Business, Economics and Jobs

Ecuador court upholds pollution ruling against Chevron, but halves fine to $9.5 billion


Customers fill up their cars at a Chevron gas station on July 27, 2012 in Greenbrae, California.


Justin Sullivan

Ecuador’s highest court on Tuesday upheld a 2011 ruling that US oil giant Chevron was liable for the contamination of rainforest in the Amazon basin in the 1970s and 1980s, but halved the damages bill to $9.51 billion.

The decision by the National Court of Justice is unlikely to bring an end to the decades-old environmental damages battle, which is being waged on several continents.

Chevron, which has virtually no assets in the South American country, immediately rejected the latest ruling and reiterated it would not pay a dime to the plaintiffs.

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“The Lago Agrio judgment is as illegitimate and unenforceable today as it was when it was issued three years ago,” said Chevron. The energy giant is currently suing the Ecuadorean plaintiffs and their lawyers in a New York federal court for racketeering. Chevron wants to stop lawyer Steven Donziger, Ecuadoreans and activists from using US courts to force it to pay the fine.

The Ecuadoreans, for their part, have filed lawsuits against Chevron in Canada, Brazil and Argentina in an attempt to collect their money. Both sides have accused the other of improper conduct and bribery.

Chevron, which has never operated in Ecuador, inherited the pollution case in 2001 when it took over Texaco.

Indigenous groups and local farmers say Texaco polluted large areas of the jungle when it operated in the region from 1964 to 1990.

But Chevron insists the environmental damage was caused by the state oil company Petroecuador and that its trial was marred by a corrupt judge. In September, Chevron asked the appeal's court to consider what it said was "4,000 pages of new evidence" concerning the original judge's alleged fraud and breach of trust.