Trillium Asset Management Joins Investor Delegation in Ecuadorian Amazon to Investigate Claims that ChevronTexaco Polluted Ecosystem(A)
Trillium Asset Management’s Director of Social Research & Advocacy, Shelley Alpern, returned this week from a fact-finding trip to Ecuador to tour sites polluted by oil drilling in the country’s sensitive Amazonian rainforest region. Alpern was part of a delegation that included representatives from the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, and the Sisters of Mercy of Burlingame. The delegation met with indigenous residents and settlers affected by the oil drilling, members of the Ecuadorian Congress, and community leaders. The trip was organized by Amazon Watch, a non-profit organization that works with indigenous and environmental organizations in the Amazon Basin to defend the environment and advance indigenous peoples’ rights in the face of large-scale extractive development projects.
Trillium Asset Management is the sponsor of a shareholder resolution at ChevronTexaco (NYSE: CVX) that calls on the company to report to shareholders on any new initiatives to address the environmental and health impacts of its oil drilling operations, which were conducted by Texaco in the 1970s and ‘80s. (Chevron and Texaco merged in 2001.) The shareholder proposal will be voted upon on April 28 at the company’s annual meeting.
ChevronTexaco is being sued in a class-action case representing 30,000 indigenous inhabitants of the Oriente (rainforest) region for failing to properly clean up land and groundwater contaminated by the systematic dumping of 18.5 billion gallons of toxic waste waters. At the time, it was standard practice in the U.S. to re-inject these waters into the ground in the oil production process. In 2002, after ten years of legal wrangling over venue, a U.S. District judge ordered ChevronTexaco to submit to the jurisdiction of the Ecuadorian legal system and declared that the U.S. courts would uphold the resulting judgment. The courtroom portion of the trial took was held in October 2003, and the next phase, the judge’s inspections of the affected areas, is expected to go on for another year.
The delegation visited a number of waste pits, wells and water sources. “None of the sites that we visited were clean and none appeared to be adequately remediated,” said Alpern. “We observed and photographed open waste pits of various sizes, some quite large, filled with a viscous, tar-like substance. We saw ponds, rivers and streams polluted by contaminants from drilling and other development.”
The delegation heard testimony from numerous residents describing a region whose waterways had been slowly poisoned with the byproducts of oil drilling, causing a rise in cancers, birth defects, respiratory infections, skin and stomach ailments, and mysterious deaths. “At a clinic in San Carlos, the staff nurse told us of a baby, one and a half years old, who was losing its fingernails; it was being bathed in the river as no source of clean water is available,” said Alpern. “Another little girl had lost her hair. She was embarrassed to go school because it frightened the other children.”
Residents attested to a 70% decline in agricultural productivity. In addition to contaminating groundwater, the waste pits also traps livestock and pets that are not easily rescued.
In Lago Agrio, the delegation met with the judge in the case, who outlined the procedure and time frame of the court proceedings. Back in Quito, it met with members of the Ecuadorian congress. The group held a press conference detailing what it saw last Friday in Quito, which was covered by Ecuador’s leading newspapers and Reuters.
Trillium Asset will attend ChevronTexaco’s annual meeting to present the proposal on April 28 in San Ramon, California.