This week the environmental movement suffered its biggest defeat since Climategate. And at the hands of its most hated enemy: Big Oil.
Here are the reasons why the court ruling by a US federal judge that Chevron should not have to pay $9.5 billion in damages to victims of oil pollution in Ecuador is a victory for common sense and justice which we should all be celebrating.
1. It’s not about David v Goliath.
Though, of course, that’s how it was spun by the left-liberal media: on the one hand, plucky maverick New York lawyer Steven Donziger, representing thousands of Ecuadorean natives whose forest lands had been polluted; on the other, the oil giant Chevron, America’s third largest company.
But if anyone was being bullied here, it was Chevron. As Donziger well knew, it is almost impossible for an oil company to get a fair hearing in a world brainwashed by environmentalist propaganda. Chevron knew this too. It could have settled for much less out of court – and most oil companies in its position probably would have done. However, Chevron’s chief executive John S Watson took the bold and principled decision to fight it all the way.
2. Chevron had done nothing wrong. No really.
The damage was done in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties in the Oriente region of Ecuador by Texaco and the national oil company Petroecuador.
Texaco later reached a settlement with the Ecuadorian government whereby it paid $40 million to clear up the 37 per cent of oil damage for which it accepted responsibility; the rest were assumed to be the responsibility of the Ecuador national oil company (which didn’t clear up its share).
Chevron has never drilled in Ecuador. But when a Chevron subsidiary absorbed Texaco in 2001 it became a target for environmentalists who still held Texaco partly responsible for the remaining pollution.
3. The case against Chevron was rigged.
In 2011, an Ecuadorian court ordered Chevron to pay $19 billion in damages to the native people allegedly poisoned by oil spills. This was subsequently reduced by the Ecuadorian National Court of Justice to $9.5 billion. Chevron appealed on the grounds that the case was fraudulent – extortion of “greenmail” masquerading as concern for the environment. This has now been confirmed by US District Judge Lewis Kaplan in a 500-page ruling.
4. Read the ruling: it’s great entertainment!
As Judge Kaplan says in his highly-readable summary “This case is extraordinary. The facts are many and sometimes complex. They include things that normally only come out of Hollywood…”
Indeed. What Kaplan concluded beyond reasonable doubt was that Donziger’s case was constructed on a web of lies, deceit and corruption.
The initial expert assessments of the damage had been conducted by a man driving past the pollution sites at 50 mph; the supposedly neutral and independent expert testimony had been in fact written by a US environmental company in the pay of Donziger; the presiding judge had been bribed with a promised $500,000; the judge’s decision had been written for him by the plaintiffs; Ecuador’s left wing president Rafael Correa – a close ally of the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela – had cheerled the affair.
4. Donziger’s dodgy past.
“I feel like I have gone over to the dark side” wrote Donziger in one incriminating email. What possibly could have caused this? I make no comment whatsoever on this biographical detail from a profile in The New Yorker. It seems that he belonged to the same Harvard Law School year group as one Barack Obama. Apparently they played basketball together.
5. Green Greed
Donziger stood personally to make $600 million from the litigation should it prove successful.
Other companies lured to the trough included an investment company called Burford Capital (which planned originally to invest $15 million to help fund the case in return for a 5.545 per cent share of the $9.5 billion proceeds – but pulled out, having only “invested” $4 million, after it smelt a rat); and also the large, left-wing Washington lobbying and law firm Patton Boggs which stood to make hefty contingency fees from the affair – and whose future now may be in jeopardy, no doubt causing tears of real sadness among Republicans across DC.
Two years ago, partner James E Tyrrell Jr told a Washington district court: “If someone seriously suggests that [the] 50-year-old law firm of Patton Boggs would wreck, would risk its professional reputation for a group of Ecuadorans whose case we feel strongly about, that we would be involved in a broad fraud, I suggest whoever might believe that: I have a bridge in New York I might like to try to sell them.”
Take us to the bridge, James. Where’s that confounded bridge?
6. Green parasites.
Among the other organisations shown in a deeply unflattering light by the court ruling is a Colorado-based environmental consultancy – regularly employed by various branches of government – called Stratus Consulting. The original Ecuador legal case required an independent environmental expert to present the court with impartial advice on how much pollution had been caused by Texaco and how much ought to be paid in damages.
