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