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Goldman Environmental Prize Winners Announced, Chevron Hits the Ceiling

goldman_winners.jpgThe 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize recipients have been named and Chevron isn’t happy. The prizes reward grass-roots environmental work.

This year’s recipients include a duo from Ecuador who are fighting Chevron. The two Ecuadoreans have waged a 14-year fight to bring Chevron to account for what they allege is massive oil contamination in the Amazon. More on the background here.

Chevron pounced on the news, immediately issuing a press release and holding a press briefing saying that the company objects “to the Goldman Foundation over its selection of personal injury lawyer Pablo Fajardo and his associate, Luis Yanza, who were revealed today as 2008 Goldman prize recipients. Chevron regrets that the organizers of the Goldman Environmental Prize were skillfully misled into naming Mr. Fajardo and Mr. Yanza as prize winners.”

“While both Mr. Fajardo and Mr. Yanza are being lauded as environmental crusaders, the truth is their actions have protected the culprit – state-owned oil company Petroecuador,” Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson says in the statement. “They have even tried to block clean up efforts and extended miserable conditions for those they say they are defending.”

“These two men have twisted the facts in a legal case waged against Chevron for pure financial gain. Fictitious claims of cancer made by their associates have been thrown out of Federal Court in San Francisco. Mr. Fajardo and Mr. Yanza are ignoring the ongoing pollution in Ecuador by Petroecuador and are using it to seek billions of dollars in damages for decades ago operations in the region by Texaco Petroleum. Chevron became a convenient but unjust lawsuit target after it acquired Texaco in 2001.”

It’s not really clear what Chevron hopes to achieve by issuing such a release or holding press conferences. The award is completely subjective. Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by environmental organizations and individuals.

As you might expect, Chevron’s denouncement was quickly followed by a press release from the Amazon Defense Coalition which, in part, stated that, “Chevron Corp. has only itself to blame for facing a looming judgment of up to $16 billion in a historic environmental case in Ecuador, because it produced most of the evidence that is now being used against it, say representatives of the Amazon Defense Coalition, a group representing 80 communities and five indigenous groups in the class-action lawsuit.”

This year’s winners are (in words from the Goldman Award) :

Pablo Fajardo Mendoza, 35, and Luis Yanza, 46, Ecuador:
In the Ecuadorian Amazon, Fajardo and Yanza lead one of the largest environmental legal battles in history against oil giant Chevron, demanding justice for the massive petroleum pollution in the region.

Feliciano dos Santos, 43, Mozambique:
Using traditional music, grassroots outreach and innovative technology to bring sanitation to the most remote corners of Mozambique, Feliciano dos Santos empowers villagers to participate in sustainable development and rise up from poverty.

Rosa Hilda Ramos, 63, Puerto Rico:
In the shadow of polluting factories in Catan?o, a city across the bay from San Juan, Ramos leads her community to permanently protect the Las Cucharillas Marsh, one of the last open spaces in the area and one of the largest wetlands ecosystems in the region.

Jesus Leon Santos, 42, Mexico:
In Oaxaca, where unsustainable land-use practices have made it one of the world’s most highly-eroded areas, León leads a land renewal program that employs ancient indigenous practices to transform depleted soil into arable land.

Marina Rikhvanova, 46, Russia:
As Russia expands its petroleum and nuclear interests, Rikhvanova works to protect Siberia’s Lake Baikal, one of the world’s most important sources of fresh water, from environmental devastation brought on by these polluting industries.

Ignace Schops, 43, Belgium:
Raising more than $90 million by bringing together private industry, regional governments, and local stakeholders, Schops led the effort to establish Belgium’s first and only national park, protecting one of the largest open green spaces in the country.

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