At 7 p.m. on Tuesday August 11, Quincy Climate Action Network and the Thomas Crane Public Library will cosponsor an online lecture by environmental lawyer and Boston College Law School professor Zygmunt J.B. Plater. Plater will recount his experiences as chairman of the State of Alaska Oil Spill Commission’s Legal Research Task Force, which investigated the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989. He will also discuss what the findings of the task force can teach us about the politics of climate change.
The lecture is free, and all are invited to watch and listen via the library’s Facebook page ; on its YouTube channel; or via the Zoom meeting platform. The Zoom meeting ID is 873-8149-9949. You can use your computer’s audio or call (646) 558-8656 and use the same meeting ID to listen to the audio over the phone.
“We’re thrilled to sponsor this distinguished lecturer,” said David Reich, QCAN’s board chair. In addition to his work on the Exxon Valdez investigation, Plater consulted with plaintiffs in the Woburn toxic waste litigation, the subject of the book and movie A Civil Action, and he served as lead counsel in the landmark environmental litigation over Tennessee’s Tellico Dam, representing an endangered fish species, farmers, Cherokee Indians, and environmentalists in the Supreme Court, federal agencies, and congressional hearings, an experience that forms the basis of his 2013 book The Snail Darter and the Dam, published by Yale University Press.
In the Exxon Valdez investigation, Plater’s legal task force found numerous ways that government action might have prevented the disaster or aided in the cleanup. For one thing, he says, the tanker Exxon Valdez was allowed, because of lax regulation, to go to sea dramatically understaffed. When the tanker ran aground, the crew was overtired and overworked, and the captain was below deck, working on the ship’s accounts, the actual accountant having been laid off in a cost-cutting move.
Regulations so weak that they fail to protect us result from, in Plater’s words, “iron triangles: coalitions of individual economic interests like the fossil fuel industry, the agency officials who are supposed to regulate them, and the cliques in Congress that do their bidding.” The same iron triangle that enabled the Exxon Valdez disaster is now working to weaken regulations intended to protect us from the worst effects of climate change, Plater said, but he also finds hope in rising activism. “It will bring change,“ he said. “It won’t be easy, but I think it will be inexorable.”