Chevron CEO David O'Reilly Tries to Duck Ecuador Controversy at Public Debate

Refuses to Talk About Ecuador At Commonwealth Club Debate

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Amazon Watch
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San Francisco, CA – Battered by a shareholder revolt and negative publicity related to a potential $27 billion environmental liability in Ecuador, Chevron CEO David O'Reilly is refusing to appear at a public debate tonight unless the Ecuador issue is taken off the table as a discussion topic, Amazon Watch reported today.

"We have confirmed that David O'Reilly indicated he will refuse to show up to debate tonight unless the Ecuador issue is taken off the table," said Mitch Anderson, who monitors the company's human rights record for Amazon Watch, an environmental group in San Francisco.

"If O'Reilly truly believes the rhetoric Chevron has been putting out about the Ecuador case, then why won't he talk about the issue?," Anderson asked. "This runs counter to the very concept of open debate and really projects an image of weakness."

O'Reilly is scheduled to debate Carl Pope, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, at what is being billed as a "first ever" meeting to discuss their differing visions of America's energy future. The debate is scheduled for today at 6:30 p.m. PST at the Nikko Hotel in San Francisco and is being hosted by the Commonwealth Club, which prides itself on being the nation's "premier" public affairs forum.

The debate is scheduled to be moderated by Alan Murray, the online editor of the Wall Street Journal. Last year, Pope blasted Chevron in a Sierra Club blog for a series of contradictory arguments the company was making about Ecuador.

O'Reilly is increasingly identified with what scientific experts consider the worst oil-related contamination on the planet in Ecuador's Northern Amazon region. While operating a large oil concession in the area from 1964 to 1990, Texaco systematically dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways and abandoned more than 900 unlined waste pits, causing a spike in cancers and other oil-related health problems.

Thousands of Amazonian residents filed a lawsuit against Texaco in 1993 in U.S. federal court, with the case being shifted to Ecuador at the oil giant's request. Chevron inherited the lawsuit when it purchased Texaco in 2001. Last year, a team of court experts estimated damages at up to $27.3 billion.

On May 27, O'Reilly suffered a stunning rebuke when a total of at least $37 billion in Chevron shares voted to defy his recommendation and support a shareholder resolution calling on the company to develop a "verifiable" human rights policy. Another human rights resolution received $33 billion worth of voting shares, out of $134 billion outstanding.

The high levels of support – which came in part from several large pension funds – amounted to a shareholder "revolt" over the company's ongoing problems in Ecuador and other countries, said Anderson.

In Ecuador, six indigenous groups say their traditional lifestyles have been decimated by Texaco's pollution while an independent court expert estimated 1,401 cancer deaths can be attributed to Texaco's sub-standard operational practices.

O'Reilly also has been heavily criticized for partnering with Burma's repressive military government in a pipeline project; refusing to accept responsibility for the deaths of Nigerian villagers protesting pollution caused by Chevron; and hiring William Haynes, one of the six so-called "torture lawyers" from the Bush Administration, to run Chevron's legal department.

"O'Reilly is a CEO who is clearly running way behind the curve on human rights issues relative to most other corporate leaders," said Anderson. "By refusing to talk about Ecuador, he is acting like the company is guilty of committing the abuses that have been alleged. The whole thing reeks of cowardice."

O'Reilly also received criticism for refusing to be interviewed by 60 Minutes when it aired a highly unflattering report in May on Chevron's Ecuador liability. Instead, the company used a low-level lawyer as spokesperson, and she stumbled badly in the interview by comparing the contamination in the Amazon to oil in her own makeup.

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