Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Movie Industry, Media Outlets Line Up Against Chevron Over Film Battle

Chevron's latest legal maneuver to avoid its potential $27.3 billion liability for illegal dumping in Ecuador's rainforest is startling. The company is now trying to violate the 1st Amendment rights of filmmaker Joe Berlinger by forcing him to turn over more than 600 hours of private video outtakes from his film Crude. But Chevron's actions have not gone unnoticed, and virtually every major U.S. media company – and dozens of luminaries – have come to Berlinger's defense, asking the courts to stop Chevron's abuses. Take a look at the press release from the Amazon Defense Coalition explaining the issue below:

Leonardo DiCaprio, Woody Allen, Academy of Motion Pictures Join Filmmaker In Showdown with Chevron over Ecuador Footage

Robert Redford, Bill Moyers, Mikhail Gorbachev, Trudie Styler Also Line Up Against Oil Giant In Legal Battle
Key First Amendment Case Attracts Wide Attention

Amazon Defense Coalition
Contact: Karen Hinton at 703-798-3109 or karen [at]

New York, NY – Leonardo DiCaprio, Woody Allen, Robert Redford, Mikhail Gorbachev and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have joined forces with celebrated filmmaker Joe Berlinger as he faces a key legal showdown Wednesday with Chevron over its attempt to access 600 hours of private video footage from the film CRUDE that documents the oil giant's massive environmental contamination of Ecuador's Amazon.

"The battle lines have been drawn between a major oil company accused of human rights abuses and the rights of the journalistic and artistic communities to expose corporate misconduct," said Ilann Maazel, who represents 30,000 rainforest plaintiffs who have sued Chevron for discharging billions of gallons of toxic waste onto their ancestral lands.

"Chevron committed wrongdoing in the Amazon with an environmental impact far worse than that the BP disaster," said Maazel. "This case is about Chevron's use of ill-gotten profits to intimidate a filmmaker who captured the company's misconduct on tape.'

A federal appeals court in New York will hear arguments Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. over a decision by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan in May that ordered Berlinger to turn over to Chevron his entire body of outtakes from CRUDE, or roughly 600 hours of footage. Kaplan's decision has been met with widespread criticism as hundreds of journalists, actors, filmmakers, and writers – many of them Academy Award winners – have joined virtually every major U.S. media company in supporting Berlinger.

The list of notables reads like a "Who's Who" of the arts and journalist communities, including Redford, Bill Moyers, Norman Lear, Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, and Trudie Styler in addition to DiCaprio and Allen.

Also supporting Berlinger are three dozen of the largest media companies in America, including The New York Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, Dow Jones, the Associated Press, HBO, the Washington Post, the Hearst Newspapers, the Daily News, and the Gannett Company. The media companies filed a brief in which they noted that Chevron seeks to subpoena the "largest amount of film outtakes" in American history.

Also backing Berlinger are the Sundance Institute, the Director's Guild of America, the Writer's Guild of America, the International Documentary Association, the Tribeca Film Institute, Latino Public Broadcasting, and the Center for Asian American Media, among others. In a separate brief, they argued that Kaplan's order will make it "nearly impossible for filmmakers who report on controversial issues to obtain candid interviews."

A letter from the documentary branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it fears Kaplan's decision "could have far-reaching, potentially devastating consequences ... for the bond of trust between journalist and subject..." Redford wrote in The Huffington Post that the "potential ramifications of [Kaplan's decision] for the journalist community, film world and society in general are both shocking and profound."

Gorbachev, a Nobel Prize Laureate, released a letter from the Berlin-based Cinema for Peace Foundation (where CRUDE won a major award last year) that said Kaplan's ruling endangers "independent documentary filmmaking and the work of investigative journalists everywhere."

For its part, Chevron has attracted the support of Dole – a company that like Chevron faces accusations that it committed crimes and violated human rights abroad by exposing banana field workers to toxic chemicals. Dole, represented by the same U.S. law firm as Chevron, had previously sued a Swedish documentary filmmaker who investigated and documented the pesticide poisoning of Dole workers in Nicaragua.

Berlinger shot CRUDE, which won 22 festival awards and premiered at Sundance, between 2005 and 2008. The film chronicles three years of the Ecuador trial phase of the 17-year legal battle between indigenous groups and Chevron. The case against Chevron is considered the largest environmental class action in the world; damages are estimated at up to $27.3 billion.

Berlinger is arguing that his footage is covered by First Amendment privileges that safeguard the ability of reporters and filmmakers to play their traditional watchdog role to expose corporate and governmental abuse. Chevron claims Berlinger's footage is likely to contain evidence of misconduct that can help in its defense.

Chevron's pursuit of the footage is a "sideshow" meant to intimidate journalists and distract shareholder attention from the company's enormous liability for illegal dumping in Ecuador, lawyers for the indigenous and farmer communities suing the company said.

"Chevron's management is now trying to run over the Constitution just like it ran over the rights of indigenous groups in the Amazon," said Maazel.

