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Supreme Court Hears Exxon Valdez Spill Case

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today on whether Exxon Shipping Co. should pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that mucked up 1,200 miles of Alaskan coast line.

The oil supertanker dumped 11 million gallons into Alaska's Prince William Sound, making it the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Exxon claims the $2.5 billion award - the largest ever approved by a federal appeals court - is excessive under shipping laws.

The 9th Circuit slashed the damages award in May from $5 billion to $2.5 billion, partly because Exxon blamed the spill on a reckless captain who ran the Valdez into a reef with 53 million gallons of crude oil in its hold. Exxon claims it has already paid more than $3.4 billion in clean-up costs and penalties.

Justice Samuel Alito previously recused himself from the case because he owns Exxon stock.

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