5-2-07 by Court
Chevron’s attorneys are at it again, this time breathing down the necks of editors at the San Francisco Chronicle over my oped last week, "Is Chevron Going Green?"
I got the call Monday from Chronicle editors that Chevron’s attorneys were challenging both my character and my claims in the commentary.
The company apparently disputes, for example, that taxpayers who sued Chevron over the poisoning of the state’s water table "won", as I wrote. I guess money isn’t everything, but taxpayers did win tens of millions of dollars in settlements from Chevron over contamination of their water with the gasoline additive MTBE, long after Chevron knew the chemical’s dangers. In South Lake Tahoe, Chevron settled for $10 million just before trial. Chevron paid more to settle Santa Monica’s MTBE litigation — reportedly $20 million cash PLUS a share of another $131 million committed by Shell, Exxon and Chevron to cover the costs of water treatment. Chevron also recently (2006) paid slightly less than $1 million to settle a case brought by the Fruitridge Vista Water Co. near Sacramento.
The other companies that remained in the Tahoe case got a hard knuckle-rapping from the court, which is the reason Chevron settled before verdict. Afterward, in 2006, with more cases pending, Chevron collected signatures for a ballot initiative to relieve it of punitive damages in MTBE cases because government had approved the use of MTBE (no matter that the companies didn’t tell government of the dangers of which their scientists were warning.) The Los Angles Times recorded Jack Coffey, Chevron’s government affairs manager for California, saying of the MTBE situation and initiative, " if you’ve already gone through some government approval process, why should you get hammered?" The signatures were pulled back at the last minute, though, because Chevron did not want to fight a two-front war with Proposition 87, the oil severance fee to finance alternative fuel development.
And Chevron also apparently doesn’t think that plaintiffs in Ecuadoran lawsuits over oil pollution have a right to allege that Chevron violated its own code of corporate conduct by refusing to settle up for its Texaco subsidiary’s dumping of 18 billion gallons of oily waste water in the Amazon over three decades. Well, take a look at "The Chevron Way," which is the company’s corporate code of conduct. Here’s what the company says its conduct should be:
The company is committed to continually improving its processes for
minimizing pollution and waste, conserving natural resources, responsibly
stewarding our products and enhancing a broader understanding and management
of the environmental aspects of its businesses…..
The Chevron Way embodies these values to protect people and the environment,
and the performance of everyone working for the company is evaluated on how
well he or she meets environmental objectives.
We conduct our business in a socially responsible and ethical manner. We respect the law, support universal human rights, protect the environment, and benefit the communities where we work.
A good attorney can argue anything, I guess. The point of course is to discourage editors from printing articles that take Chevron to task and to let the editors know they will have to write detailed letters defending those articles later. Apparently, shareholders that read the Op-Ed prior to the annual meeting that day brought some of my gripes into the room. Like a free press, though, that’s the type of debate Chevron’s management just doesn’t want.