An Ecuadorean judge's ruling Monday that Chevron owes $8.8 billion for oil-drilling damage and pollution in the Amazon is far less than asked. But it's far more than Chevron intends to pay–which is zero, except for the tens of millions of dollars or more the oil giant is shelling out to its army of lawyers.
What's remarkable about this 17-year-long case is the perseverance of the Ecuadorean environmentalists and forest tribespeople who brought the suit, refusing to back down in the face of corporate millions and their own poverty.
The lawyers for the Ecuadoreans have already brushed off the ruling of a judge in New York last week, restraining the Ecuadoreans--in advance–from enforcing any judgment by the judge in Ecuador. The judge apparently bought Chevron's hysterical charges, contained in an extortion suit filed Feb. 2, that the plaintiffs planned massive disruption of Chevron's worldwide operations in order to force Chevron to pay up.
The early New York Times story got the meaning of the award about right: It's a steppingstone to months or years more of appeals and legal wrangling.
Chevron's resources, in and out of court, seem unlimited. When "60 Minutes" started working on a report that seemed sympathetic to the peasants living with oil and toxin pollution twice the size of BP's gulf spill, Chevron ordered up its own full-length "documentary," hiring a craven ex-network reporter to front it. Chevron also sued to get the outtakes of a film-length documentary, "Crude," in a truly crude attempt to intimidate filmmaker Joe Berlinger and get ammo for its extortion lawsuit.
Chevron was the party that insisted the case be tried in Ecuador. Now its case is based on accusations of corruption in Ecuador's courts.
Chevron could have settled this case years ago for far less money. But like its brother Exxon, which fought full payment for the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill in Alaska for 20 years, up to the Supreme Court, Chevron will spend anything to keep from paying the Ecuadoreans something.
Might set a precedent for companies that ruin the environment and walk away, you know.