morning of the debate on double hulls.

And I'd shown up, I'd distributed, maybe half of those copies the night before, and then I had the other half in a backpack, you know, walking around, getting ready to pass them out.

And you could hear the screams coming out of George Miller's office from the entire north wing of the congressional offices. The president of Ex, British Petroleum America was in his office, and they were, you know, people said it was the most loud, obnoxious screaming that they'd heard in a month of Sundays.

I mean, those two were at each other, top voice, man, just screaming, with, on the notion of this tape that had been circulated, that, that, British Petroleum was pissed that we had this unauthorized British tape that was being distributed around and very prejudicial to the debate on double hulls, you know, et cetera, et cetera, etcetera.

And just as that was going on, word reached us that a single-hulled tanker had sat down on its own anchor at low tide in Long Beach, George Miller's district.

It had anchored up out in front, waiting to go in, and had miscalculated where it was and sat down on its own anchor and driven, you know, punctured a hole in its single hull and was pouring oil out of George Miller's home district.

And every British Petroleum lobbyist and, and all the oil lobbyists just walked out of the building, said, okay, it's over with; we're gone. (Laughing) You know, let's go have lunch, boys. (Laughs).

SHARON BUSHELL: Our pants have been pulled down.

TOM COPELAND: And we got, we got the double hull thing passed. It was, it was not an easy thing, and we may not have ever gotten it, if it hadn't been for that lucky, lucky oil spill in George Miller's home turf --


TOM COPELAND: -- that day, but it was over with It was just, there's been a number of things along the way where it was just like, you know, if you were a Christian, you could say, God's hand was in this, you know. I mean, it was just things like that.


TOM COPELAND: Just, you know, just --

SHARON BUSHELL: Well, when you --


TOM COPELAND: -- after the second (indiscernible - simultaneous speech).

SHARON BUSHELL: An article for us to access, here, is ADN October 1, '89, and we have Tom on record, and his quote is, "You reach a point when you realize that you're not living in civilization; you're living in barbaric times.

You think there are these people in government who are trying to protect your interests, then you find out that that isn't so. A lot of people in Cordova found that out this summer. No, the system doesn't work. Look at the State of Alaska. It's addicted to oil money.

You talk about kids getting off drug abuse, Alaska is addicted to oil money. How about your permanent fund? The Alaska State government has got to pull the 6-foot needle out of its arm. No, the system doesn't work.

The State of Alaska was to blame. It was their goddamned fault. Of course, the oil companies weren't going to be ready for the problem. They're only going to do what you make them."

End quote.