YELLOWSTONE SPILL:

Mont. pulls out of joint command, citing Exxon transparency issues

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) has withdrawn his state from a joint command team in charge of cleanup of the Yellowstone River oil spill and instead established his own command center in Billings, Mont., citing concerns with transparency at Exxon Mobil Corp.

State residents "can't get straight answers" from Exxon, Schweitzer said. The company operates the ruptured 12-inch pipeline that spilled up to 1,000 barrels of oil into the river downstream from Yellowstone National Park.

The joint command team -- made up of state officials, Exxon and U.S. EPA -- was overseeing cleanup and providing information to the public.

"When Montana citizens call a hotline and Exxon Mobil doesn't get back to them, that's unacceptable," Schweitzer said, adding that Exxon also restricted reporters and state environmental officials from joint command sessions in violation of the Montana open-meetings law.

Schweitzer has called on landowners and residents to take videos of the oil's damage, collect soil samples and get together paperwork to make claims.

Exxon Mobil spokesman Alan Jeffers said his company did not attempt to limit access to command meetings or public information. Exxon, he said, has assigned more employees to its hotline and has contacted about 80 landowners who reported oil on their property.

"We're doing our best to respond as fast as possible to everybody who has been impacted by this spill," Jeffers said (Laura Zuckerman, Reuters/Yahoo News, July 8). -- AP