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Chevron lobbies Bush Administration for bail out on lawsuit by Amazon tribes

Chevron lobbies Bush Administration for bail out on lawsuit by Amazon tribes

Chevron lobbies Bush Administration for bail out on lawsuit by Amazon tribes
July 31, 2008

Lobbyists for big oil are working feverishly to persuade the Bush Administration and Congress to let Chevron off the hook for a potential $16 billion liability in an environmental lawsuit.

The long-running suit alleges that Texaco — acquired by Chevron in 2001 — dumped 18.5 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways from 1964 to 1990, harming local indigenous communities and damaging the environment in one of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems. The oil company built roughly 1000 unlined open-air waste pits that have been leeching toxins into the soil and groundwater for decades.

Chevron had dragged out the legal proceedings for years but in March of this year, a court-appointed special master in the lawsuit found that environmental damage and other damages in the case amounted to between $7.2 billion and $16.3 billion. With an SEC investigation looming, the ruling forced Chevron to disclose the liability to the first time to its shareholders — the oil giant would have to pay 100 percent of the damages if the judge accepts the assessment.

Now Chevron has hired former Senate majority leader Trent Lott, former Clinton White House Chief of StaffMac McLarty, former Democratic senator John Breaux and John McCain fund-raiser Wayne Berman to lobby Susan Schwab, the United States Trade Representative; key Members of Congress; and John Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State. Pablo Fajardo, the lead Ecuadorian lawyer for the plaintiffs, says that Chevron’s lobbyists aim to “use the threat of canceling trade preferences to intimidate Ecuador’s government into extinguishing the legal rights of its citizens to save the country’s economy.” Luis Gallegos, Ecuador’s U.S. ambassador, estimates that a failure to extend the trade preferences by the end of the year could cost Ecuador 350,000 jobs and force 1.2 million people into poverty.

In response, a group of indigenous leaders – from the Cofan, Secoya, and Siona tribes – are planning a trip to Washington, DC in September to talk directly with Members of Congress and the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The plaintiffs have also tapped Democratic fund-raiser Ben Barnes to help make their case among U.S. government leaders.

Suggested reading:

Savages, a book by Joe Kane, tells the story of the Huaorani, a tribe living in the deepest part of the Amazonian rain forest in Ecuador, and their struggles with Texaco.

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