Chevron has admitted in court that Texaco (now Chevron) deliberately discharged billions of gallons of toxic wastewater into the streams and rivers of Ecuador while it was the exclusive operator of a large oil concession from 1964 to 1990. Evidence before the court indicates that cancer rates and other oil-related diseases in the area where Texaco operated have skyrocketed.

Trudie Styler: Chevron Trying to Restrict Constitutional Rights

Trudie Styler -- the noted environmentalist, humanitarian, filmmaker and co-founder of the Rainforest Foundation -- took aim today at Chevron's unprecedented legal assault on the constitutional rights of fellow filmmaker Joe Berlinger. Berlinger, who made the documentary film "Crude" about Chevron's conduct in Ecuador's rainforest, is being sued by the oil giant in an effort to force him to turn over more than 600 hours of private video outtakes. Chevron's legal maneuver is both unprecedented and reprehensible - and is a direct threat to Berlinger's 1st Amendment rights. Styler published a response to Chevron's actions on the Huffington Post today. Take a look below or after the jump.

Chevron Tries to Restrict 1st Amendment in Latest Twist in Crude Saga

The ongoing saga of the class action lawsuit, Aguinda v. Chevron, originally filed in 1993 by the people of Ecuador whose rainforest land had been contaminated by oil production practices, and documented on film by Joe Berlinger in Crude, has taken a new turn. Chevron's latest diversionary and delaying tactic is to engage in a widespread and unprecedented legal assault on the First Amendment in their attempt to force Berlinger, the celebrated independent documentarian, to turn over more than 600 hours of private film outtakes from Crude.

Chevron's legal tactic has attracted widespread criticism from prominent individuals across the media community, including actor and filmmaker Robert Redford, journalist Bill Moyers, bestselling author John Perkins, documentarians Michael Moore and Ric Burns, the Director's Guild of America, the Writer's Guild of America, and others.

Virtually every major U.S. media outlet, including the NY Times, LA Times, CBS, NBC, ABC, Associated Press, Dow Jones, HBO, and others have opposed Chevron's action in court.

This latest action by Chevron is part of a worldwide, desperate litigation campaign by the oil giant to escape liability for what is thought to be the world's worst oil-related environmental catastrophe. The extent of the contamination is almost unfathomable - by Chevron's own admission they dumped at least 15.8 billion gallons of toxic 'produced water' in the region, and their own audits indicate that the number may actually be much higher - more than 18.5 billion gallons.

Of the 18.5 billion gallons of toxins, at least 345 million gallons of it was pure crude oil. To put this in perspective, as of June 15, 2010, U.S. government estimates have indicated that the BP spill in the Gulf has spilled somewhere between 73 and 126 million gallons of oil. At least the BP spill was not intentional. By contrast, Chevron's dumping was, by the company's own admission, a deliberate production decision to maximize profits. According to experts, a saving of approximately $1-3 per barrel of oil was achieved by dumping the toxins rather than disposing of them properly.

The end result of this has been incredible devastation of a formerly pristine section of Ecuador's Amazon rainforest. Though Chevron no longer operates in the area (having ceased Ecuadorian drilling operations in 1990), the pollution still remains.

The people living in that region do not have widespread running water or plumbing, and have had no access to water that has not been polluted by the oil operations for nearly four decades. I have seen firsthand the reality of the aftermath of Chevron's actions in Ecuador. I have seen some of the unlined, unfenced waste pits that Chevron left behind. I have met many people there who have lost their parents, their children, and who are losing heir own lives. The area is besieged with oil-related illnesses; families are plagued with extremely elevated levels of childhood leukemia, spontaneous abortions, birth defects, and other serious oil-related health impacts. Experts have estimated that at least 1,400 people have died needlessly from oil-related sicknesses due to the illegal dumping.

In 1993, the people in the region brought a lawsuit against the oil giant to force the company to clean-up the damage it caused on their land. An independent court-expert has estimated that the damage caused in the region could cost as much as $27.3 billion to clean up. However, even that amount will be insufficient to return the people to the lifestyles they knew before the Chevron showed up.

Small wonder Chevron are running scared. Without taking sides in the lawsuit itself, the enormous legal liability tied to all of these harms provides the context for why Chevron is so aggressively attacking its critics across the world.

Chevron has one animating principle in their attacks on Joe Berlinger, the Ecuadorean people, and anyone attempting to hold the company responsible for the pollution it left behind in Ecuador: to find some way of eliminating the legal liability to protect the company's bottom line.

But the time has come for Chevron to stop its attacks, and to stop trying to evade its responsibilities. The company should cease its futile attempts to force documentarians and journalists to open up their files to the company's lawyers, and instead focus on the essential issue: how they will remediate the damage it caused in Ecuador to the 30,000 affected people and their land.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Chevron Lobbying Over Ecuador Lawsuit Criticized by Sierra Club, Catholic Bishops

Chevron's long-running lobbying campaign to cancel Ecuador's trade preferences over a potential $27.3 billion environmental lawsuit brought against the company by more than 30,000 Ecuadorian indigenous people has attracted the criticism of several influential and wide-ranging groups. Recently the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Sierra Club – America's largest and oldest environmental group, with more than 1.3 million members and supporters – wrote letters to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, urging him to ignore Chevron's "improper" lobbying. Archbishop Howard Hubbard, the chair of the USCCB's Council on International Justice and Peace, expressed concerns over attempts to "misuse" trade policy to "punish the very people trade preferences are intended to help when people try to defend the environment and human rights," while Executive Director Michael Brune of the Sierra Club wrote that trade "preferences were not intended to be, and should not be, used as a means of pressuring any government to foreclose the constitutional rights of its citizens who seek to use the legal system to protect and restore the natural world."

