Twenty-Six Members of Congress Ask USTR to Reject Chevron Interference in Landmark Ecuador Legal Case

Written by Maria

Topics: Oil

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House Members Express “Concern” About Oil Giant’s Effort to Use Trade Policy to Deny Due Process in Environmental Lawsuit

WASHINGTON–Chevron has been dealt a major setback in the Congress as more than two dozen representatives, led by Rep. Linda Sanchez and including powerful senior members, have signed a letter urging that the United States Trade Representative reject efforts by the oil giant to cancel Ecuador’s trade preferences. Chevron has pressured the USTR and Congress for years to revoke or curtail Ecuador’s preferences in retaliation for a lawsuit brought by 30,000 Ecuadorian citizens alleging that Chevron dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest over a period of more than 20 years.

Separately, a one-year extension of the trade preferences for Ecuador were approved in the House on Dec. 14 on a voice vote – the fourth consecutive year Chevron’s lobbying effort against Ecuador appears to have failed. The Senate is expected to formally approve the measure by the end of the year.

The letter to the USTR, sent December 15, expresses concern about Chevron’s efforts to influence a private litigation which originally was filed in 1993 in U.S. federal court by several Ecuadorian indigenous tribes and farmer communities, but was sent to Ecuador at Chevron’s request in 2002.

“We urge you 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,” the representatives wrote in the letter.

Among the 26 Members taking this strong stand with Rep. Sanchez were: the Chief Democratic Deputy Whip and Vice-Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Trade Subcommittee, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); the Chairman of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA); eight Members of the Ways & Means Committee, including the chairman of its Oversight Subcommittee, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA); and eight members of the Appropriations Committee, three of whom also oversee State Department matters and Foreign Operations. Judiciary and Rules Committee Members also were among those lending their support.

Other members signing the letter were Reps.: Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), James McGovern (D-MA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Danny Davis (D-IL), Sam Farr (D-CA), Steve Israel (D-NY), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Phil Hare (D-IL), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Michael Michaud (D-ME), Jim McDermott (D-MA), James Moran (D-VA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Mike Quigley (D-IL), John Olver (D-MA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Betty Sutton (D-OH), and Fortney “Pete” Stark (D-CA).

Chevron is charged in the lawsuit with dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways and abandoning more than 900 unlined waste pits when it operated a large oil concession in Ecuador’s Amazon from 1964 to 1990. A team of independent, court-appointed experts has estimated that at least 1,401 individuals have died from cancer related to exposure to the contamination and determined that damages could reach as high as $27.3 billion, according to a 4,000-page report turned over to the court last year.

The members of Congress write: “We do not prejudge the outcome of the case, nor do we take a position on the litigation. We do believe, however, that tens of thousands of indigenous residents of Ecuador who have brought this case deserve their day in court. We further believe that the USTR should not interfere in an ongoing judicial matter, particularly when this case involves environmental, health, and human rights issues that have a regional, and even global, importance.”

Even though Chevron filed 14 expert affidavits in U.S. federal court praising Ecuador’s court system to get the case transferred, once the evidence in the Ecuador trial pointed to the company’s culpability it began a lobbying campaign in Washington to have Ecuador’s preferences canceled. Chevron’s lobbyists have made misleading assertions to the Congress that the company was granted a release from claims after a limited environmental clean-up in the mid-1990s, even though the release does not apply to the private claims in the lawsuit and the clean-up itself was fraudulent, according to the plaintiffs.

The ultimate goal of Chevron’s Washington lobbying campaign was to pressure Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa, to interfere in his country’s judiciary and quash the case as a way to maintain more than 300,000 jobs in Ecuador that are dependent on the preferences, according to Steven Donziger, an American legal advisor to the plaintiffs in the legal case.

“Chevron was trying to pressure Ecuador’s President to violate his own Constitution and interfere in a private litigation to benefit the company in its battle with indigenous groups decimated by Chevron’s pollution,” said Donziger.

Chevron’s lobbying campaign has sparked strong reactions across Capitol Hill and in the media.

On November 17, in testimony before the trade subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Sanchez called Chevron’s lobbying “extortion” and said, “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.”

A recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times editorial blasted Chevron, noting that “If … Chevron has its way, Congress will instead punish Ecuador because its government refuses to halt a private lawsuit against the oil giant…. to force a favorable outcome in a private claim would justly generate international outrage.”

In 2006, then-Senator Barack Obama and Sen. Patrick Leahy wrote a similar letter to the USTR asking it to reject Chevron’s petition, which it did.

Experts believe the Ecuador contamination – which covers an area the size of Rhode Island — is the worst oil-related disaster on earth and would take at least two decades to properly clean. A final judgment in the case is expected next year.

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