how chevron polluted the amazon and fought environmental lawyer steven donziger

a long time in the past, the u.s.-primarily based petroleum organization texaco devastated lago agrio in the ecuadorian amazon with pollution, in what got here to be referred to as “the amazon chernobyl.” it ended in kind of 1,000 carcinogenic waste pits and sixteen billion gallons of toxic wastewater dumped into pristine rivers. amongst nearby folks who drank and bathed in those waters, cancers and miscarriages skyrocketed. represented via steven donziger, indigenous peoples sued the organization, which were bought by chevron in 2000, and gained over $nine billion. chevron, but, neglected the ecuadorian courts and took its case to new york, wherein it observed a friendly decide, amenable to its aim of now not paying and of destroying donziger. contacted for remark, chevron mentioned it paid more or less $40 million for environmental remediation and accused donziger of being a disbarred racketeer convicted of crook contempt. info furnished via donziger, however, tell a special tale altogether. in this specific interview with truthout, donziger discusses the continued disaster within the amazon, how he become centered for his advocacy and why we ought to keep to confront corporate polluters.

eve ottenberg: what did texaco do in lago agrio?

steven donziger: texaco, now chevron, intentionally made a series of decisions that caused what specialists agree with is the world’s worst oil infection. they did three things that were completely out of line with normal operating technique that led to massive pollution. number one is when they drilled for oil, they did it improperly. the drilling muds come up from thousands of toes underneath the ground whilst you perforate a nicely, and these muds incorporate heavy metals in addition to artificial chemical substances which can be cancer-causing and extremely dangerous to the surroundings, to animal existence and to people.

in place of putting off it nicely, chevron simply dumped it into the surroundings by gouging huge pits out of the floor of the jungle, and placing those cancer-inflicting materials there for permanent waste disposal. they didn’t line the pits. additionally they constructed pipes into the sides of the pits to drain the contents into rivers and streams that indigenous peoples and farmers relied on for consuming water, bathing and fishing. so, this one trouble on my own — that is, the construction of those pits at loads of drilling websites around the amazon — brought on a big outbreak of most cancers that, in step with records, remains killing human beings and causing super harm in a region that’s 1,500 square miles in size.

i study there have been 900 of those pits, maybe greater.

kind of 1,000 pits. diverse peer-reviewed health studies, completed through respected academics, display extraordinarily excessive incidences of cancers, which includes early life leukemia, that you nearly by no means see within the global, together with ovarian most cancers and all varieties of cancers related to the poisonous materials which are in oil. no longer to mention a huge range of miscarriages, much higher than the norm.

on top of that, chevron did two other things that absolutely violated industry norms. quantity is they took manufacturing waters — that’s the scalding warm wastewater that comes out of the floor with the oil, and consists of benzene and other most cancers-inflicting chemicals — and they separated it out and dumped it into waterways rather than reinjecting it deep into the ground, as is the norm. they simply dumped it. they ran it off into rivers and streams that nearby communities depended on for their drinking water. and this happened on a day by day foundation, literally tens of millions of gallons a day of these cancer-inflicting substances had been being dumped into these lovely amazon rivers that the neighborhood groups trusted for his or her sustenance, with 0 rationalization or warning to the communities.

how lengthy did they do that?

they did it for 25 years. commenced inside the 1960s and lasted until the 1990s after they left ecuador. on a every day foundation, seven days per week, 24-hours a day, for well over a long time. 4 million gallons an afternoon of most cancers-causing oil waste dumped into waterways in the middle of indigenous ancestral lands.

then the very last issue they did is they flared the natural gas that comes out of the wells into the air. this flared herbal fuel contains poisons, dioxins, and other pollutants that also cause cancer. the flaring additionally produces a “black rain” phenomenon in which the air receives so dark with pollutants that once it rains, the rain comes down with soot in it. so even capturing rainwater as an alternative to the river water turns into futile. the irony is that in a few quick years, because of these illegal practices, chevron poisoned one of the maximum beautiful ecosystems on the planet. hundreds of human beings lost access to smooth water and other materials, inclusive of meals sources that they had to preserve lifestyles and all the ecosystems. and indigenous peoples and farmer groups within the vicinity usually do now not have money to shop for bottled water. so, chevron has decided, out of what i might argue is pure greed and attention on income, that tens of lots of people need to go through and die so it is able to increase its already excessive profits to obscene degrees, and it has refused to smooth it up in mild of court orders that it accomplish that.

and what did chevron do to you?

i worked with a team of legal professionals in ecuador and around the arena to litigate a felony case in ecuador over the pollution. the motive the case became in ecuador became that chevron wanted it there and customary jurisdiction there. when they began to lose the case and the proof hooked up towards them, they got here lower back to the united states where i stay in the big apple, and commenced to sue me in a civil legal case. [chevron] sued me for $60 billion. that’s a ways more money than any character in u.s. records has ever been sued for, and that i’m a human rights legal professional working at my kitchen desk in a small two-bedroom rental in manhattan in which i live with my spouse and my son. so, this become an intimidation play to get me to stop, to attempt to intimidate others on our crew or who would possibly paintings on our team, and to win through corrupt means what they may in no way win on the deserves.

