Amazon’s oil-clean up battle boils

The 14-year old toxic clean-up battle in the Amazon jungle reached a new boiling point when a prestigious environmental award drew the ire of Chevron, the defendant against the ongoing $16bn lawsuit filed by the Amazon Defense Coalition, which represents 80 Ecuadorian communities and five indigenous groups in the class-action suit.

This year, two recipients of the $150,000 annual Goldman Environmental Award – considered the green equivalent of Oscar Academy – were Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, and Luis Yanza, who represents the Coalition.

Fajardo and Yanza led the suit against Texaco (which Chevron bought in 2001) claiming the company dumped more than 18bn gallons of toxic waste water into Amazon waterways. Roughly 900 open-air toxic waste pits were left in the jungle between 1964 and 1990, they claimed.

The San Francisco-based Goldman Foundation defended their picks and stated:

“They are two ordinary Ecuadorians addressing a problem that impacts 30,000 of their countrymen: petrochemical waste spoiling hundreds of square miles of Amazon rainforest. Their work is motivated by a single desire: to ensure that their corner of the Amazon one of the worlds most contaminated industrial sites is cleaned up.”

Chevron is challenging the award stating the foundation was misled. Kent Robertson, spokesman for Chevron said:

“While both Mr. Fajardo and Mr. Yanza are being lauded as environmental crusaders, the truth is their actions have protected the culprit — state-owned oil company Petroecuador. They have even tried to block clean up efforts and extended miserable conditions for those they say they are defending.”

The said polluted fields were operated jointly by Texaco’s subsidiary TexPet and the state-owned oil company Petroecuador, which Chevron said owned majority of the venture. In San Francisco Chronicle’s Op-Ed column yesterday, Chevron’s vice president and general counsel, Charles James, claimed Petroecuador has been the sole owner and operator of the oil fields in question for two decades.

“Petroecuador has been given free license to pollute. While lawyers and environmental groups try to pry open Chevron’s wallet, they are shamefully silent about Petroecuador’s misdeeds.”

Chevron was already inflamed early this month over a report submitted by Richard Cabrera, a mining engineer appointed by the Ecuadorian court in Lago Agrio to evaluate the area and its environmental effects. The report said Chevron should pay between $8bn and $16bn for environmental damages.

Chevron said it will petition the court to void the report, claiming that it is biased and scientifically indefensible. Chevron said Cabrera is being paid solely by the coalition.

Whoever is to blame, this only goes to show how important social responsibility, facility management and ethics are to the manufacturing industry. And as the “he said, she said” battle continues, the Amazon community affected by the pollution are the only ones that really suffer.

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