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Battle Over Chevron’s “Amazon Chernobyl” Comes to Washington, D.C.

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Battle Over Chevron’s “Amazon Chernobyl” Comes to Washington, D.C.

September 16, 2008 11:41 AM EDT

With pressure mounting in Ecuador from a major environmental lawsuit and criminal fraud indictment against Chevron lawyers, four residents of the Amazon rainforest will travel to Washington to discuss the devastating impact of the oil company’s operations over three decades in what once was one of the world’s most pristine jungles. Meetings are set with members of Congress and Congressional staff. (Media can obtain the names of the members of Congress and congressional staff on September 17th by emailing or phoning the media contact. We are not releasing the names until then to prevent Chevron from interfering with the meetings.)

The lawsuit, filed in 2003 after Chevron insisted the case be shifted to Ecuador from a U.S. federal court, is expected to result in one of the largest civil judgments in history. An independent court-appointed expert recently assessed damages between $7.2 billion and $16.3 billion. Chevron recently hired several A-list Washington lobbyists, including McCain Campaign finance chair Wayne Berman and former Senator Trent Lott, to try to convince the Bush Administration and Congress to deny Ecuador trade benefits as “punishment” for letting these individuals press their private legal claims against Chevron. Further, two Chevron lawyers were indicted last week in Ecuador for conspiring to falsify the results of a purported environmental clean-up as a ruse to avoid liability in the civil case.

The Ecuadorians have accused Texaco (bought by Chevron in 2001) of committing the worst oil-related disaster on the planet on their ancestral lands – one at least 30 times worse than the Exxon Valdez spill. They also believe the scientific evidence at trial from various sources, including Chevron itself, demonstrate the presence of massive and life-threatening levels of toxins in the area where Chevron operated. Chevron has claimed the trial is a “farce” and “rigged” – claims that have been vigorously rejected by the plaintiffs and several independent observers.

Members of Delegation

The delegation will include a medical care provider who helps residents who suffer from cancer, skin disease and respiratory illnesses as a result of the contamination; a tribal leader whose indigenous group has seen a dramatic drop in population since Texaco entered Ecuador’s rainforest in the mid 1960s; and Pablo Fajardo and Luis Yanza, recently honored with the Goldman environmental prize (called the “Nobel” of the environment). In April Chevron took out a full page advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle accusing Fajardo and Yanza of having misled the Goldman jury, a charge the Goldman Foundation rejected vigorously. Fajardo also was honored last December as a CNN “Hero” award in the Justice category for leading the fight to hold Chevron accountable and is one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Chevron’s Practices

Chevron is accused of dumping 18.5 billion gallons of toxic “produced water” into Amazon waterways from 1964 to 1990, when it was the exclusive operator of large oil concession in the rainforest. The company is also accused of creating 916 unlined toxic waste pits and filling them with toxic sludge that has leeched for decades into soils and groundwater that Amazon residents rely on for drinking water. The company is also accused of being responsible for hundreds of oil spills. In 1992, Texaco turned over its entire operation to Ecuador’s state-owned oil company, Petroecuador. To this day, the system originally designed and built by Texaco continues to contaminate the environment. Five indigenous groups have been severely impacted, with significant drops in population and health problems. Cancer rates and other oil-related health problems in the region have spiked, according to several peer-reviewed health studies.

The media also may be interested in reading this article: http://www.newsweek.com/id/149090 and viewing photos of the people who have been ill as a result of the contamination: http://www.chevrontoxico.org/article.php?id=110.

About the Amazon Defense Coalition

The Amazon Defense Coalition represents dozens of rainforest communities and five indigenous groups that inhabit Ecuador’s Northern Amazon region. The mission of the Coalition is to protect the environment and secure social justice through grass roots organizing, political advocacy, and litigation.

Source: Amazon Defense Coalition

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