Toxic Oil and Power Politics in the Amazon

Newsweek.com describes how an oil company uses political connections to hide the mess left behind. Very sad but not surprising.

Link: Chevron Lobbyists Fight Ecuador Toxic-Dumping Case | Newsweek International | Newsweek.com.

Few legal battles have been more exotic than the lawsuit tried over the past five years in a steamy jungle courtroom in Ecuador‘s Amazon rain forest. Brought by a group of U.S. trial lawyers on behalf of thousands of indigenous Indian peasants, the suit accuses Chevron of responsibility for the dumping (allegedly conducted by Texaco, which Chevron bought in 2001) of billions of gallons of toxic oil wastes into the region’s rivers and streams. Activists describe the disaster as an Amazon Chernobyl. The plaintiffs—some suffering from cancer and physical deformities—have showed up in court in native garb, with painted faces and half naked. Chevron vigorously contests the charges and has denounced the entire proceeding as a "shakedown."

But this spring, events for Chevron took an ominous turn when a court-appointed expert recommended Chevron be required to pay between $8 billion and $16 billion to clean up the rain forest. Although it was not the final verdict, the figures sent shock waves through Chevron’s corporate boardroom in San Ramon, Calif., and forced the company for the first time to disclose the issue to its shareholders. It has also now spawned an unusually high-powered battle in Washington between an army of Chevron lobbyists and a group of savvy plaintiff lawyers, one of whom has tapped a potent old schoolmate—Barack Obama.

Chevron is pushing the Bush administration to take the extraordinary step of yanking special trade preferences for Ecuador if the country’s leftist government doesn’t quash the case. A spokesman for U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab confirmed that her office is considering the request. Attorney Steven Donziger, who is coordinating the D.C. opposition to Chevron, says the firm is "trying to get the country to cry uncle." He adds: "It’s the crudest form of power politics."

via The Oil Drum

Who Will Pay to Save the Rain Forests?

Fred First highlights a dilemma that every affluent country will face. How do we save the remaining wild places from destruction — if we decide it is worth doing? Excerpts below.

Link: Fragments from Floyd

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and his government say that if the international community can compensate the country with half of the forecasted lost revenues, Ecuador will leave the oil in Yasuni National Park undisturbed to protect the park’s biodiversity and indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation.

Here’s what’s at risk:

Yasuni National Park protects one of the most biologically rich regions in the world, including a large stretch of the world’s most diverse tree community and the highest known insect diversity in the world. It is one of the most diverse places in the world for birds and amphibians.

And here’s the conundrum:

Now: how much is it worth to the commons of the planet to pay Ecuador to not develop Yasuni? How is that decision made across cultures and world political divides, and who will pay and how might that be prorated for each contributor? Can we expect energy-hungry nations (very like our own) to volunteer to pay higher oil and gas prices so that unseen indigenous people and rare salamanders can continue to survive?