Monday, November 23, 2009

Oil Giant Chevron Accused of "Extortion" on Capitol Hill

From Huffington Post:

Chevron is piling on the lobbyists and PR firms in an extraordinary effort to evade responsibility for its massive toxic contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

But in a recent article for Politico, Kenneth Vogel, who tracks the confluence of money, politics and influence for the influential Washington news outlet, writes that the oil company's increasingly combative approach is backfiring, "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."

Facing the possibility of a $27 billion judgment in an Ecuadorean court, Chevron is employing an increasingly aggressive kitchen sink strategy, with a major lobbying effort in Washington, and a multifaceted PR campaign in the U.S. and Ecuador that produced a phony news report and promoted a contrived bribery scandal to smear the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

In DC, Chevron has been lobbying Congress and the U.S. Trade Representative to threaten Ecuador's trade preferences under the Andean Trade Preferences Act in order to pressure Ecuador into intervening in the private lawsuit. In a shocking admission, Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson explained, "If we were able to call a timeout and make the lawsuit disappear, then this entire issue disappears."

Among Chevron's cabal of high-powered lobbyists are Mickey Kantor and Carla Hills, former U.S. Trade Representatives who are lobbying their former agency, Wayne Berman, Managing Director of Government Relations for Ogilvy Worldwide and former National Finance Co-Chair of John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, former Senators Trent Lott and John Breaux, former U.S. ambassador to Ecuador Peter Romero, Mac McLarty, President Clinton's former Chief of staff, and Brian Pomper, former staff director for Senator Max Baucus.

Last week, U.S. Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA) excoriated Chevron's tactics in testimony before the House Ways & Means Trade Subcommittee. She testified that the company is engaging in "a lobbying effort that looks like little more than extortion." Interviewed for the article, she accused Chevron of "trying to leverage our trade policy in order to get a lawsuit dismissed that is currently pending before the Ecuadorean court. It is a way of trying to undermine the rule of law, and I just find that completely abhorrent. It's shocking."

Chevron is the largest corporation in Representative Sanchez's home state of California, and she is currently circulating the first of three letters to colleagues about what she describes as Chevron's "very heavy-handed" and "misguided" approach to the case.

But as noted, she's hardly the first or most influential government official to speak up on the issue. In February 2006, Barack Obama joined fellow Senator Patrick Leahy in writing a letter to then-U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman.

They write:

"Chevron is reportedly lobbying Members of Congress and your office to use the leverage of the Andean Free Trade Agreement to pressure Ecuador to dismiss the case. A Chevron spokesman expressed the company's "present opposition to the inclusion of Ecuador in the Andean Free Trade Agreement until the government of Ecuador honors its existing contractual obligations and respects and upholds the rule of law with respect to our interests."
The letter goes on to say:
"We are writing to seek your assurances that the U.S. Trade Representative will not allow negotiations Over the Andean Free Trade Agreement to interfere with a case involving Chevron that is under consideration by the Ecuadorian judiciary, particularly one involving environmental, health and human rights issues that have regional, importance. While we are not prejudging the outcome of the case, we do believe the 30,000 indigenous residents of Ecuador deserve their day in court."
According to, Chevron has spent $77,199,296 on lobbying the federal government from 1999-2009. While this is a staggering amount of money, it appears to be an excellent investment for a company that made about $24 billion in profits last year. According to the California Secretary of State, its California state lobbying expenditures add up to nearly $12 million since 1999, not counting the $35 million it spent to help defeat Proposition 87, a 2006 state ballot initiative that would have increased taxes on California oil producers in order to fund research and development of renewable and clean energy.

Chevron's "Human Energy" ad campaign seeks to portray the oil giant as a friendly, environmentally-conscious neighbor in California, and wherever the company operates. But behind the slogans and smiling faces is a behemoth that is aggressively throwing its considerable weight around in Sacramento and Washington, seeking to undermine the rule of law and deny the indigenous residents of Ecuador "their day in court."

We need to build a people power campaign that will mobilize our representatives -- like the courageous Linda Sanchez -- to push back against the influence of the Big Oil lobby. In solidarity with the rainforest communities of Ecuador, and all communities where Chevron and its allies seek to put profit ahead of people and the planet, we must say "no more."

For more on Chevron's 'Chernobyl in the Amazon' and the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign, visit

– Han

Born and raised in Baltimore, Han Shan is a human rights and environmental justice campaigner living in New York City. He is currently serving as an organizer with the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign for Amazon Watch.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Chevron's lobby campaign backfires

By: Kenneth P. Vogel 

Politico November 16, 2009 

Facing the possibility of a $27 billion pollution judgment against it in an Ecuadorean court, Chevron launched an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign to try to prevent the judgment as well as reverse a deeply damaging story line. 

