Chevron Feels the Heat at Annual Shareholder Meeting

Chevron Feels the Heat at Annual Shareholder Meeting

By Tina Gerhardt

SAN RAMON, California, May 26, 2011 (ENS) – At Chevron’s annual general meeting Wednesday, the oil giant’s chief executive John Watson, the Board of Directors and shareholders were greeted by over 150 activists, who traveled to San Ramon from throughout the world. They came from Angola, Indonesia, Nigeria, Alaska and Ecuador to share their stories of the human and environmental degradation Chevron had unleashed in their communities.

Ecuadorian plaintiff Carmen Zambrano at home on her family’s ruined land near two Texaco oil wells (Image from a video courtesy Amazon Watch)

“We are the human face of Chevron’s operations, armed with the memories of our dead relatives, our neighbors, our sick children,” declared Carmen Zambrano, a mother from Shushufindi, Ecuador.

On February 14, 2011, in a landmark legal victory for indigenous people and farmers, a court in Lago Agrio, Ecuador ruled in their favor. The judge found that Texaco, which merged with Chevron 10 years ago, destroyed vast tracts of the Amazon rainforest by dumping 18.5 billion gallons of oily waste over several decades, damaging residents’ health and degrading the environment, contaminating both soil and water.

“Chevron has been found guilty and we cannot wait any longer,” said Zambrano, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We are here as living proof that the health crisis in our home is urgent and it will not go away, and we are confronting Chevron in person to demand that the company take responsibility.”

The judge ruled that Chevron is responsible for cleaning up the pollution linked to Texaco. He ordered Chevron to pay $18 billion in damages, an amount comparable in size to the $20 billion that BP has placed in escrow for victims of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Chevron has appealed the ruling.

Rainforest Action Network demonstrators send a message to Chevron, May 23, 2011 (Photo by Eric Slomanson/Rainforest Action Network)

Chevron has been feeling the heat this week from a variety of angles. On Monday morning, five environmental activists with the Rainforest Action Network unfurled a 30′ x 50′ banner off the Richmond Bridge. Dangling 100 feet above the San Francisco Bay and sandwiched between Chevron oil tankers and the Richmond refinery, they sent the oil company a message: “Chevron Guilty: Clean Up the Amazon.”

Ginger Cassady, director of Rainforest Action Network’s Change Chevron Campaign and coordinator of Monday’s banner action told Alternet, “This action puts the spotlight on the fact that Chevron was found guilty by an Ecuadorian court. For over two decades, Chevron deliberately dumped toxins in Ecuador, creating a health and humanitarian crisis. We are calling on Chevron to clean up its toxic mess.”

On Tuesday, the True Cost of Chevron, a network of 40 groups, released a report detailing the company’s human rights and environmental violations.

Antonia Juhasz, co-editor of the report, “The True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report,” said it includes accounts by more than 40 authors, who “outline the egregious behavior of Chevron.”

Juhasz expressed concern about Chevron’s interest in expanding its offshore drilling, given the disasterous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year. “Chevron, the nation’s third largest corporation and California’s largest, is well aware of the dangers of offshore drilling,” she said.

Protesters outside Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting, May 25, 2011 (Photo by Rainforest Action Network)

At Wednesday’s annual general meeting, more than 150 supporters rallied in a colorful protest, bringing pressure on the meeting throughout the day. Arriving attendees were greeted by dancing moneybags, intended to dramatize the greed of oil executives.

Twenty-two indigenous and other affected community members traveled to San Ramon from around the globe, including Angola, Canada, Indonesia and Nigeria, and regions of the United States, such as Alaska and Texas.

Three indigenous and community leaders from the oil-contaminated Ecuadorian rainforests were there to demand that Chevron to fulfill the requirements of the Ecuadorian court ruling.

“My parents both died from cancer due to Chevron’s contamination,” mourned Servio Curipoma, a cacao farmer from the polluted town of San Carlos in Ecuador’s northeast Amazon rainforest. Curipoma’s parents built a house on a remediated oil pit in Ecuador. “I am fighting for justice so that no one else will have to suffer the pain they did, and the loss that I have.”

Humberto Piaquaje, a leader of the Secoya tribe in the Ecuadorian Amazon said, “We have fought for nearly 20 years to bring Chevron to justice, and finally, we have a court judgment that affirms what we have been saying all this time. The court, which Chevron chose, found them guilty of poisoning our rainforest and our families. With this verdict, we have come north to demand that Chevron cease its lies and pay to clean up the contamination that is choking our communities.”

Reverend Kenneth Davis of Richmond, California demands environmental justice outside of Chevron annual shareholders meeting, May 25, 2011 (Photo by Rainforest Action Network)

Residents of neighboring Richmond, California, where Chevron operates a refinery, also attended the meeting, expressing concerns about the refinery’s effects on residents’ health and the area’s environment. They provided a tour yesterday of areas affected by refinery contamination.

When Richmond resident Reverend Kenneth Davis attempted to hand a copy of the “True Cost of Chevron” report to Chevron CEO Watson, he was stopped by private security guards.

Pressure also came from other areas, though, including shareholders in the company, such as the trustee for New York’s largest pension fund. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who serves as trustee for the $140 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund. He argued that Chevron should resolve the situation to avoid protracted and costly litigation, stating, “It is time to face reality.”

DiNapoli said, “The effects of this horrific, uncontrolled pollution of the Amazon rainforest are still being felt today. Investors don’t derive any benefit from this never-ending courtroom drama.”

“The entire case is looming like a hammer over shareholder’s heads,” said DiNapoli. “Chevron should start fresh with a new approach that embraces environmental responsibility … More legal proceedings will only delay the inevitable.”

Shareholders attending the meeting also expressed concern about the effect of hydraulic facturing, or fracking, on the environment. Fracking involves drilling of shale rock in order to extract natural gas. It has been criticized for its devastating effects on the environment, which include, the contamination of ground water though chemicals used in drilling, pollution of air quality, and the creation of toxic waste.

Chevron did not return calls requesting an interview for this article.

{A version of this article was originally published on May 26, 2011 on Alternet and it is republished here with permission.}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.

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