Supposedly this was the work of an independent local expert named Cabrera. In fact however, on Donziger’s instructions, Cabrera’s testimony was in fact written for him by Stratus – which went to the trouble of disguising this fact by writing in the first person and then having its words translated into Spanish. It was Stratus which came up with an arbitrary damages figure – $16.3 billion.
Then, in a further act of deception calculated to make Cabrera’s “independent” assessment look more plausible, Stratus prepared a series of criticisms of the report (which it had itself written) which could then be put to Cabrera by the plaintiffs, so that they could pretend to attack him in court for not going far enough…
Anyone familiar with the myriad environmental consultancies which have sprung up to take advantage of the lucrative green money machine will know that this kind of behaviour is par for the course. Really, the only unusual thing about this particular example is that Stratus were found out in a court of law.
7. The complicit media: if it’s green it must be good.
There have been several long articles about the Chevron/Ecuador story – one in The New Yorker, one in Vanity Fair, one in Bloomberg Business Week – each one more sympathetic to Donziger than to Chevron.
The same has been true virtually everywhere the story has been reported in the media from The New York Times and the Telegraph to the Guardian and The Huffington Post.
This isn’t just lazy journalism. It’s a salutory reminder of the degree to which our media, not just on the left but in corners of the centre right, is in thrall to the green propaganda machine.
8. The usual rent-a-celeb suspects weigh in…
Among those who championed Donziger’s cause were Mia Farrow, Sting, Trudy Styler and Darryl Hannah. Pop stars and rich people who’ve been in movies: is there ANYTHING they don’t know about the environment?
9. Big Green sticks its oar in too.
No green campaign is complete without a few ad hoc, allegedly grassroots campaign groups there to give the illusion of diverse and committed support: Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network both supported the campaign against Chevron. So too, inevitably, did the Sierra Club.
“I have tremendous professional respect for Steven,” says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “He is the driving force behind what’s probably the most important environmental lawsuit in the world seeking to hold an oil company accountable for its actions.”
10. Green hubris.
Almost none of this information would have come to light in court if Donziger had not made one fatal mistake. In a supreme act of arrogance, he decided to turn his legal adventures into a Michael-Moore-style documentary with himself as the crusading hero negotiating his way through a corrupt legal system, battling a powerful and heartless oil giant, on behalf of the ordinary people of Ecuador. The movie – inevitably – was premiered at the Sundance Festival.
Donziger was under the illusion that this supposedly independent (though not really) movie could not be used in evidence. Judge Kaplan thought differently and subpoenaed 600 hours of footage.
This enabled the court to demonstrate some entertaining contrasts between what Donziger said about the Ecuadorean legal system in court – ie that its decision was reliable – and what he said about it in the various outtakes from Crude.
“They’re all corrupt! It’s – it’s their birthright to be corrupt.”
“These judges are really not very bright.”
“I’ve never seen such utter weakness. It’s the same kind of weakness that leads to corruption.”
It was, as we now know, Donziger himself who was doing all the corrupting in this case.
The reason this case is so important is because it very nearly didn’t happen. Though environmental activists like Michael Mann, James Hansen and Al Gore often like to claim that their enemies are in the pay of Big Oil, the truth is the exact opposite.
Few corporate entities pump quite so much money into environmental causes as the Big Oil companies – Shell sponsored the Guardian’s environment pages; BP invested heavily in renewables as part of its Beyond Petroleum rebranding under the card-carrying greenie CEO Lord Browne – because for years they have been running scared of the green movement, because they’re big enough to wear the additional costs of green regulation and because it suits them to “greenwash” their image.
What none of them seems to have learned is that when you pay Danegeld to your natural enemy it only makes him greedy for more of the same.
This is why we should all be applauding the decision by Chevron’s CEO John S Watson (no relation of Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson, it seems likely) to fight this case. It represents a victory not just for the Chevron shareholder, but for all those who believe in the capitalist system and are sick and tired the way so rarely it seems prepared to grow a pair and stand up for itself.
For too long it has been held hostage by a minority of hard left, deep green activists whose anti-capitalist agenda has been given a veneer of respectability by the intervention of high end law firms, glossy environmental consultancies, Hollywood campaigners, “caring” grassroots pressure groups, expert scientific witnesses, “independent” moviemakers and sympathetic mainstream media coverage.
It happens all the time, all around the world, and usually they get away with it. This time they didn’t. The good guys fought back – and won.