Amazon Leaders Condemn Chevron and Ecuador Government for Setting Up "Pathetic" Clean-Up Fund to Cover Costs of $12b Environmental Disaster
$10 Million Remediation Is a Sham — Just Like Chevron and Ecuador Government’s Bogus Cleanup in 1990s, FDA Says
Quito , Ecuador - Leaders of Ecuador’s Amazon communities this week blasted Chevron and their own government for setting up a paltry clean-up fund of only $10 million to cover massive costs to remediate the oil company’s environmental disaster that various courts have determined will run at least $12 billion and maybe much higher.
“This new fund is pathetic given the magnitude of the damage and is obviously just the latest attempt by Chevron to duck its clean-up obligations to the Indigenous peoples of Ecuador as imposed by the court system,” said Agustin Salazar, the Ecuadorian lawyer for the communities.
The government-announced fund — created without any consultation with the communities it is supposed to help — would not cover even one percent of the actual costs to remediate Chevron’s “Amazon Chernobyl” disaster, as determined by four layers of courts in Ecuador, according to court evidence. Ecuador’s courts found Chevron deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic oil waste onto Indigenous ancestral lands when it operated in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992, decimating local cultures and causing an outbreak of cancer that has killed or threatens to kill thousands of people.
Most experts consider Chevron’s oil-related disaster to be the worst toxic contamination in the world, with local leaders calling it a “mass industrial poisoning” and one of the worst corporate crimes ever. Chevron has spent at least $2 billion to hire 60 law firms and 2,000 lawyers to fight the Indigenous groups.
“While we welcome all help we can get, this so-called clean-up fund seems to be another example of Chevron’s long history of corruption, subterfuge, and greed as well as the weakness of our own government in face of the company’s pressure,” said Rafael Pandam, the President of Ecuador’s Amazon Parliament and member of the Amazon Defense Coalition (FDA), the group of communities that won a landmark pollution judgment of $12 billion in 2011.
“At best, this fund will pay for only two of the 1,000 unlined toxic waste pits Chevron left behind that still contaminate our ancestral lands,” he added. “We obviously will continue to enforce the court judgment against Chevron in Canada until the full amount is collected.”
While the Amazon communities pursue Chevron’s assets in Canadian courts, it has been widely reported that the oil company — with the apparent help of the Trump Administration — has been trying to pressure Ecuador President Lenin Moreno to assume the costs of clean-up as a way for Chevron to escape the court-imposed liability. Earlier this week, Ecuador’s Minister of Hydrocarbons, Carlos Perez, announced the $10 million clean-up fund without any prior consultation with the communities and without providing any details.
Under the terms of the Ecuador court judgment against Chevron — which issued in 2011 and was affirmed by Ecuador’s Constitutional Court last July — any clean-up funds collected from Chevron in Canada or other enforcement jurisdictions will be turned over to the communities and their technical advisors to be used for proper remediation and for the construction of medical centers, the provision of clean water, and the restoration of Indigenous lands and culture. Chevron’s disaster encompasses roughly 400 well and production sites spanning 1,500 sq. miles and will take ten to 20 years to properly remediate, according to experts.
Evidence presented in the Ecuador trial found that when Texaco (Chevron’s predecessor company) left Ecuador in 1992, it abandoned roughly 1,000 unlined toxic waste pits with each costing approximately $5 million to remediate. The pits still contaminate groundwater and rivers relied on by the local population for drinking water, leading to high cancer rates and other health problems.
Douglas Beltman, a U.S. scientific expert for the affected communities, testified under oath that each of the abandoned Chevron waste pits would be considered a Superfund site under U.S. law. The Ecuador government fund will only cover the costs of two of 1,000 waste pits, according to Beltman’s analysis. “It is clear Chevron treated Ecuador as a trash bin,” Beltman told the U.S. News show 60 Minutes in an interview in 2009.
In a press release put out by the FDA, the organization responded to the announcement of new fund with the following statement:
“The FDA wants to remind people that there exists one responsible party for the contamination in Ecuador’s Amazon and it has a name: the Chevron Corporation… Any announcement of a clean-up fund should base itself in the context of the historic court judgment that we are enforcing in Canada. We will not accept anything less.”
The FDA also criticized Chevron for attempting a remediation in the mid-1990s that cost $40 million, or far less than 1% of the amount needed to properly repair the damage. That so-called “clean-up” consisted largely of covering a small percentage of the company’s toxic waste pits with dirt and was widely condemned as a sham. It also only covered 16% of the company’s pits.
Also in that earlier Chevron attempt at clean-up, the company used an illegal standard 50 times more lax than typical U.S. standards which made it virtually impossible to fail inspection even though hardly any work was done, according to Beltman’s analysis. Chevron then tried to use its so-called sham “remediation” as a legal basis to dismiss the environmental case, but courts rejected that maneuver.
The same Ecuadorian Ministry that oversaw the earlier sham clean-up in the mid-1990s is now creating the fund even though Chevron is responsible for the damage and the company faces the far larger court judgment, according to the FDA. Enforcement of the $12b judgment against Chevron will continue in Canada, where the Supreme Court of that country backed the Ecuadorians in a unanimous decision that issued in 2015, said Salazar, a lawyer for the organization.
For more background on Chevron’s earlier “remediation” in Ecuador carried out by Texaco, see this summary memo by Beltman of Stratus Consulting and this article by Karen Hinton.