too much nature in New York

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Dec 11 08:12:35 PST 1998

Enzo Michelangeli
>I can personally live in a world without tigers, and I suspect that the
>villagers in Bangladesh, sometimes eaten by them, can too. Oh yeah, but they
>are goddamn polluters whose reproduction should be curbed anyway...

This is the stupidest thing I have ever heard in my life. When species high up on the food chain disappear--like the tiger, sperm whale, eagle, etc.--the impact is not only on the rest of the ecosystem but on homo sapiens as well. When rainforest habitats disappear in East Asia, it not only causes extinction of tigers and orangutans, but increases global warming, flooding and the disappearance of types of vegetation that can serve medical science. In Cockburn/Hecht's "Fate of the Forest," there is an account of how the Amazon rainforest supplied a variety of important medicinal herbs that were Brazil's main source of foreign revenue for much of the 19th century. When the Borneo or Amazon rainforest are cut down to make lawn-furniture for sale at Pier One, it will be the fault of savages like Michelangeli who control political power. He reminds me of the character Dan Ackroyd played on SNL, the shady huckster who ran ads on late night TV. One episode he demonstrated how to prepare and roast endangered species like California condor.

>The really
>serious danger for the future of humanity is to listen to the enemies of
>development, and retreat in the nostalgic attitude that Marx rightly
>attributed to "reactionists". (A remarkable thing never to forget is that
>many exponents of the first historical reaction against Enlightenment,
>Romanticism, became the ideological precursors of modern fascism: Novalis,
>Schlegel, Fichte, down to Wagner).

More uninformed ravings from our resident libertarian. The issue is not "development" but plunder. Multinational corporations drain the resources of Latin America, Asia and Africa while leaving an ecological cesspool when they are finished. This is not "development" but rape.

---- The New York Times

February 1, 1998, Sunday, Late Edition - Final

Ecuadoreans Want Texaco to Clear Toxic Residue

by Diana Jean Schemo

Shushufindi, Ecuador, Florinda Balla prays that no more of her cows, pigs, chickens or dogs will venture to the black pool by her farm. Its surface is viscous, its contents thick with arsenic and other toxic wastes. She has watched five of her cows who drank from it grow listless and fall dead, she said.

Mrs. Balla, who has lived here for more than 20 years, said the pool has been there all that time, one of hundreds of waste pits left behind after Texaco pulled out after two decades in Ecuador. As partners with the state, Texaco pumped nearly all the oil this small Andean country produced until 1990, maximizing profits, ecologists here say, by using inexpensive and environmentally unsound methods.

"Go to the school, there's another pool," said Mrs. Balla. "Go down the road, there's another."

About 30,000 residents here are trying to hand Texaco the bill for the dead animals, lost crops, health problems and environmental damage. In 1993, two American law firms filed a class-action lawsuit in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York -- on the doorstep of the White Plains-based company. The suit sought more than $1 billion in damages and cleanup costs and demanded that the company rebuild the oil-pumping infrastructure to meet prevailing United States standards.

Judge Jed S. Rakoff dismissed the case last year, and the United States Court of Appeals is reviewing his decision. In Ecuador, the case remains a live issue, with anti-Texaco graffiti scrawled on walls. Texaco denies any wrongdoing, arguing that Ecuador lacked specific environmental laws during its time there. Citizens Confront A Foreign Company

Paulina Garzon, leader of the Quito-based group Ecological Action, said that if upheld, the case's dismissal would signal that oil companies "can do whatever they want in developing countries and not be held responsible." Class-action lawsuits do not exist here and Ms. Garzon said that the maximum fine for environmental damage is $12,500.

As Latin America undergoes privatization of the development of its natural resources, the issues the case raises have grown more crucial. How should a third-world country balance the need for foreign investment with the obligation to protect its environment? What recourse do people have when they believe their government has neglected their interests? Should one environmental standard apply for United States citizens and another for those in distant countries, and can standards be imposed retroactively?

The case also highlights an intriguing transformation in a region riddled with deeply flawed democracies, political corruption and the lingering reflexes of former military dictatorships. It suggests that pliable governments, which may once have been a possible advantage for foreign investors, could actually prove a liability, as citizens take on the companies directly.

For that reason, the case is being watched closely by the oil and mining industries. "If they're successful in suing Texaco, it'll have repercussions around the world," said Jeff Kerr, a correspondent for Petroleum Intelligence Weekly. "There are huge implications."

After 1977, Texaco, which began oil exploration in Ecuador in 1964 and pumping in 1972, was only a minority partner with Petroecuador, the state-owned oil company. The suit contends, though, that as operating partner, Texaco was responsible for creating the technology that developed Ecuador's oil sector.

The company vehemently defends its actions here, saying it met all the environmental and health regulations at that time and that its methods followed "prevailing international industry practice." It also argues that claims of health problems have not been proved.

Having signed a cleanup agreement with the Ecuadorean Government in 1995, Texaco contends that the suit does not warrant a hearing. "We are a registered company dealing with a sovereign government," said Yorick P. Fonseca, a Texaco spokesman. "We're not about to start dealing with people who purport to represent the interests of people in the region, but have no legal standing."

Jorge Alban, Ecuador's Under Secretary for the Environment, described the damage here as the legacy of a pre-environmentally conscious age, when Ecuador was a novice at oil exploration and accepted the American company's practices without question. Rain and Rivers And Toxic Muck

Cristobal Bonifaz, the lead lawyer in the suit, which is being handled on a contingency basis, said that more than 70,000 pages of documents Texaco submitted under discovery show that even minor decisions were made by company officials in Florida and New York.

