Monday, June 28, 2010

Chevron’s Environmental Racism

In 1994, a year after the communities in Ecuador first field suit against Texaco for the intentional contamination of their ancestral lands, Texaco executives were caught on tape openly deriding black employees and conspiring to destroy documentation which had been subpoenaed in a federal discrimination case against the company. The candid comments described black employees as “niggers” and openly mocked the celebration of Kwanzaa. The lawsuit alleged that Texaco discriminated against minority employees and created a racially hostile environment. The Federal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that “there was reason to believe Texaco [was] guilty of company-wide racial bias.”

Decades later, Chevron (which bought Texaco in 2001) displays a shocking level of mistreatment towards people of color.

Ecuador is a great example. In that country’s Amazon, it remains undisputed that to save money the company violated industry norms and dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste water, spilled 17 million gallons of oil without cleaning it up, and abandoned more than 900 unlined and uncovered waste pits filled with toxic sludge. The victims are indigenous tribes and impoverished mestizo communities. Environmental experts, the World Health Organization and numerous other organizations have condemned the practices as knowingly substandard compared to what it was doing at the same time in the United States. Texaco utilized dramatically lower operational practices when operating in poor communities where people of color live. It has then lied about what happened, used fraud to win a legal “release” from the government, and engaged in a multi-decade cover-up.

Now, in 2010, as the contamination continues to leach into the drinking water of thousands of individuals whose lifestyles have been decimated by the pollution, Chevron still refuses to perform a remediation. The company continues to tell the families, who are now suffering from cancer and other oil-related illnesses, that the contamination is not harmful to environment or human health.

The company has even gone before the court in Ecuador and suggested that any remediation should only be required to meet a 10,000 ppm standard for petroleum contaminants, though in the U.S., the standard that is required to limit harm to human health is 100 ppm or less. Clearly, for Chevron, the lives of the Ecuadorian families are worth 1/100th the value of a U.S. life.

Recently, a Chevron pipeline leaked in Utah. Salt Lake City residents awoke to sheets of oil in their rivers and streams as the Ecuadorians did for decades. But this time, Chevron is pledging to remediate and compensate the Utah victims. It is even paying to costs for several weddings that had to be moved to a new location.

It would be a sign of improvement if the same company were not simultaneously alleging that oil pollution was not a problem for the communities of color in Ecuador.

For Chevron, racial and cultural bias remains. As a result, some lives are worth more than others.