New York State Comptroller DiNapoli Hits Back at Chevron over Ecuador

DiNapoli calls Chevron’s ethical complaint "baseless"

By Jan Wagner, Responsible Investor
19 December 2012

Thomas DiNapoli, who as New York State Comptroller is the trustee of the state's $150.3 billion (€114bn) retirement fund, has dismissed a complaint filed against him by Chevron which alleges that he received campaign funds for urging the firm to settle its legal battle with Ecuador over pollution in the country's rainforest. "This is a baseless attempt by big oil to intimidate me and it won't work, DiNapoli said. "I am confident that JCOPE (New York's Joint Committee on Public Ethics) will see through this blatant attempt to intimidate responsible shareholders who dare to question Chevron's actions."

New York's retirement fund has around $713m invested in Chevron. In May, DiNapoli and 39 other investors representing $580bn in assets wrote to the oil giant urging it to come to some sort of agreement with Ecuador, whose courts have slapped it with a $19bn fine for the pollution of its rainforest. The damage cited by the Ecuadorian courts took place between 1964 and 1991, when Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001, allegedly dumped a huge amount of waste and oil into the Amazon rainforest.

Chevron says the pollution was cleaned up and is challenging the court's decision. It has said that the judgement against it is not enforceable "in any court that observes the rule of law." Chevron's ethics complaint against DiNapoli alleges that he received $60,000 in campaign funds from plaintiffs who stood to benefit from any settlement the company would reach with Ecuador. Chevron's lawyers have also taken the unusual move of subpoenaing SRI Trillium Asset Management, the Boston-based SRI fund manager to get them to provide more information on their contacts with DiNapoli on the issue. Responsible Investor understands that Trillium has objected to the subpoena, in which case it would be up to a court to decide whether the firm must submit information. Trillium declined to comment. A subpoena has also been issued to Simon Billenness, a Washington-based SRI consultant, who, on behalf of the Unitarian Universalists, has urged Chevron to settle the Ecuador case. He too has objected to the subpoena and says Chevron's pressure on critical investors has backfired: "I haven't seen anyone pulling back and, on the contrary, additional shareholders like Walden Asset Management have come into the fray."