Chevron casts doubt on award winners

April 15, 2008 10:38:33 AM PDT
On Monday night the Opera House in San Francisco was a gathering of ecological significance-- not artistic.

The Goldman Foundation awarded its annual environmental prizes. Among the recipients just honored were two Ecuadorians fighting petro-chemical waste in the Amazon forest.

There is controversy that surrounds their choice -- at least for the Chevron Corporation.

It was an unusual place for a big oil company to mount a publicity counter-attack.

Pablo Fajardo and Luis Yanza received the Goldman Environmental Prize on Monday at a press conference at the Fairmount Hotel.

The men from Chevron did not mince words.

"We believe the Goldmans have been sadly misled," said Chevron Spokesman Kent Robertson.

"This is another false accusation. It does not surprise me," said Goldman Prize winner Pablo Fajardo.

The dispute centers around an oil waste dump the size of Rhode Island in Ecuador.

The prize winners are lawyers, claiming suing Chevron for as much as $16 billion dollars.

They say Chevron is liable because it bought Texaco, which developed the property and designed the equipment beginning in 1964.

"What did Texaco tell Chevron? Did they even reveal the potential liability? I'll bet they did not," said attorney for the Amazon Defense Coalition Steven Donzinger.

"They are out to make money, it's a simple as that," said Robertson.

Potentially, this could be a bigger settlement than that for the Exxon Valdez.

Chevron says Texaco took care of its obligations years ago.

Since then, the lawsuit has moved from an American court to one in Ecuador, where the plaintiffs insist that overflowing pollution from pits continues to kill or sicken some 30,000 indigenous people.

Lou Dematteis took photos of the damage for Reuters and published a book.

"I couldn't stay there for more than half an hour. Just physically, the pollution in the air and the environment, I couldn't stay there," said photographer Lou Dematteis.

The only people who did not seek the camera today were from the Goldman Foundation, which is giving this environmental prize.

Instead, a written release from them says: "In winning the prize, Fajardo and Yanza have found the strength to take on overwhelming environmental and social problems and make a difference."

Meantime, the Goldman prize money totals $150,000 dollars, and compared with all the other money in this case, that's a drop in an oily bucket.


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