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The Daily Need

A victory for David over Goliath

Cofan indigenous women stand near a pool of oil in Ecuador's Amazonian region, Oct. 20, 2005. Photo: AP/Dolores Ochoa

A judge in Ecuador has ordered oil-giant Chevron to pay nearly $9 billion in damages and cleanup costs for contaminating the Amazon jungle.

The case, one of the largest and most controversial environmental lawsuits in the world, pits 30,000 rainforest dwellers from the Ecuadorian Amazon against the multinational company. The plaintiffs allege that Texaco (which was bought by Chevron in 2001, hence Chevron’s involvement) dumped oil into their water supply, causing birth defects, increased rates of cancers and other illnesses.

The judge ruled that Chevron was responsible for the pollution caused by Texaco during its almost two decades in the Ecuadorian jungle. Chevron has said it will appeal.

For years oil companies all over the world have been closely following the progress of this case. The judgment issued earlier this week is the second largest environmental judgment ever — Chevron has been ordered to pay less than what BP owes for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but more than what Exxon Mobil had to pay for the 1989 Alaska oil spill.

Pablo Fajardo, lawyer for the plaintiffs, told NPR that this is an important step but the battle is not over. Chevron has argued with the legitimacy of this judgment, claiming that the plaintiffs’ lawyers are conspiring with witnesses to falsify evidence. A federal judge in New York has issued a restraining order temporarily preventing the plaintiffs from seeking Chevron’s assets.

To learn more about this David and Goliath battle, watch Need to Know’s interview with Joe Berlinger, director of the documentary film “Crude: The Real Price of Oil.”

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