Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hatchet job for Chevron in this week’s Economist…

An article in the Economist this week totally misses the mark about Chevron's liability in Ecuador. Not only did the reporter fail Journalism 101 by failing to talk to ANYONE from the plaintiffs, he or she (Economist articles have no byline) repeated word for word Chevrons story. This is the response by one of the lawyers working on the case – it gives some perspective on what was missing from the Economist fable:

This article buys into almost all of Chevron's misleading talking points and does your readers a huge disservice. Further, the article has numerous factual inaccuracies that hide the fact Chevron believes no court, government, or law has a right to hold it accountable for creating a humanitarian crisis in the rainforest. Perhaps the most important fact is the obvious one – the article repeats Chevron talking points, while a Chevron advertisement intermittently sits above the article on the Economist website.

This is some of what you got wrong or was taken out of context, from the perspective of a lawyer working on the case:

It is indisputable that Texaco used the Amazon as a trash bin for the 26 years that it operated a large oil field in Ecuador. The company admits to dumping more than 16 billion gallons of toxic "water of formation" into Amazon waterways and leaving over 900 toxic waste pits that leach toxins into soils and groundwater to this day. Several independent, peer-reviewed studies (as opposed to Chevron's financed studies) show a strong elevation in cancer rates in the oil-producing region that are correlated to hydrocarbon contamination. There is indisputable evidence that the practices Texaco used in Ecuador had been outlawed for decades in the U.S. Texaco's practices violated Ecuadorian law, U.S. law, industry custom, the company's contract with Ecuador's government, and basic human decency. More than 1,400 people have died of cancer, according to empirical data based on a court survey. Several indigenous groups have had their cultures decimated. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. court in 1993, is about seeking compensation from the company for these damages.

You totally missed Chevron's bad faith in the litigation. Chevron fought for nine years to move the trial to Ecuador from U.S. courts. It submitted 14 expert affidavits praising Ecuador's courts as fair and adequate. It agreed to submit to jurisdiction in Ecuador and be bound by any ruling there as a condition of the case being transferred. Only when the trial evidence in Ecuador began to point to Chevrons' culpability did those same courts suddenly become unfit for Chevron. The company tries to delay, attack, and distract because the evidence shows 100% of the former Texaco sites are highly contaminated with cancer-causing carcinogens. Chevron also has launched lobbying campaigns in Washington and Quito to help it accomplish in the political arena what it cannot accomplish under the rule of law – namely, engineer a victory via political pressure. What bothers Chevron about Ecuador's President is that he won't do its bidding, he won't interfere in the litigation, and he won't cut a side deal with the company unlike other Presidents from years past that allowed Texaco to run roughshod over the country's citizens.

Chevron's remediation, the basis of its "defense" at trial, was a total sham. At 100% of the so-called "remediated" sites inspected during the trial, high levels of toxins in soil and water have been confirmed by independent laboratories. Chevron created bogus laboratory results to "certify" the pits as cleaned, leading to a criminal indictment of two former Texaco lawyers. The "release" received by Chevron for the so-called remediation excludes the private claims of the type being litigated in the lawsuit. Chevron is lying to shareholders and journalists when it claims it was "released" – no court in the world has ever accepted Chevron's argument on this point, despite being presented countless times over the last 13 years.

Finally, the court-appointed expert maligned in your article is one of the most respected environmental consultants in Ecuador. He is so good that Chevron paid him as its expert in an earlier phase of the case. He worked with a team of 14 independent scientists to come up with a damages assessment. More than 25 scientists have reviewed the assessment and found its conclusions reasonable and the damages figure consistent with other large environmental clean-ups. Your claim that Texaco made less than $500 million profit is preposterous and illustrates your shoddy research. That amount was made by Texpet, Texaco's fourth-tier subsidiary in Ecuador. Texaco itself made an estimated $25 to $30 billion in profit in Ecuador.

Let's be clear – the Economist approached this story with a bias, and never contacted a representative of the communities. Chevron is a leading advertiser for the Economist. You owe your readers an explanation.