Corporate Polluters Close Ranks Behind Chevron In Ecuador Case
Published on Jul 13, 2011 - 4:10:45 PM
NEW YORK, NY, July 13, 2011 - Some of the world's most notorious polluters are closing ranks behind Chevron to help the oil giant evade its legal obligation to clean-up billions of gallons of toxic waste dumped into the Amazon region of Ecuador, according to legal briefs filed before a New York appeals court.
Dow Chemical, Shell, and Dole have together filed an amicus brief with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals asking it to uphold an injunction issued by a federal judge that purports to block enforcement of an $18 billion judgment against Chevron handed down this year in Ecuador after an eight-year trial. The judgment is currently under appeal in Ecuador.
The three companies that signed the amicus brief all have been targeted, individually, in legal actions for dumping toxins into the environment and exposing people to illegal and harmful levels of contamination.
"Chevron, Dow, Shell, and Dole each have consistently relied on a business model which artificially inflates their profits by dumping pollutants into the environment and then doing whatever is necessary to avoid having to pay for a clean-up," said Karen Hinton, the American spokesperson for the 30,000 Ecuadorians who sued Chevron for the environmental contamination of their ancestral lands.
"It is utterly unsurprising that these notorious polluters have risen to Chevron's defense," said Hinton. "After all, they're operating on the same basic principle: profits first and concern for the environmental and human rights, last."
Hinton pointed out that Dow operated the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility in Colorado that is now considered one of the most polluted Superfund sites in the United States. For years Dow has tried to offload clean-up costs, estimated to run into the tens of billions of dollars, to taxpayers.
Dow also manufactures DBCP, a toxic soil fumigant that sterilized numerous Dow workers. Although the use of DBCP is banned in the U.S., Dow still ships the chemical overseas.
Dow also manufactured Agent Orange, a cancer-causing defoliant used in Vietnam that now costs taxpayers billions of dollars annually in disability payments to veterans who were exposed to the toxin during the war.
Dole used the DBCP chemical manufactured by Dow as a fumigant on its banana plantations in Central America, resulting in widespread sterility for thousands of workers, according to various lawsuits filed against the company.
Shell has been charged with the indiscriminate dumping of toxic oil waste in Nigeria's Delta region, causing oil-related health problems for thousands of people. Evidence shows that Shell was involved in the execution by the Nigerian government of Ken Saro-Wiwa, an internationally-renowned environmental activist in the affected region. Shell recently settled a lawsuit brought in New York by members of Saro-Wiwa's family.
Chevron is likely paying the legal fees of the law firms that prepared the amicus brief for Dow, Shell, and Dole, said Hinton.
"Only the world's worst polluters would support Chevron's frivolous quest to evade responsibility for creating a humanitarian catastrophe in Ecuador that either has killed or threatens to kill thousands of people," said Hinton.
In February, an Ecuador court found that Chevron had deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into the environment, decimating indigenous groups and causing an outbreak of cancer and other oil-related diseases. The lawsuit was filed in New York in 1993 but shifted to Ecuador at Chevron's request, after the company repeatedly praised Ecuador's court system.
In response to an expected adverse judgment in Ecuador, in February Chevron filed a separate lawsuit in New York before Kaplan seeking an injunction purporting to block worldwide enforcement on the grounds that Ecuador's court system was biased. In granting the injunction, Kaplan rejected evidence offered by the Ecuadorians and mocked them by calling them the "so-called plaintiffs" in his decisions. He also refused to have an evidentiary hearing.
It is the appeal of Judge Kaplan's injunction that prompted the filing of the amicus brief by Shell, Dow, and Dole.
The Ecuadorians have filed a separate action with the New York appeals court seeking Kaplan recusal from the case for his "deep-seated animosity" toward their lawsuit. The appeals court last week consolidated that motion with the underlying appeal of Kaplan's injunction, with argument scheduled for the week of Sept. 12 in Manhattan.
Almost all of the plaintiffs have rejected Kaplan's jurisdiction and say they will take all lawful steps to enforce their judgment in countries where Chevron has assets regardless of what he rules, said Hinton.
The effort by Chevron, Dow, Shell, and Dole to use a U.S. judge to block enforcement of the Ecuador judgment has generated international controversy. In a separate amicus brief to the appeals court, a group of international law scholars called Kaplan's injunction a "futile act" that has no legal basis and violates the Constitution, while the government of Ecuador blasted the decision as an affront to the nation's sovereignty.
Prominent environmental law groups are also lining up against Chevron. Two such groups -- EarthRights International and the Environmental Defender Law Center -- filed separate amicus briefs (here and here), asking the appeals court to reverse Kaplan's injunction.
The Ecuador trial court also found that Chevron's lawyers had repeatedly tried to delay and undermine the proceedings, in part by threatening to file criminal charges against Ecuadorian judges unless they ruled in the company's favor. Two Chevron lawyers were sanctioned during the trial.
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