U.S. Agency Waffles on President Clinton's Pledge and Votes to Destroy Primary Tropical Forest Environmental Organizations Declare OPIC in Violation of U.S. Law

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Washington — Environmental Groups denounced the decision by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) to give $200 million in financing – backed by U.S. tax dollars – for the proposed Enron-Shell Bolivia-Cuiaba gas pipeline project that cuts through rare primary tropical forest. Dozens of lawmakers, environmental and scientists rallied outside OPIC's headquarters on Tuesday calling on the agency to uphold its environmental standards and to deny financing for the project, but to no avail.

"OPIC just gives lip service to environmental policies but when it comes to implementation, U.S. tax dollars end up subsidizing environmental destruction. Enron and OPIC will be accountable to future generations who will wonder what happened to the world’s tropical forests," said Jon Sohn, International Policy Analyst for Friends of the Earth-US.

"OPIC’s supposed safeguards on the loan will not prevent serious and irreversible damage to the pristine Chiquitano forest," said Atossa Soltani, Director of Amazon Watch. "The pipeline’s 30-meter wide, 200-km access road will bisect and permanently scar one of the most pristine tropical forests on the planet and will accelerate deforestation there. OPIC should have insisted on changing the route around this area."

Groups predict that companies like Enron and Shell will be coming under more intense international criticism as a result of this project and are appealing to Shell – who claims to have adopted more strict environmental standards in recent years – to spare the Chiquitano forest.

Pursuant to the Foreign Assistance Act and its recently adopted environmental policies, OPIC is prohibited from funding infrastructure and extractive projects located in primary tropical forests or projects causing significant and unreasonable harm to the environment.

More than sixty environmental organizations from twenty-five countries have flooded OPIC with letters urging it to deny financing for the project. The Chiquitano forest is a relatively undisturbed area that has been designated by scientists as a Global 200 site – the richest and rarest examples of Earth's diverse habitats. Independent environmental assessments conducted by scientific organizations confirm the presence of rare tropical forest. OPIC staff maintains that the Chiquitano is a secondary forest and therefore not applicable to OPIC's policy. (See earlier news releases on this topic)

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