WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Chevron has retained at least twelve public relations firms and lobbyists to discredit claims of Amazon indigenous groups on the eve of an expected multi-billion dollar judgment against the oil giant in an environmental lawsuit in Ecuador, according to representatives of the tribes in the U.S.
Although Chevron is near the top of the list of highest-spending lobbyists in Washington, the campaign seems to be backfiring. Politico, one of the most influential publications on Capitol Hill, reported this week that Chevron’s lobbying was “drawing fire from environmentalists, media ethicists, state pension funds, New York’s attorney general, members of Congress, and even Barack Obama when he was a Senator.”
The article also quoted Rep. Linda Sanchez (D–Calif.) as calling Chevron’s lobbying “clumsy” and “very heavy handed.” Sanchez – who on Tuesday characterized the Chevron lobbying as “extortion” in testimony before Congress – said she plans to write three letters to Members of Congress, blasting what she called the oil giant’s “misguided approach” to dealing with the lawsuit from the indigenous groups.
Separately, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating the company to determine if it is misleading its own shareholders about the financial risk from the Ecuador case, where damages are assessed at up to $27.3 billion, Politico reported.
An American legal advisor to the plaintiffs, Steven Donziger, criticized the public relations and lobbying effort. “Chevron is paying huge fees to lobby the U.S. government to inappropriately quash a legal case brought by indigenous tribes in the country where Chevron asked for the trial to be held,” said Donziger, who has been working on the matter since it was filed in U.S. federal court in 1993.
The case, which alleges Texaco dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste in the Amazon from 1964 to 1990, was transferred from U.S. federal court to Ecuador in 2002 at Chevron’s request. The oil giant filed 14 expert affidavits in the U.S. court praising Ecuador’s court system, but later began a campaign to discredit those same courts once the evidence in the Ecuador trial pointed to its culpability.
The Amazon Defense Coalition notes that the public relations firms working for Chevron include Hill & Knowlton, which represented the tobacco industry and, as it did in the debate over tobacco and cancer, has tried to deny a link between oil contamination and cancer; Edelman Worldwide, which is believed to be preparing a Wal-Mart-style political campaign against the indigenous groups in anticipation of an adverse court judgment; Sard Verbinnen, which handles financial press in an effort to stem a budding shareholder revolt against Chevron management for its handling of the case; Robinson Lerer & Montgomery, a well connected New York-based agency; Sam Singer and Associates, which handles the matter in the San Francisco area, where Chevron is located; and the Washington-based CRC Public Relations, which helped create a pro-Chevron video by former CNN correspondent Gene Randall to counteract a highly unflattering 60 Minutes segment on the legal case that broadcast earlier in the year.
The Randall video, which did not mention that it was paid for by Chevron, was blasted by the Columbia Journalism Review for “blurring the line between public relations and journalism.” The President of CRC, Greg Mueller, spearheaded the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry and is a former senior aide to Pat Buchanan.
Among Chevron’s lobbyists is Wayne Berman, former McCain campaign national finance chair who chairs the governmental relations practice at Ogilvy Worldwide; former Senators John Breaux and Trent Lott; Mac McLarty, former chief of state to President Clinton who is lobbying the State Department; Mickey Kantor and Carla Hills, former U.S. trade ambassadors who are lobbying their former agency to cancel Ecuador’s trade preferences; Peter Romero, who served as U.S. ambassador to Ecuador in the early 1990s under the first Clinton Administration; Brian Pomper, the former staff director to U.S. Sen. Max Baucus; Scott Parvin, a career lobbyist who formerly worked with Kantor at the law firm Mayer Brown; and several members of Chevron’s governmental relations office in Washington, headed by William Irwin.
Lawyers for the Amazon communities have long said Chevron’s public relations and lobbying firms are part of a broader effort by the company to undermine the rule of law in Ecuador in anticipation of an adverse judgment. The company has taken out advertisements in both Ecuadorian and American newspapers attacking lawyers for the communities and various judges who have presided over the case.
The public relations firms and lobbyists also state incorrectly that Chevron was released from further clean-up responsibility in Ecuador by the government in exchange for a limited clean-up in the mid 1990s. But the terms of the release itself expressly exclude the private claims in the current lawsuit and the so-called remediation was a fraud that has led to the indictment of two Chevron lawyers and several former government officials, said Donziger.
Evidence at trial against Chevron includes more than 50,000 chemical sampling results produced by the company itself, which prove that 100% of its former well sites are highly contaminated with cancer-causing toxins, according to an independent court-appointed Special Master who reviewed the evidence in the case and assessed damages.
A final decision on liability and damages is expected next year.
About the Amazon Defense Coalition
The Amazon Defense Coalition represents dozens of rainforest communities and five indigenous groups that inhabit Ecuador’s Northern Amazon region. The mission of the Coalition is to protect the environment and secure social justice through grass roots organizing, political advocacy, and litigation. Two of its leaders, Luis Yanza and Pablo Fajardo, are the 2008 winners of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.