chevron engaged in these preposterous prison assaults, facilitated by using a specific u.s. federal judge, who has investments in chevron and is a pro-company ideologue, an activist named louis kaplan. whilst that didn’t work, whilst we persisted to litigate the case, and received the case, chevron stepped up its assaults on me. they labored with decide kaplan to get the court to order me to pay them actually thousands and thousands of greenbacks to reimburse them for his or her legal charges for going after me in this bogus case. this essentially bankrupted me. i don’t have any money. i’m based now on a protection fund to live.

chevron also leveraged choose kaplan’s diverse choices against me based on a witness to whom they paid $2 million, who admitted he lied in court docket, to eliminate my regulation license, depriving me of an capability to earn a living. in the end, they satisfied judge kaplan to reserve me to offer them my laptop and mobile phone, which include troves of personal statistics. when i appealed that order, decide kaplan charged me with crook contempt of court docket for appealing an exceptional order that i turn over my exclusive communications to my adversary. while this order turned into on enchantment, kaplan had me locked up in my domestic with an ankle bracelet. his contempt prices had been rejected by using the ordinary federal prosecutor. kaplan then appointed a personal chevron regulation company to prosecute me within the call of the u.s. authorities, which once more is exceptional. at some point of the 3 years of my domestic detention, they sent me to federal jail in danbury, connecticut, for forty five days. it turned into during the covid outbreak and we were locked down in cells; i actually expected to die in there if i didn’t get out.
i were given out of my detention on april 25 of this 12 months, and on the grounds that then, we’ve been looking to refocus our strength at the humans of ecuador to have the judgment enforced, a good way to get the reimbursement they want to clean up their ancestral lands, so these indigenous companies can continue to exist and not turn out to be extinct, and can have easy water and have their fitness needs handled. there’s a large humanitarian crisis in ecuador. human beings are dying each day and now not even the ecuador government wants to renowned it. attention desires to be paid to the humans of ecuador, and that’s what i’m going to try to do now going ahead.

did you get your law license lower back?

chevron stripped me of my capacity to exercise regulation. i’m not going to get into the technicalities of this. essentially, they leveraged kaplan’s choice that i devoted fraud in ecuador to convince a regulation licensing committee in manhattan to disbar me. this committee denied me a hearing. chevron’s legal professionals orchestrated the complete intending, feeding the committee its arguments to “prosecute” me. they claimed i were given a listening to earlier than kaplan, despite the fact that he refused to let me testify in my defense and allowed chevron pay $2 million to a corrupt witness to lie about me. so, i was disbarred without a hearing within the u.s.a. of the usa.

the judgment in ecuador has been affirmed by six specific appellate courts and 28 specific appellate judges in ecuador and canada, including the ideal courts of each countries. so, this changed into all a subterfuge through chevron and the judge to try to discredit me and to disable my advocacy. i don’t have my law license again; i don’t understand if i’ll ever get it lower back. let me be very, very clean: it’s not due to the fact i did whatever incorrect. it’s truly due to the fact i did a lot of things proper. the bar that controls lawyer licensing here in ny is definitely ruled by corporate law companies, which include via the gibson dunn corporation to whom chevron paid loads of thousands and thousands of bucks to have me detained.

what can the indigenous peoples do now?

primary, the indigenous peoples and farmer groups in ecuador’s amazon are organizing a new prison group to move after chevron’s belongings in many different nations wherein they operate. if a debtor won’t pay a valid court docket judgment, as chevron keeps to refuse to do, then they may be problem to enforcement actions that would bring about the seizure in their property. they may be also focused on calling interest to the humanitarian crisis so there may be some instant remedy despatched to this location. i’m doing my fine to assist them. and subsequently, they’re looking to shield all the legal professionals and advocates who are operating on the case because attacks via the fossil fuel industry on advocates is a prime trouble affecting all environmental campaigners and activists around the sector. we can not stay in a society in which a organization can lock someone up for being a a hit human rights advise and for holding them responsible. that’s what befell to me; we have to make certain it by no means occurs once more. it truly shouldn’t appear in any rule-of-regulation united states of america, and it shouldn’t occur within the u.s.a. of the usa.

so, we’re going to recognition on that issue too, that is critical to our potential to shield our planet from international warming. if we can’t confront the primary polluters with out being locked up, we stand little chance of surviving. the attack on me is supposed to intimidate thousands if no longer millions of humans round the arena and we want to shield me going forward as a way to shield our motion. i have 68 nobel laureates backing me, and lots of people around the sector have stepped up, and that i’m so grateful. however we want to apprehend the stakes here. they need to apply me as a symbol to silence the advocacy this is had to store the planet. we can not let them be successful. the work continues.

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