Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chevron & The Koch Brothers

Chevron’s campaign to defame the Ecuadorians suing the company for oil contamination is starting to sound a lot like the attacks by the arch-conservative Koch Brothers, the billionaires who have financed campaigns against liberal groups, like Common Cause. This blog by Carl Pope, Chairman of the Sierra Club makes that clear. I’m not surprised that Chevron is following the Koch Brothers’ playbook — the company’s general counsel, Hew Pate, and the former general counsel, Charles James, worked for the Justice Department under George Bush and with the lawyers who wrote the torture memos. What a resume these guys have!

A Gang of Thieves -- Without Honor or Humor

Carl Pope
Chairman, Sierra Club
Posted: February 16, 2011 01:47 PM

San Francisco -- That's the thought that comes to mind this week, watching the behavior of Big Oil. In Ecuador, a Court found that Chevron owes local communities $8 billion for damages left behind from an oil drilling business Chevron inherited when it took over Texaco. Chevron's response was not that the damages hadn't been done, but that the Ecuadoran decision was "illegitimate" and that the company simply wouldn't pay its debts. (Does this remind you of Exxon-Mobile around the Valdez decisions? It would be nice if the oil industry was satisfied to be the world's richest, but at least paid its bills.)

Of course, Chevron's Ecuadoran bill is more than matched by the amount of direct subsidies Big Oil draws from American taxpayers. The Obama Administration, in its proposed new budget, thinks that there are probably better ways to spend taxpayer dollars, and has proposed eliminating $54 billion of these subsidies, including $10 billion that flows from the U.S. Treasury to such governments as Saudi Arabia. (You might not have known that oil producers are, in fact, one of the major recipients of this form of foreign aid. Big Oil pays the Saudis, and the Treasury reimburses Big Oil.) The new Tea Party-influenced Republican leadership in Congress doesn't seem to agree: the Defense Department, the nuclear industry, and Big Oil are virtually the only items in the federal budget protected from proposed slash-and-burn budget cuts.

If you are running this kind of racket, it is always good to have friends in high places, and the oil industry is making sure that politicians remain in its hock. The billionaire Koch Brothers announced that in 2012 they plan to raise $88 million to purchase influence in Washington. When Common Cause organized a protest at the secret Palm Springs gathering the brothers host, conservatives yelled "foul" and began organizing dirty tricks against Common Cause. This is classic Koch style; they've also brought a lawsuit against pranksters who sent out a press release last December saying the brothers had seen the light and would no longer fund global warming denial groups. The lawsuit claimed that the spoof press release's authors were "guilty of trademark infringement, cybersquatting, unfair competition, and violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act," a criminal statute that penalizes those who hack into protected governmental and private computer systems.

It's hard to take such a lawsuit seriously. But the Koch Brothers are serious. Anyone who shines a light on their secretive effort to take over the U.S. government can expect this kind of bullying. And while Big Oil is too restrained to carry on these kinds of shenanigans here in the U.S., the Chevron response in Ecuador shows their true face.

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