Chevron: 'Environmental Con Men' Behind Big Oil Lawsuit
By Penny Starr
CNSNews.com Senior Staff Writer
April 17, 2008
Washington (CNSNews.com) - Chevron is guilty of "environmental sins" for polluting the Amazon rain forest, said two Ecuadoran activists who are suing the U.S. oil company for billions of dollars. Chevron says lawsuit is targeting the wrong company.
Speaking through a translator, Ecuadoran attorney Pablo Fajardo and activist Louis Yanza told reporters gathered at the National Press Club on Tuesday how Texaco -- purchased in 2001 by Chevron -- polluted their land and water, making people sick.
The press conference focused on the latest in a series of lawsuits -- dating back to 1993 -- that seeks billions of dollars in compensation for environmental damage Texaco allegedly caused before ceasing operations in the Latin American country in 1990. Chevron has never operated in Ecuador.
After two earlier suits were dismissed in U.S. courts, the case is now being litigated in Ecuador.
"My hands and my heart are clean," said Fajardo, who is the lead attorney for Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia - or The Front - in its class-action suit against Chevron. "I have not committed environmental sin or environmental crime that we talk about. Chevron has done so."
But Chevron made its own announcement on Monday in the form of a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle, the oil company's hometown paper.
"When an 'environmentalist' is no friend to the environment" shouted the banner of the ad, which is filled with previous statements made by Fajardo, including one where he blames the Ecuadorian state-owned Petroecuador oil company for contaminating the rain forest.
"It is not Chevron who should be sued for environmental damage in Ecuador, but the country's own state oil company," Fajardo is quoted as saying in the ad. His words come from an August 2008 editorial he wrote in the Latin Business Chronicle.
"They are environmental con men," Kent Robertson, media relations advisor with Chevron, told Cybercast News Service. "What they didn't tell you (at the press conference) is that they are the named benefactors of this lawsuit. If a check is issued, it will be paid out to the Amazon Defense Fund."
Robertson said Texaco was released from any responsibility for environmental damage after it invested $40 million in remediation efforts in the late '90s.
When asked by Cybercast News Service why Petroecuador isn't named in the law suit, Steven Donziger, a U.S. attorney who has worked on the case since the early 1990s, said Chevron was the right defendant in the case.
"This is 100 percent responsibility of Texaco, now Chevron," Donziger said. "They designed the system, they built the system and exclusively operated it until 1990. We have chosen to sue Chevron because we believe Chevron is 100 percent responsible."
Robertson said Chevron agrees with Fajardo that Petroecuador has an abysmal record of environmental responsibility and, in fact, continues to do damage to the region where it is conducting its oil operations.
While Donziger conceded that Petroecuador isn't blameless in Ecuador's environmental problems, he claims Chevron should pay to restore the region because of Texaco's role in developing the country's oil industry, beginning in the 1960s.
"This is the largest civil environmental case in world history," Donziger said at the press conference, citing a so-called "independent" evaluation of the case by an Ecuadorian scientist who said Chevron should pay between $8 and $16 billion in reparations for the damage done from oil seeping into the soil and groundwater and hundreds of toxic waste pits that still dot the rainforest.
Robertson, however, said he has no doubt about how the case, which is expected to take up to a year to be litigated, will end.
"There is not going to be a check written," Robertson said. "Their case is meritless and we are going to fight this in every jurisdiction we can get access to."