Tuesday, July 24, 2012
The world’s largest, most complicated environmental litigation mess has just become even messier, as dissent erupts among the plaintiffs who won an $18.2 billion verdict against Chevron (CVX) in a provincial rainforest court in Ecuador.
That judgment, the biggest single pollution judgment ever imposed, came in February 2011, after 18 years of legal skirmishing between lawyers representing farmers and indigenous Amazonian Indians who claim they have been harmed by oil exploration and production in eastern Ecuador. Chevron, which has no assets in Ecuador (having inherited its alleged liability via the 2001 acquisition of Texaco), has vowed it will never pay a dime. The company claims the verdict resulted from an elaborate fraudulent conspiracy involving American and Ecuadorian lawyers, Ecuadorian judges, and government officials in that country. Chevron says whatever pollution remains in the rainforest was caused by Ecuador’s national oil company, Petroecuador.
This year the plaintiffs’ team, led by New York sole practitioner Steven Donziger, has filed formal actions in Canada and Brazil, seeking to enforce the Ecuadorian verdict in those nations, where Chevron owns ample assets. While those suits are proceeding, Chevron, represented by Los Angeles-based corporate firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, has countersued Donziger and others in federal court in New York, accusing them of violating the U.S. civil racketeering law.
As if that were not complicated enough, members of one group of Amazonian Indians, the Huaorani, this month filed their own lawsuit against Donziger, alleging that he is not representing their interests and demanding that he and certain of his allies in Ecuador explain how they plan to spend billions of dollars. The Huaorani action, filed on July 19, is of interest for at least two reasons: First, the reclusive tribe has received a large amount of attention as a symbol of the plight of rainforest residents faced with modern industry. Journalist and author Joe Kane portrayed the Huaorani in his 1995 book Savages, which expanded on articles he had written for the New Yorker.