Amazon Defense Coalition
21 May 2008 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Quito, Ecuador - Chevron should stop hiding behind its bogus public relations campaign about protecting the environment and start putting its record profits to work by cleaning up the billions of gallons of toxic waste it deliberately dumped into Ecuador's rainforest, causing hundreds of deaths to indigenous peoples, said environmental activist and lawyer Pablo Fajardo in Quito, in response to Chevron's testimony today about soaring oil prices before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, DC.
"Chevron talks a good game about the environment and how it's plowing back profits into cleaner ways to provide energy, but in reality Chevron executives have turned their backs on the environment as well as hundreds of Ecuadorians who are sick or have died from the toxins left behind in open oil pits scaring our rainforest and polluting our water," said Fajardo, who is representing 30,000 Ecuadorians who have filed a lawsuit, Aguinda vs Chevron, in Ecuador against Chevron to force the oil company to pay for an extensive clean-up of over 900 open oil pits covering an area the size of Rhode Island in northern Ecuador.
Fajardo has been named a CNN "Hero" and received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize (considered the Nobel of the environmental movement) for his work to hold Chevron accountable for creating what experts believe is the worst oil-related contamination on the planet.
Purchased by Chevron in 2001, Texaco had admitted that it dumped over 18.5 billion gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest near the small town of Lago Agrio from 1964 to 1992 - about 4 million gallons daily, or 30 times more pure crude than in the Exxon Valdez disaster. By refusing to utilize clean-up practices required in the US at the time - such as lining pits and re-injecting toxic water deeply into the ground - Texaco saved an estimated $4.5 billion during the 26 years (1964 to 1990) that it was the exclusive operator of the large oil field.
Scattered through the jungle today are open pits filled with petroleum and deadly water that continues to seep into the drinking water. One indigenous tribe in the area (the Tetete) has disappeared, while three other indigenous groups have seen rapid population declines as a result of the contamination.
"Texaco took the oil, took the profits, and walked away from the one of the worst environmental contaminations in the history of the world. Chevron should fulfill its corporate governance responsibilities and clean up the mess it has caused on the land of other people, just like it would do in the United States," said Fajardo.
Fajardo said Chevron's relatively new "Will You Join Us" campaign to encourage people to discuss new, cleaner ways to produce energy is a worthy effort, but it should first take care of its own legacy of environmental problems.
The trial is being conducted in Lago Agrio and is in its final stages. The plaintiffs expect a decision this year. A recent court-ordered report, written by an independent expert, has proposed that Chevron pay a minimum of $7 billion and up to $16 billion to compensate for environmental contamination. If the assessment is accepted, the subsequent judgment likely would be the largest civil damages awards in an environmental case.
The higher $16 billion figure could result if the court accepts an "unjust enrichment" penalty tied to Chevron's actual cost savings over several decades for failing to use appropriate operational practices. The lower figure represents actual costs to remediate soils around all 378 of Chevron's former Ecuador production facilities, plus compensation for health care costs, a water system, loss of indigenous land, ecosystem impacts, infrastructure improvements, and other categories of damages.
Chevron recently told the United States Trade Representative that it expects an "enormous" adverse judgment in Ecuador, and as a result it has started to lay the groundwork for an eventual appeal by criticizing the fairness of the court system. Yet it was Chevron that sought the trial in Ecuador as a maneuver to remove the case from U.S. federal court, said Fajardo.
At the time, Chevron submitted ten expert affidavits to a U.S. federal court praising the fairness of the Ecuadorian justice system.
"Chevron has tried for 15 years to evade legal accountability for its irresponsible drilling practices," said Fajardo. "Only when the evidence at the trial showed high levels of life-threatening toxins at Chevron's production sites did Chevron's lawyers suddenly begin to dislike the Ecuadorian courts they had praised for so many years.
"We believe that Chevron is a company that for decades has operated outside the law in Ecuador, and now is trying to cover up that fact from its shareholders and the U.S. Congress," said Fajardo.
The Amazon Defense Coalition
The Amazon Defense Coalition, a coordinator of the Aguinda vs Chevron lawsuit, is part of a regional, national and global struggle for environmental and collective rights in the Ecuadorian Amazon. It represents Amazonian grass roots organizations and communities that have joined to defend and sustain Ecuadorian peoples and environment through the unification and the integration of the entire Ecuadorian Amazon.