In what appears to be the largest judgment in an environmental case, an Ecuadorian judge has ordered Chevron Corp. to pay $8.6 billion to clean-up oil pollution and cover health care costs for residents of the area. The judge also threatened to double the fine if the company doesn’t publicly apologize within fifteen days. Chevron’s answer? No to all of the above. The American oil giant inherited the case, which has been bitterly fought for nearly two decades, when it purchased Texaco Inc. in 2001, and vows to appeal the ruling, refusing to pay the fine or apologize as the judge demanded. Chevron denies responsibility for any ecological harm stemming from Texaco’s operation in the oil-rich Amazon rainforest that spanned from 1965 to 1992. Plaintiffs in the case, mostly comprised of residents of the area, first sued Texaco in New York in 1993, but Texaco, and later Chevron, successfully argued that the case should be heard in Ecuador, which was then run by a government seen as pro-American business and trade. But in 2007, Rafael Correa, who publicly supported the plaintiffs during his campaign, was elected president in Ecuador. Chevron claims his government has interfered in the case, and has also accused the plaintiffs of foul play. The plaintiffs deny the fraud allegations and insist environmental evidence supports their claim. In this game of he said, she said, who will finally prevail? And if Chevron never has to pay, how damaging will the case be to their reputation, especially in light of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster? For now, the company’s shares seem unfettered by the ruling and rose 1.3% the same day the ruling was issued.
Marcos Orellana, Senior Attorney and Director, Human Rights and Environment Program at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)