Accused of Trying to Help Chevron Quash Contamination Lawsuit in Ecuador
Amazon Defense Coalition
27 April 2009 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
WASHINGTON, DC--Citing new lobbying rules put into place by the Obama Administration, two environmental groups are strongly criticizing Mickey Kantor for lobbying on behalf of Chevron before the same trade agency he led for several years under the Clinton Administration.
Kantor, who headed the office of the United States Trade Representative from 1993 to 1997, has been lobbying the same office to quash a historic environmental lawsuit brought by indigenous groups in Ecuador’s rainforest where the oil giant faces a potential $27 billion liability for creating what some experts have called the worst oil-related contamination on earth. Kantor’s role was disclosed last week by the National Journal.
The criticism of Kantor comes just one day before James McGovern (D-MA) convenes the first Congressional hearing on the human rights aspect of Chevron’s environmental contamination in Ecuador. Scheduled for Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. in room 2200 of the Rayburn Building, the hearing will feature Steven Donziger, a legal advisor to the Amazonian communities who have been battling Chevron in court for more than 15 years.
“Mickey Kantor is violating the spirit of lobbying rules put in place by the Obama Administration to help a corporate polluter that has destroyed a large portion of the rain forest,” said Mitch Anderson, who monitors Chevron’s Ecuador lawsuit for Amazon Watch, an environmental group in San Francisco.
Luis Yanza, the internationally recognized leader of the Amazon Defense Coalition in Ecuador, blasted Kantor for “betraying President Obama’s commitment to protect the integrity of government by doing Chevron’s dirty work in his old agency.”
“Chevron left an oil dump in the rainforest that has killed hundreds of people with cancer and devastated indigenous groups, and now U.S. lobbyists are trying to politicize and corrupt the trial process that Chevron wanted,” said Luis Yanza, a Goldman Award winner who coordinates the lawsuit for more than 80 farmer communities and indigenous groups.
Under an executive order issued in January by President Obama, officials who leave government are permanently barred from lobbying the Obama Administration. When he issued the order, President Obama said: “We need to close the revolving door that lets lobbyists … use their time in public service as a way to promote their own interests over the interests of the American people when they leave.”
The legal case, brought on behalf of 30,000 people, originally was filed in U.S. federal court in New York in 1993. After years of legal battles over jurisdiction, the case was transferred to Ecuador in 2002 after Chevron submitted 14 expert affidavits asserting the South American country would be the most appropriate venue.
When the trial started in 2003 and evidence pointed to Chevron’s culpability, the oil giant shifted gears and started to attack Ecuador’s courts and launched a lobbying campaign against Ecuador’s government.
Texaco, bought by Chevron in 2001, was the exclusive operator of large oil concession in Ecuador’s rainforest from 1964 to 1990. The company has admitted to dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways and abandoning more than 900 toxic waste pits that are still leaching toxic sludge into soils and groundwater, according to scientific evidence in the case.
Kantor was quoted saying that the damages amount “doesn’t make any logical sense” even though he offered no reason for the conclusion. Yet Anderson explained the damages assessment ordered by the court – contained in a 4,000-page report prepared by 15 technical experts -- is consistent with other large environmental clean-ups around the world, a fact confirmed by several independent scientists.
The damages report found 1,401 excess cancer deaths in the region due to oil-related contamination.
“I would bet Mickey Kantor has never been to Ecuador to see the damage caused by Chevron,” said Anderson. “He’s probably never talked to the victims, never read the expert report, and never seen the cancer mortality data.
“His work for Chevron is an example of Washington’s broken system of lobbying,” added Anderson.
Chevron failed in similar efforts to end Ecuador’s trade preferences in 2006 and 2008. In 2006, then Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Patrick Leahy wrote a letter to the USTR requesting that the agency not intervene because the plaintiffs “deserved their day in court”.
Chevron hopes the threat of cutting trade benefits will pressure Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa to scuttle the lawsuit even though he is prohibited by law from intervening in private legal matters. Ecuador stands to lose 350,000 jobs if the trade benefits are canceled, according to the government.