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One more chapter in the biggest environmental justice case in history

February 15, 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day: a court in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, has ordered Chevron to pay $9 billion in compensation for damages wrought by Texaco during its time operating in a section of the Ecuadorian jungle about the size of Rhode Island. The case was filed in 1993 and surely won’t end with this ruling, as Chevron has already vowed to appeal. There are further legal complications given that Chevron has no assets in Ecuador and thus any reparations must be enforced by U.S. courts. Still, this is a pretty major step in the right direction.

Want more background on the case? I have two books to recommend: one academic and one photographic. And, of course, an excellent documentary.

Aside from that stuff, my uber-glib summary is: think the Erin Brockovich story, only with worse environmental degradation, worse health impacts, a much more complex legal environment thanks to cross-border issues, and – most importantly – vastly bigger power imbalances between the plaintiffs and defendant.

ADDENDUM: Here’s a breakdown of what the damages are supposed to go towards, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:

  • $5.39 billion — To restore polluted soil
  • $1.4 billion — To create a health system for the community
  • $800 million — To treat sick people affected by pollution
  • $600 million — To restore polluted sources of water
  • $200 million — To recover native species
  • $150 million — To transport water from other sites to supply the community
  • $100 million — To create a community cultural reconstruction program
  • Total: $8.64 billion

Plus, I believe, a 10% legal fee that is supposed to go mostly to the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía, the Ecuadorian organization that has taken the lead on representing the plaintiffs (and also helping organize them, and publicize the case domestically and internationally).

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