On Tuesday, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan of New York prohibited the enforcement of a $9.5 billion Amazon rainforest pollution judgment against oil giant Chevron Corporation. Kaplan ruled that the judgment was a product of fraud on behalf of Ecuadorian plaintiffs and their attorney Steven Donziger.
According to Amazon Watch, the decision “underscores the threat that well-financed corporations pose to justice and the rule of law with their ability to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on efforts to attack victims and their allies.”
The judgment would have compensated Ecuadorians for Chevron predecessor Texaco’s deliberate dumping of more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in the Amazon. Between 1964 and 1990, Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2011, drilled for oil in the Amazon rainforest and deliberately dumped billions of gallons of highly toxic sludge into unlined, open-air pits that have seeped into streams and rivers, polluting the means of subsistence for local Ecuadorians.
The company dug over 900 waste pits that continue to spread toxins and sicken local, indigenous populations. The sludge that was dumped in the rainforest contains high concentrations of dangerous toxins. Sampling of the groundwater revealed high concentrations of total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPHs), according to a 2011 deposition transcript. Soil and groundwater testing has also revealed high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and petroleum hydrocarbons such as benzene.
Water systems have been contaminated and food has become unsafe to eat. Hundreds of locals have died from cancers attributed to the pollution, and children have suffered high rates of birth defects and leukemia.
Ecuadorians have been engaged in a years-long legal battle with the oil giant. The initial judgment against Chevron, an unprecedented $19 billion in damages, was cut in half by Ecuador’s high court last year amid a trial in which Chevron accused attorney Steven Donziger of helping engineer the judgment through bribery and fraud. According to Law360:
Largely adopting Chevron’s narrative that cast Donziger as a scheming criminal who manipulated the Ecuadorean judicial system through bribery and fraud, Judge Kaplan granted a limited injunction declaring the award invalid under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act after a broader, worldwide anti-enforcement order was overturned by the Second Circuit in 2012.
Chevron has praise Kaplan’s ruling, calling it “a resounding victory” for the company and its stockholders. “It confirms that the Ecuadorean judgment against Chevron is a fraud and the product of criminal enterprise,” the company said.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Steve Donziger blasted the “appalling” judgment. “Through this decision, we now have the spectacle of a Manhattan trial judge purporting to overrule Ecuador’s Supreme Court on questions of Ecuadorean law,” he said. “All these factual and legal issues will be addressed in due course on appeal.”
“Chevron had profits of $24 billion in 2008. In 2009, a coalition of the most prestigious human rights activists in the world handed Chevron a chilling report entitled, The True Cost of Chevron,” said Mike Papantonio, host of Ring of Fire and a Levin, Papantonio shareholder. “It’s a report that tells stories about human rights abuses against activists that object to oil extraction that destroys waterways, and ecosystems systems, and breathable air.”
Recently the company was hit with a $5 billion lawsuit for a 2012 offshore gas exploration rig explosion that killed 2 workers. Nigerian residents are suing Chevron for environmental pollution caused by the rig explosion and subsequent gas fire and hydrocarbon leak. According to the suit, the disaster contaminated the water, soil, air, fish, and livestock of thousands of Niger Delta residents.
Chevron is also accused of failing to protect rig workers who were “pleading” to be evacuated from the rig, “which kept drilling while smoke poured from a borehole until an explosion killed two people as the rig became engulfed in flames.”
Image via: Rainforest Action Network