Sens. Wyden, Casey, Durbin and Leahy Sign Letter Expressing “Concern” About Chevron Effort to Link Environmental Case to Trade Benefits
Amazon Defense Coalition
29 June 2009 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Bill Hamilton at (202) 641-0350 or email@example.com
Washington, DC – Four U.S. Senators are urging the United States Trade Representative to reject efforts by Chevron to threaten the cancellation of trade benefits for Ecuador because the oil giant faces a $27.3 billion liability in the South American nation for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest.
A letter sent June 25 to USTR Ambassador Ron Kirk, signed by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), says: "We write to express our concern with Chevron Corporation's efforts to petition your office concerning a pending lawsuit it is facing in the Ecuadorian legal system. It is our understanding that Chevron is seeking the threatened withdrawal of the [trade benefits] for Ecuador if this lawsuit moves forward."
The Senators write: "Corporate responsibility at home and abroad is critical, particularly when it concerns human health and the environment. We request that you allow the legal proceedings in Ecuador to take their course without any undue intervention from the U.S. government."
Chevron is charged in the class-action lawsuit with dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways when it operated a large oil concession in Ecuador's Amazon from 1964 to 1990. Chevron had requested that the case, originally filed in 1993 in U.S. federal court, be transferred to Ecuador where a trial began in 2003 and is expected to end later this year.
The court will decide whether to accept a $27.3 billion damages assessment prepared by a team of independent experts, who reviewed most of the evidence in the case and submitted a 4,000-page report last April.
Despite repeatedly praising the fairness of Ecuador's courts in order to have the case transferred to the South American nation, once the evidence became clear Chevron began to claim Ecuador's courts were biased against it. The company launched a lobbying campaign in Washington to convince the Bush Administration and later the Obama Administration to cancel trade preferences for Ecuador as "punishment" for letting its citizens sue the oil giant in Ecuadorian courts – even though Chevron had wanted the trial there to begin with.
Chevron's lobbying effort on the issue, which began in 2005, has repeatedly failed as Ecuador's trade preferences have been extended.
Ironically, in 2006, then-Senator Obama, along with Sen. Leahy, sent a similar letter to the USTR asking that the agency reject an earlier Chevron lobbying effort to use then ongoing trade agreement negotiations as leverage to pressure Ecuador to dismiss the case. In that letter, Senators Obama and Leahy wrote that the plaintiffs – indigenous people and farmers – "deserve their day in court" and that the USTR should steer clear of the matter, which it did.
Earlier this month, Congressmen Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Joe Sestak (D-PA) wrote a letter to the USTR along the same lines. The two representatives asked that "the U.S. Trade Representative should not interfere in this judicial matter, particularly when this case involves environmental, health and human rights issues that have regional, and even global, importance."
Rep. McGovern, who travelled to the affected area in November 2008, described the region as a "terrible humanitarian and environmental crisis" in a letter he sent to President Obama.
The team of court-appointed scientists who conducted the damages assessment identified more than 916 unlined toxic "waste pits" built by Texaco in the rainforest that have been leaching toxins into soils, streams, and groundwater for decades. The expert report estimated that more than 1,400 people have died from cancer related to pollution caused by the company's substandard operational practices.
Chevron's lobbying of Congress to undermine the legal case has sparked outrage in Ecuador because Chevron had stipulated before a U.S. federal judge that it would recognize the jurisdiction of the Ecuador court and be bound by any judgment there, as a condition of the transfer in venue. "Chevron's lobbying campaign against Ecuador in the United States violates both the letter and spirit of the company's legal commitments," said Luis Yanza, a representative of the affected communities in Ecuador and the winner in 2008 of the prestigious Goldman environmental prize.
Steven Donziger, an American attorney and advisor to the Amazon communities, added: "Chevron's lobbying on the Ecuador issue in Washington is an inappropriate effort to involve U.S. foreign policy in a private litigation matter. The letters from the four Senators and two Congressmen to the USTR uphold the important principle that the rule of law must be respected at all times, even by a powerful American oil company being sued by indigenous communities."