Here is a story worth passing along, for anyone who likes to know what is really going on behind the scenes. The folks at tiny Amazon Watch remind me of those people, called “spotters” who drive through the woods at night with powerful lights on the cars so they can view wildlife going about their business. Except instead of observing wildlife, they are checking up on executives from companies that are not exactly known to hold the interests of Amazonian locals in the highest regard. Now, they’ve caught yet another oilman with his hand in the cookie jar.
In this case, though, it’s not exactly an oilman, it’s actually the husband of an oilwoman.
Alex Thorne, who is married to Kristen Thorne, Chevron’s senior policy advisor on environment and energy issues, decided that he would help his wife out by posing as a journalist and sending a friendly note to longstanding supporters of the advocacy group, such as the Moriah Fund, to ask if perhaps, “it is time to reevaluate,” their position regarding the 18-year old multi-billion dollar lawsuit in Ecuador, especially in the light of the company’s continued portrayal of the case as without basis.
Back in February, a judge in the tiny oil town of Lagos Agrio ordered Chevron to pay $8 billion in damages for environmental devastation in the region that came about due to faulty drilling practices going back as far as the 1970’s. The amount could be as high as $18 billion if the company refuses to apologize. At the trial, Chevron admitted to utilizing substandard operational practices in Ecuador which resulted in an outbreak of cancer and other oil-related diseases that will haunt thousands of people for decades without a comprehensive remediation, according to evidence submitted by the plaintiffs.
Thorne did not mention his ties to Chevron in the emails. He said he was working on a story about the case for undisclosed publication. He said the article would be “highlighting Amazon Watch’s top donors,” as if somehow being mentioned in the article might be an embarrassment to the contributors.
“Alex Thorne’s phony emails are part of Chevron’s Karl Rove-style campaign designed to stop efforts to hold Chevron accountable for committing environmental crimes and fraud in Ecuador,” said Karen Hinton, a PR consultant representing the plaintiffs.
San Francisco-based Amazon Watch has been relentless in their call for accountability. They have filed complaints against the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission, disrupted shareholder meetings and held protests outside of CEO John Watson’s home.
Just last week, Watson addressed a group of protestors outside the company’s annual stockholder meeting, telling them that he shared their ideals, but that their view of the company was dead wrong.
“I want to remind you that our fight in Ecuador is for life and justice,” Humberto Piaguaje, a resident of Ecuador’s oil patch, told Watson and the shareholders. “You must own up to your responsibility to the people in the Amazon.”
Five protestors were arrested at last years’ annual meeting. There were no arrests this year.
Last year Chevron was caught trying to pay off freelance journalist Mary Cudahee, to spy on the plaintiffs. She later broke the story in the Atlantic.
If it wasn’t for folks like Cudahee and the Amazon Watch, and people like you who read them and care about them, the shenanigans going on around us would be even worse than they are now.
RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water. Vapor Trails, which is about energy, centers around a major oil spill in Ecuador, a major storm in New Orleans and an earthquake in Indonesia, and the people whose lives are changed by these events.
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