Chevron’s tactics — ranging from quietly trying to wield U.S. trade policy to compel Ecuador’s government to squelch the case, to producing a pseudo-news report casting the company as the victim of a corrupt Ecuadorean political system — were designed to win powerful allies in Congress and the Obama administration as well as to shape public opinion and calm shareholders. 

But many of the company’s moves have backfired, 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. 

“Their lobbying and PR efforts are really clumsy and very heavy handed, and I think that that’s why they’re experiencing a degree of backlash,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), who is circulating the first of what she promises will be three letters to colleagues blasting what she calls the company’s “misguided approach” to dealing with the case. 

The case stems from a class action suit brought by well-connected U.S. trial lawyers on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadoreans alleging that from 1964 to 1990, Texaco — which was purchased by Chevron in 2001 — dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into Ecuador’s Amazon rain forest, leaving behind an unprecedented environmental and public health disaster including a wave of cancers, birth defects and miscarriages. 

Chevron has been pushing the U.S. government to revise Ecuador’s trade preferences since soon after the lawsuit was filed in Ecuador in 2003 (it originally had been in U.S. federal court in 1993). But with a years-long trial in a tiny courtroom in the Ecuadorean rain forest expected to culminate in a ruling early next year, Chevron has turned up the heat, arguing that it can’t get a fair trial in Ecuador, an assertion that Sanchez and other Chevron critics point out seems to conflict with the company’s previous efforts to move the trial from U.S. courts to Ecuador. 

In part, Chevron wants the office of U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, as well as Congress, to revoke the preferential treatment Ecuador gets for its oil exports under the 1991 Andean Trade Preferences Act, unless the country enforces an agreement it entered into with Texaco in the mid-1990s, under which the company paid for a three-year, $40 million cleanup and was relieved of liability. The plaintiffs contend that Chevron botched the cleanup, but if the court were to recognize the agreement, it could essentially end the suit. 

“When a government is in violation of its contractual obligations to a company, there are only a few avenues a company has to seek resolution,” Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson said in explaining his firm’s lobbying over the trade preferences. “If we were able to call a timeout and make the lawsuit disappear, then this entire issue disappears,” he added. 

Chevron says its lobbying campaign — which has included more than $1.6 million in fees this year to a bipartisan roster of Washington heavyweights including Democrats Mickey Kantor, a former U.S. trade representative; Mack McLarty, a former White House chief of staff; and former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.); as well as big-time GOP bundler Wayne Berman — is not at all unusual. 

Advocates for the plaintiffs, whose suit is financed by a Philadelphia law firm, have rallied their own impressive response in Washington. Led by Steven Donziger, a New York-based lawyer who was a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama, it includes Democratic fundraiser and lobbyist Ben Barnes; Tom Downey, a former Democratic congressman who is married to Obama climate czar Carol Browner and who recently registered to lobby Congress for Donziger; and public relations consultant Karen Hinton. The team has helped persuade a number of influential members of Congress to sign on to letters urging Kirk to reject Chevron’s efforts. 

In 2006, after multiple visits from Donziger, then-Sen. Obama joined with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in signing a letter to then-U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, asking him “not to interfere in the Chevron case” and asserting that the Ecuadoreans “deserve their day in court.” 

Robertson rejected the suggestion that the company’s lobbying had backfired, pointing to a report Obama transmitted to Congress this summer that allowed the preferences to continue but referenced Chevron’s concerns about the trial, including the company’s allegations of interference by Ecuadorean officials up to and including President Rafael Correa. 

In an interview, Sanchez, who will testify Tuesday at a hearing her House Ways and Means subcommittee is scheduled to hold on free trade agreements, said Chevron is “trying to leverage our trade policy in order to get a lawsuit dismissed that is currently pending before the Ecuadorean court. It is a way of trying to undermine the rule of law, and I just find that completely abhorrent. It’s shocking.” 

This summer, Chevron thought it had made major progress toward proving its point that it could not receive a fair trial in Ecuador, when it revealed that it had obtained videos — purportedly taped secretly by a pair of whistleblowers using recorders implanted in watches and pens — that the company said exposed a bribery scheme in the case involving Ecuadorean officials and possibly the judge in the case. The company turned the recordings over to authorities in the U.S. and Ecuador and circulated excerpts of the recordings on Capitol Hill. The judge recused himself. 

But late last month, Hinton — who is paid by the Philadelphia law firm financing the suit to advocate on behalf of a nonprofit called the Amazon Defense Coalition — released a report revealing that the American who helped make the recordings was a convicted drug trafficker, while his Ecuadorean partner was a Chevron contractor. 

Robertson called the report “character assignation” and said it “doesn’t change what was caught on film. We have a judge who is corrupt. … We’re not measuring the release of the videos as success or failure.” 

He did count as a success, though, the fact that Chevron shareholders in May, after a letter-writing campaign by the company, voted down a resolution citing the lawsuit and calling on the company to examine whether it complies with host country laws and environmental regulations. 

