By Peter Nicholas, Los Angeles Times
25 April 2007
Sacramento - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declined to meet with an attorney from Ecuador who asked for help in pressing a lawsuit that alleges environmental damage by Chevron Corp., a financial supporter of the governor.
The request for a meeting posed a dilemma for Schwarzenegger, who has been getting worldwide publicity for actions taken to protect the environment and curb global warming.
Attorneys pitted against Chevron want the governor to return the political contributions he has received in recent years from the San Ramon, Calif.-based oil and gas company. They also want him to forgo future donations from the firm.
Since the recall campaign in 2003, Chevron has given about $566,000 to the governor's campaign committees and causes, and donated $50,000 to help pay for his second inauguration. In June, Chevron gave $250,000 to the state Republican Party, which aired television ads promoting his reelection.
On Tuesday, Schwarzenegger ducked a question about why he would not meet with the attorney, Pablo Fajardo, and whether he would continue to take campaign money from Chevron.
"Everyone has their own ideas of what it is to be an environmentalist and to protect the environment," Schwarzenegger said at a news conference. "I'm very clear about it. I will fight to keep our environment clean and to improve and roll back the greenhouse gases."
Fajardo is in California this week for a series of speaking engagements to draw attention to the Chevron suit.
Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the governor, said Schwarzenegger had little advance notice of Fajardo's request and did not have time to see him.
Fajardo represents about 30,000 Amazon Indians and settlers. They allege that Texaco, now part of Chevron, spilled pollutants in Ecuador's Amazon jungle over two decades.
The plaintiffs want Chevron to clean up the damage, which is estimated at $6.1 billion.
Chevron calls the long-running litigation baseless. The case is being heard in an Ecuadoran court.
Chevron said Texaco completed a $40-million remediation program approved by the Ecuadoran government, which also released Texaco from future liability. A Chevron spokesman called Fajardo's request to meet with Schwarzenegger a "publicity stunt."
"Left without any factual or legal merit to their claims, the plaintiff's attorneys ... are now trying to extort a settlement by attacking Chevron's reputation and integrity," said Kent Robertson, a Chevron spokesman.
Fajardo wanted to meet with Schwarzenegger in an effort to persuade him to bring public pressure on Chevron.
Another attorney who is pressing the lawsuit, Steven Donziger, said he was disappointed that Schwarzenegger refused the meeting.
"I think the governor needs to open his doors to the people of the rain forest the way he clearly opens his doors to an oil company," Donziger said.