Amazon Tribal Leaders Blast U.S. Judge for Blocking Texaco Pollution Case Vow to Appeal Latest Decision as Health Problems and Cancers in Ecuador Mount from Texaco Drilling Practices Potential Multi-billion Dollar Liability from Lawsuit Poses Obstacle


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New York, New York - A landmark legal battle to force Texaco to clean up oil contamination that is devastating the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador took a new twist today when leaders of affected Indian tribes blasted Federal Judge Jed Rakoff as biased for dismissing the case to Ecuador and vowed to appeal.

Potential liability from the lawsuit, which lawyers estimate could run into the billions if the case goes to trial, poses a stumbling block for federal approval of Texaco’s acquisition by Chevron. The plaintiffs have filed a complaint with the SEC alleging that Chevron has not adequately divulged the potential liability of the case to its shareholders. The amount of oil dumped in Ecuador is one and a half times the amount of the Exxon Valdez disaster, which produced a $5 billion judgment against Exxon.

This is the third time since the case was filed in 1993 that Judge Rakoff has tried to dismiss it. Judge Rakoff’s last dismissal, in 1997, was overturned unanimously on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by a three-judge panel in October 1998. The case is the first environmental action ever filed in a U.S. federal court by foreign plaintiffs that alleges a U.S. corporation violated the law of nations by causing pollution abroad.

Judge Rakoff’s other dismissal was reversed when the Ecuadorian government agreed with the plaintiffs that the case is more properly heard in the United States because that is where Texaco is located and where Texaco planned and executed its policy of dumping toxic waste water to save drilling costs. Texaco no longer has operations in Ecuador and could not be forced to pay a judgment there.

Furthermore, the Indians allege that they could never get a fair trial in Ecuador because the court system there does not permit class-action lawsuits or discovery. In the four-decade history of oil drilling in Ecuador, there has not been a single successful lawsuit against an oil company over environmental damage.

The allegations of bias against Judge Rakoff began last year after it was discovered that the judge attended an all-expense paid environmental law seminar, funded, in part, by Texaco, at a resort in Montana where a former Texaco CEO was a featured speaker. Judge Rakoff never divulged to the plaintiffs that he attended the conference. As a result, lawyers for the tribes had asked the judge to recuse himself for appearance of bias, but the judge refused. While that refusal was under a potential appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Rakoff issued his latest ruling dismissing the case again.

“We are finding it more and more difficult to have faith in the U.S. judicial process with Judge Rakoff’s actions,” said Luis Yanza, president of the Frente de la Defensa de La Amazonia (Front for the Defense of the Amazon), a coalition of all of the impacted people of the Ecuadorian Amazon. “The fact he made this ruling while we are still appealing his decision not to remove himself from the case only further proves our point that he is unwilling to give us a fair hearing. Given the impossibility of getting a fair trial in Ecuador against an American oil company, we are astonished and outraged by this ruling.”

The tribal leaders are part of a group of plaintiffs who filed a class-action lawsuit in 1993 against Texaco on behalf of 30,000 people for dumping toxics laden water produced by oil drilling into the ground, in nearby rivers and streams, and in surrounding ponds. Texaco admits to dumping 4.3 million gallons per day of toxic oil waste water over a period of 20 years, or the equivalent of one and a half Exxon Valdez oil disasters, but the company claims the dumping caused no appreciable damage. Texaco also left behind more than 300 open waste pits contaminated with heavy metals and other carcinogenic compounds.

Photos of the contamination and detailed background about the lawsuit and the allegations against Texaco can be found at

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs cite a wave of deadly cancers, skin lesions, birth defects and other abnormalities among the areas indigenous peoples, and massive die-offs of plants, crops, and animals from air and groundwater pollution as well as poisonous “black rain.” In some villages near polluted water sources, the rate of cancer is 100 times higher than the historical norm.

“While Texaco continues to try to hide from its liability, our people are getting sick and dying,” said Yanza.

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