Nonetheless, state pension funds that hold a combined $1 billion in Chevron shares have expressed concern about how the company plans to handle a potentially huge adverse judgment in the case. And in a May letter demanding more information from Chevron, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said he had recently “received complaints regarding Chevron’s disclosures of the potential litigation risks and Chevron
’s characterization of available legal defenses.” 

Chevron also got dinged for a curious PR effort back in April, when — after catching wind that CBS’s “60 Minutes” was preparing a damaging report about its handling of the Ecuador case — it released a video it paid for featuring former CNN reporter Gene Randall delivering what looked like a news report giving Chevron’s side of the story. 

Posted on YouTube and the company’s website and bearing the logo “Gene Randall reporting,” the report was produced with help from the conservative Beltway consulting firm CRC Public Relations. It cast Ecuador’s politicians as out to get Chevron and blamed the pollution on Ecuador’s state-owned oil company, which took over Texaco’s operations. 

Columbia Journalism Review assailed the report as “deceptive” and posited that it “might be unprecedented for how it blurred the line between public relations and journalism.” 

Chevron’s Robertson said Hinton and the lawyers in the case are “trying to take Chevron’s reputation hostage and to ransom it back to us” for a settlement. “So getting our side of the story out there is important.” 

Robertson also said Hinton and her allies are in a bit of a “glass houses situation” when it comes to alleging sneaky techniques. He pointed out that Hinton’s group paid a private investigator to expose the background of the video maker, that a group linked to Hinton’s issued press releases insinuating that the murder of a brother of one of the plaintiff’s lawyers may be linked to the case (though the lawyer initially told the police otherwise) and that Hinton’s own husband, Howard Glaser, a financial services industry analyst, late last month posted an item bashing Chevron on The Huffington Post — to which he is a contributor — without noting their marriage. 

Hinton asserted her side’s tactics have been above board, adding that, though “no one knows who murdered [the lawyer’s] brother,” the killing came at a time when the lawyer “and other members of the plaintiffs’ legal team had received a number of anonymous death threats connected to the work on the case.” 

Meanwhile, even the addendum Hinton’s husband posted at the request of Chevron noting his wife’s relationship to the case somehow seemed to ricochet against Chevron. 

“My spouse works with the indigenous people of Ecuador who are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Chevron for the massive pollution the company left behind in the rain forest,” he wrote. “While Chevron conducts a multimillion-dollar media spin campaign to paint themselves as the environmental ‘good guys,’ said spouse working out of her house with her two cats and cell phone appears to have gotten under Chevron’s corporate skin.”


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fraud in Ecuadorian oil battle

The case against oil giant Chevron may finally be coming to an end after at least 16 years in the court system, writes Sophie Palmer.

A good new article on the Australian Web magazine Reportage Enviro covers the Chevron Ecuador case.

– Paul

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chevron Continues Sinking in Ecuador Case

Last week Chevron’s attempt to ambush the $27 billion environmental lawsuit in Ecuador with a pre-packaged spy scandal came even further undone with revelations that “American businessman” Wayne Hansen—who presented himself as a environmental remediation executive and secretly filmed meetings with the Ecuadorian judge then hearing the case—in fact has no work history in remediation, but rather has a long history of legal troubles, including a felony conviction for conspiring to traffic 275,000 pounds of marijuana from Colombia into the United States.

But for Chevron, the past doesn’t seem to matter.

In a Bloomberg article today Chevron spokesperson Don Campbell tried to do a little damage control after last week’s headlines (e.g.: in the New York Times: “Revelation Undermines Chevron Case in Ecuador”) by saying simply: “The content of the tapes is what’s really egregious here.”

Interesting. Indeed, I think all would agree on that point, seeing as how the content of the tapes clearly shows Wayne Hansen and former Chevron contractor Diego Borja lying and repeatedly and ultimately unsuccessfully seeking to entrap Judge Juan Nuñez in what appears to be a slipshod and illegal attempt at a sting operation.

Thomas F. Cullen Jr., a senior partner at Jones Day and outside counsel for Chevron, said this to a Washinton Post reporter last week:

"I'm going to go out and recruit someone for this job and I'm going to go out and get that guy? It's baloney. We didn't recruit Borja or Hansen."

So Chevron’s Cullen does not deny that they would try to set up a sting operation, only that they would not go out of their way to hire a guy like Hansen. All Chevron denies here is not having recruited Hansen and Borja. Now that should be reassuring for Chevron’s investors.

But, let’s say that Chevron did not recruit Borja or Hansen. The only real alternative scenario is that Chevron—desperate to discredit the judicial process in Ecuador—took the money and ran, so to speak, when Hansen and Borja knocked on their door with spy videos that only prove how shoddy Hansen and Borja are as spies.

Someone needs to hand Chevron a shovel quick; every time they move, they only sink a little bit deeper in the muck of their own epic mess.

– Mitch