This isn't the first time Chevron's improper lobbying has drawn condemnation. In 2009 26 U.S. Congressmen sent a letter to the Obama administration, calling on the administration "to reject Chevron's request and reaffirm that U.S. trade agreements will not be used as leverage to interfere in private claims progressing through Ecuador's legal process." Earlier, then-Senator Barack Obama and Senator Patrick Leahy had similarly urged the USTR to ignore Chevron's improper actions.

Take a look at the letters themselves: you can read the USCCB letter here and the Sierra Club letter here. The letter from the 26 Congressmen is available here and the Obama letter here.

You can read a press release from the Amazon Defense Coalition about the criticisms below:

Chevron Draws Fire from U.S. Council of Bishops, Sierra Club over Improper Ecuador Lobbying

Oil Giant's Campaign to Cancel Ecuador's Trade Preferences Derailed for Fifth Straight Year

WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Chevron's lobbying campaign to cancel Ecuador's trade preferences over a $27 billion environmental lawsuit brought by indigenous groups appears headed for failure yet again.

Last week, the office of the United States Trade Representative submitted a report to Congress that flatly ignored Chevron's attempt to have Ecuador's trade preferences canceled. It was the fifth consecutive year the oil giant had engaged the USTR on the issue and failed to achieve its objective. Each time, Chevron used heavyweights such as former Clinton Administration officials Mickey Kantor and Mac McLarty and Republican super-lobbyist Wayne Berman to carry its message.

Chevron's lobbying of the USTR, called an "attack on the rule of law" by the indigenous leaders, recently was criticized either implicitly or expressly by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Sierra Club, and numerous Congressmen. All wrote letters to USTR Ambassador Ron Kirk urging that his office reject Chevron's proposal, which would have cost Ecuador 350,000 jobs had it been accepted.

Chevron's lobbying also had been criticized by the Los Angeles Times, which editorialized that "halting the [Ecuador] trade agreement at Chevron's behest would harm broader U.S. interests."

The lawsuit, which is being tried in Ecuador at Chevron's request, accuses the oil giant of deliberately discharging more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon forests and waterways when it operated a large oil concession from 1964 to 1990. Six indigenous groups have had their traditional lifestyles decimated and more than 1,400 people have died of cancer due to Chevron's sub-standard practices, according to the lawsuit.

The amount of oil discharged by Chevron in Ecuador is far greater in quantity that the amount spilled in the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the plaintiffs. The damages claim against Chevron in Ecuador is $27.3 billion.

The letter from the Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent June 23 to Kirk, urged the Obama Administration "to resist direct or indirect interference in any legal processes Ecuador or its citizens may have initiated to assert their right to defend their environment and the health of their people."

Most Reverend Howard Hubbard, writing for the Bishops, also expressed concern over efforts to "misuse" trade policy to "punish the very people trade preferences are intended to help when people try to defend the environment and human rights."

In its letter, the Sierra Club wrote in reference to Chevron that trade "preferences were not intended to be, and should not be, used as a means of pressuring any government to foreclose the constitutional rights of its citizens who seek to use the legal system to protect and restore the natural world."

"This is especially true when our government is being asked to do so by, and for the economic benefit of, a powerful corporation that does not contest the central fact of pollution on a vast scale at issue in the case, only its own liability," said the letter, signed by Executive Director Michael Brune.

With 1.3 million members and supporters, the Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. Both the Sierra Club and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are considered highly influential in Washington lobbying circles.

For years, the USTR – under both the Bush and Obama Administrations -- has snubbed Chevron over its Ecuador lobbying. Last year, 26 members of Congress, including several powerful senior members, urged the USTR to reject Chevron's effort to use trade agreements "as leverage to interfere in private claims progressing through Ecuador's legal process."

In 2006, then-Senator Obama and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also wrote a letter to the USTR urging it to reject Chevron's lobbying and to steer clear of the private legal dispute in Ecuador.

The lawsuit, originally filed by 30,000 Ecuadorians in New York in 1993, was transferred to Ecuador after Chevron filed 14 sworn affidavits to the U.S. court praising the fairness of that country's court system. Shortly after the trial in Ecuador began in 2003 and the evidence pointed to Chevron's culpability, the company started to attack the courts it had previously praised and initiated the lobbying campaign over trade preferences.

The USTR report is only a recommendation to the Congress, which must decide by the end of the year whether Ecuador's trade preferences will be extended. Like the USTR, for several years running Congress has rejected Chevron's request over Ecuador's trade preferences.