Gen. Rene Vargas Pazzos, who led the state-owned oil firm in the 1970's, said that Ecuadorean officials knew nothing about oil drilling and proper waste disposal then, and that Texaco acted with "complete autonomy." Although a previous Government supported Texaco against the lawsuit in 1996, its successor switched sides.

Despite the cleanup Texaco undertook under its agreement with Ecuador, estimated to have cost about $40 million, the plaintiffs are pressing their contention that the technology Texaco built to extract crude oil was hazardous.

Low-grade crude oil was regularly poured over the dirt road it cleared, to reduce the dust. Texaco argues that this is common practice in many places. But because this is a rain forest, oil-laced rainfall would spill over the farms that sprang up along the road, and residents walking barefoot on the oil developed blisters and rashes, researchers from Harvard University found in 1993.

The researchers, hired by the lawyers who brought the suit, found concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in rainwater and rivers used for drinking, bathing and fishing that ranged from 32 to 2,800 nanograms per liter. The United States Environmental Protection Agency's recommended standard for these substances -- which are linked to cancer and other ailments -- is zero.

The center estimated that 30 billion gallons of toxic waste were dumped into the environment. It said that while 1.4 billion barrels of crude were extracted, 17 million barrels had been spilled during Texaco's tenure here -- 1.5 times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez disaster. The plaintiffs say the damage was never remedied.

According to the suit, the toxic brew near Mrs. Balla's home, whose untreated overflow runs through her farm, is just one part of the devastation Texaco left behind after extracting some 1.4 billion barrels of crude.

In the oil-drilling region, open flames roar out of pipes jutting over murky pools, burning off gas to separate water from the crude oil. The soil is covered with a salty crust and is green and yellow in places. Its surface crumbles when poked with a stick, releasing the heavy odor of petroleum. Clouds of steam rise in this hellish, strangely lunar slice of the Amazon. The trees near the pools are leafless, their branches brittle.

Under the cleanup agreement, these waters were to be routed into larger streams and rivers, where, the company contended, they would be treated and diluted to safe proportions. As a last resort, they would be reinjected deep into the soil -- common practice in the United States, even in the 1960's.

But Mr. Bonifaz, the lawyer opposing Texaco, said, "There's no treatment done anywhere." Residents depend on rainwater and rivers for drinking and bathing, and the Harvard researchers found all had been contaminated.

Mr. Alban said the company had cleaned out 268 pools, but at least 400 more are not covered by the agreement. He said that when Texaco pulled out in 1990, the Government inherited a substandard operation, which continues to damage the rain forest.

"In what measure does a cleanup begin to address the magnitude of the problem Texaco caused?" Mr. Alban said.

Mr. Fonseca disputed Mr. Alban's account, and said that as the majority shareholder after 1977, Ecuador's Government was responsible for decisions about operations.

"They not only were fully aware of the practices and technology being used, but they inspected us and wherever there were accidental spills, they fined us," Mr. Fonseca said. Some of the practices criticized in the suit, he said, like dumping untreated waste into open pits, are permissible under certain conditions in parts of the United States, like Louisiana. Profits Never Reach Rain Forest Area

In initially dismissing the case in November 1996, Judge Rakoff said Texaco could not be judged unless the state-owned oil company, the "predominant partner," was as well. He also said that the suit should not be heard in the United States, because witnesses and evidence were in Ecuador, and that doing so could hamper American relations with the small Andean nation.

When Ecuador reversed its stand to support the suit, the plaintiffs asked Judge Rakoff to reconsider hearing the case. In August 1997, he declined. Mr. Fonseca, the Texaco spokesman, argues that his company is being made a scapegoat. It was Ecuador, he said, that decided to develop its oil sector and attract settlers into the area, in part to fortify its border with Peru.

Although oil and related products supply 44 percent of Ecuador's national budget, less than 3 percent of that budget returns to the area. In Shushufindi, an oil substation, less than 0.2 percent of the houses have tap water. Most residents drink untreated rainwater.

Mr. Alban points out that while oil revenues financed electrification through much of the country and helped develop industry, they have done little to provide such services or alleviate poverty in the Oriente rain forest area.

"Ecuadoreans, all of us, don't want to say the Government doesn't have any responsibility in particular when it comes to the indirect effects of oil production," Mr. Alban said. But the direct effects were the responsibility of Texaco, he said.

Since Ecuador took over operation of the oil wells in 1990, it has begun trying to improve its methods of extracting oil. At some wells, it has begun reinjecting the waters deep into the soil, while alongside others, it is lining the pits and treating the waste, said Jose Cevallos, a Petroecuador worker who was cleaning the tubes at one wellhead.

As part of the 1995 cleanup agreement, Texaco pledged to build water treatment systems in four cities, with more than $1 million for reforestation, new schools and medical dispensaries, but residents say they have seen no improvements yet, and suspect the money was stolen. Mr. Fonseca said that after disputes over who should handle the money in Ecuador, the company recently deposited it in an escrow account.

"They should have given it to the campesinos, who've been damaged by what they did, not to someone who doesn't need it," said Mrs. Balla.

Told about the judge's decision, Mrs. Balla said she felt like part of an invisible people. "They don't want anything to do with us," she said. "Nobody sees us here."

Copyright © 1998 LEXIS®-NEXIS®, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Louis Proyect


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