08-16-07 by dugan
Chevron’s chief tactic against foreign environmental and human rights lawsuits is scorched-earth denial, but it lately it hasn’t been working.
A federal judge in San Francisco ruled Tuesday that Nigerian villagers can go to trial in the U.S. on charges that Chevron is responsible for Nigerian military attacks in 1998 and 1999 that killed and wounded anti-Chevron protesters.
In late June, a federal judge in New York ruled that Chevron could not neuter a lawsuit filed by Amazonians in Ecuador, demanding a $6 billion cleanup of widespread ground and water contamination allegedly caused by Texaco, which is now part of Chevron. The definitive story on that long-running battle, by investigative writer William Langeweische, is worth reading even on a computer screen.
"[Chevron] denies that the judge is fair, denies that the plaintiffs have legitimate complaints, denies that their soil and water samples are meaningful, denies that the methods the company used to extract oil in the past were substandard, denies that it contaminated the forest, denies that the forest is contaminated, denies that there is a link between the drinking water and high rates of cancer, leukemia, birth defects, and skin disease, denies that unusual health problems have been demonstrated—and, for added measure, denies that it bears responsibility for any environmental damage that might after all be found to exist."
Chevron also argues that whatever Texaco might have done, it happened before Texaco became part of Chevron. But as the courts have noted, when you buy a company’s assets, the price includes all of its liabilities.
In the NIgerian case, Chevron essentially argues that it was the military, not Chevron, that killed the villagers and in any case Chevron did not actually tell the soldiers to kill anyone, so it bears no responsibility.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston rejected that claim on Tuesday. Here’s a succinct accounting from the San Francisco Chronicle:
The plaintiffs said Chevron had summoned government forces to the scene, supplied their helicopters and supervised their actions. Chevron said it had sought government help to free its workers but had requested that the rescue be handled peacefully.
The other attacks took place in January 1999 in villages near oil facilities where residents had protested pollution. The plaintiffs said government troops, using a helicopter and boats supplied by Chevron, killed at least four unarmed people and burned two villages to the ground.
Chevron said one of its employees had reported an attack by armed villagers on government forces. The company acknowledged supplying helicopters to the military in response to the report but said it had no involvement in the shootings or burnings.
Illston did not resolve the factual disputes but said the plaintiffs had presented enough evidence to allow a jury to decide whether the company was responsible for the military actions.
For example, she said, there was evidence that Chevron had paid the security forces and provided transportation, and had known of their "general history of committing abuses.” There was also evidence the company had supervised the forces that landed on the oil platform in 1998, the judge said.
Chevron’s Nigerian subsidiary and the government troops "had a much closer relationship than the traditional relationship between private parties and law enforcement officials in this country,” Illston said. "The (security forces) were on the (Chevron) payroll, and engaged in extensive security work. … (Chevron) did not simply ‘dial 911.’ ”