US Senators Seek Chevron/Ecuador Trial Without US Meddling

By Braden Rendall, Reuters
30 June 2009

Four senators have written to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, criticizing what they understand is a push by Chevron Corp to cut trade benefits for Ecuador, where the oil company faces a $27 billion claim in court.

"We request that you allow the legal proceedings in Ecuador to take their course without any undue intervention from the U.S. government," the senators' letter said.

A ruling in the long-running case over pollution of the Ecuadorean jungle has been expected some time this year, but the company has argued that public criticism of Chevron by Ecuador President Rafael Correa makes a fair trial impossible.

"It is our understanding that Chevron is seeking the threatened withdrawal of the Andean Trade Preference Benefits for Ecuador if this lawsuit moves forward," said the letter, which was seen by Reuters.

The letter, dated June 25, was signed by Democratic Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

A Chevron spokesman was not immediately available to comment.

"Corporate responsibility at home and abroad is critical, particularly when it concerns human health and the environment," the senators' letter said.

In 2006, Leahy and then-Senator Barack Obama had urged the U.S. trade representative to ignore Chevron's campaign to exclude Ecuador from trade negotiations if the Ecuadorean government did not shut down the lawsuit.

The four senators also said in the latest letter that it was their understanding that Chevron earlier this decade had urged a federal U.S. court to transfer the case to Ecuador, "submitting 14 sworn affidavits from experts praising the courts of Ecuador as fair and adequate."

Chevron has said it is facing a "trial lawyer"-led campaign to force it to settle in the case, including a shareholder proposal for an environmental protection report that received about 7 percent of the vote at its annual meeting last month at Chevron headquarters in San Ramon, California.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has asked Chevron to disclose information to investors about its potential liability in Ecuador, though Chevron says it has communicated fully with its shareholders.

The 30,000 Ecuadorean plaintiffs say Texaco -- bought by Chevron in 2001 -- polluted the jungle and damaged their health by dumping billions of gallons of contaminated water over more than two decades, before the company left in the early 1990s.

In a separate letter this month, Democratic Representatives Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania and James McGovern of Massachusetts wrote Kirk to say the Ecuadoreans "deserve their day in court" and ask that his office and U.S. trade preferences not be used as "pawns in the service of a corporate legal strategy."

(Reporting by Braden Reddall; editing by Carol Bishopric)