Oil Giant's Attempts to Evade Justice in Ecuadorian Rainforest Criticized Before Congressional Ways & Means Hearing
Amazon Defense Coalition
17 November 2009 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Washington, DC - U.S. Congresswoman Linda Sanchez of California today urged Congress to reject Chevron's attempts to co-opt US foreign trade policy and programs so that the company could gain an advantage in private litigation and to focus on the merits of renewing trade preferences in testimony before the House Ways & Means Trade Subcommittee.
Chevron has been aggressively lobbying Congress and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to punish Ecuador's government, by eliminating trade benefits the country receives under the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA), for refusing to intervene in a private lawsuit between the company and more than 30,000 individuals living in communities where the company drilled for oil from 1964-1990. Chevron potentially faces $27.3 billion in damages for the devastation that its wholly-owned subsidiary, Texaco, caused in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest to an area larger than the State of Rhode Island.
"Instead of settling with the plaintiffs, embarking on clean-up efforts, or even seeking mediation, Chevron has engaged in a lobbying effort that looks like little more than extortion," Sanchez said in her testimony. "Apparently, if it can't get the outcome it wants from the Ecuadorian court system, Chevron will use the US government to deny trade benefits until Ecuador cries uncle."
In a Nov. 16th Politico article, Chevron spokesperson Kent Robertson essentially admitted that Chevron was extorting Ecuador. He said, "If we were able to call a timeout and make the lawsuit disappear, then this entire issue disappears."
Sanchez noted that Chevron's arguments run completely counter to the core purpose of laws like the ATPA. Trade preferences should be used "as a hand up to provide needed help to the families of developing nations, not a paddle to punish governments who refuse to succumb to the demands of multi-billion dollar corporations."
Sanchez also made clear that, in the process of reforming America's trade laws, the criteria by which preferences are awarded ought to be modified to make consideration of private litigation impermissible. "I hope that we also consider whether to add environmental standards and to reform investor protection provisions and examine which criteria, like private lawsuits, we should avoid. We must examine our trade preferences with a focus on shared prosperity," she said.
Chevron is the largest company in Rep. Sanchez's home state of California, and the third largest company in America. It has formally admitted in the course of litigation that Texaco dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic "produced water" while it operated in Ecuador. An independent, court-appointed expert found that the company abandoned at least 916 unlined, toxic waste pits covering a region of almost 2,000 square miles, and that at least 1,401 people have died from excess cancer deaths related to the contamination. The oil giant is on track to spend more than $25 million on lobbying in 2009.