ChevronToxico

Gov.'s Green Credentials Challenged

An Ecuadorean attorney calls on Schwarzenegger to help in his lawsuit against Chevron, a major campaign donor

By Peter Nicholas, Los Angeles Times
18 April 2007

Now that Arnold Schwarzenegger is being portrayed worldwide as the green governor, he may be forced to choose between environmentalists on one side and well-heeled political donors on the other.

On Tuesday, the governor was sent a letter from a lawyer in Ecuador asking for help in a lawsuit against one of Schwarzenegger's political supporters, Chevron Corp. A copy was obtained by The Times.

"I would like to invite you personally down to Ecuador to look at what Chevron has done to the rain forest here," wrote Pablo Fajardo, the attorney. "I would plead with you to bring your friends who are executives at the company so they can explain to you what they have done here. And finally, I am asking for your public help in supporting the fight against this company."

Fajardo added: "I have faith because I know you are a man of the environment."

The attorney plans to visit California next week and wants to meet with the governor. A spokesman for Schwarzenegger said the governor has yet to receive the letter and would not comment.

Fajardo's request underscores a part of Schwarzenegger's record that the governor seldom highlights: his ties to companies that are often pitted against environmental activists.

Chevron has been a generous donor to Schwarzenegger's campaigns, and a nonprofit group in San Francisco would like him to forgo future contributions.

Simeon Tegel, director of communications for Amazon Watch, a human rights and environmental group in San Francisco, said the governor "needs to walk the talk.... If he's really serious about global warming, he shouldn't be accepting money from a company that plays a central role in causing greenhouse gas emissions."

Since 2003, Chevron has contributed about $566,000 to the governor's political committees and causes, state records show.

The oil and gas company also gave $250,000 to the California Republican Party last June. Party officials aired several campaign ads last year urging Schwarzenegger's reelection.

And Chevron donated $50,000 to help pay for Schwarzenegger's inauguration in January.

A spokesman for the company said Chevron's donations are bipartisan.

"We contribute to members of both sides of the aisle in state and federal politics, and we participate in the democratic process, and make all our campaign donations publicly known," said Don Campbell, manager of media relations for the company, based in San Ramon, Calif.

Chevron is entangled in a protracted lawsuit in Ecuador - the subject of Fajardo's letter. The lawyer, who is profiled in the May issue of Vanity Fair magazine, is representing about 30,000 Amazon Indians and settlers.

The plaintiffs allege that the former Texaco company spilled billions of gallons of pollutants in Ecuador's Amazon jungle during two decades of drilling. Texaco merged with Chevron in 2001.

In his letter, Fajardo says "we can no longer drink the water in our villages and towns because the water is contaminated."

Campbell declined to comment on the letter, saying he had not seen it.

But the company is aggressively fighting the lawsuit, which it casts as baseless.

The spokesman said that after Texaco left the country, a state-owned company called Petroecuador came in and racked up "a disastrous record of environmental neglect."

"We view these claims as entirely without merit and without any factual or legal basis," Campbell said.

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