MAY 1991 - VOLUME 12 - NUMBER 5
B E H I N D T H E L I N E S
The Huaorani people are used to fighting against foreign oil companies and hostile national government agencies for control of their land in the Ecuadoran Amazon [see "Of Oil and Exploitation in Ecuador," Multinational Monitor,January/February 1991]. But now there are new contenders for control of their destiny. Negotiations are being conducted between the Natural Resources Defense Council, Cultural Survival (an indigenous culture research and advocacy center) and Conoco Oil, a subsidiary of the DuPont Corporation, about petroleum production in the Yasuni National Park, according to CORDAVI, an Ecuadoran environmental organization.
Ecuador's Tribunal of Constitutional Guarantees had denied Conoco access to the Park after CORDAVI sued the Ministry of Mines and Agriculture for authorizing illegal drilling in a National Park. The decision was reversed, however, when the court decided, for undisclosed reasons, to allow the drilling. CORDAVI, whose Spanish acronym stands for The Corporation for the Defense of Life, claims the decision was reversed because of threats by multinational oil companies to stop all production in Ecuador. CORDAVI is appealing the decision.
Now that Conoco has permission to drill, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has apparently accepted development of the region as inevitable and is holding meetings with the company to discuss the establishment of a conservation fund to balance and compensate for development in the region. According to NRDC's plan, the conservation fund would be administered by a foundation with two boards: a high-level board of independent policy makers, nominated by NRDC, Conoco and other participating groups, and a lower operating board which would be composed of representatives of those organizations which contribute money to the foundation (primarily Conoco).
Conoco, however, seems to be less sure of the inevitability of oil development than NRDC. Max Pitcher, the company's executive vice president for exploration and production, stated in a meeting with NRDC that the company would not proceed with the project unless it had a public agreement with the "environmental community." In this February 1991 meeting between high-level representatives of NRDC, Cultural Survival and Conoco, the oil company detailed its plans for exploration and production in theYasuni National Park and in Huaorani Territory. NRDC and Cultural Survival expressed no objections to the plans, instead concentrating on terms for the creation of the foundation and how they could best sell the concept to other environmental groups.
The representative from Cultural Survival, Project Director Ted MacDonald, stated that oil development is "probably inevitable" and that this agreement could set an extremely important precedent. MacDonald told Conoco managers that they would have to be very patient with the Huaorani because of their low level of socialization and organizational skills. He also emphasized the importance of a symbolic visit to Ecuador by Conoco representatives. Jacob Scherr, director of NRDC's international program, described the potential for Conoco getting agreements from other large North American environmental groups. Scherr said the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund would "not be a problem to Conoco" but that the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and the Rainforest Action Network would probably not cooperate with the company
Before and after the meeting, several Ecuadoran groups asked NRDC not to make agreements concerning the region. A coalition called Amazon Campaign: For Life wrote a letter to NRDC before the February 8 meeting asking the organization not to negotiate with Conoco. The Amazon Campaign is calling for a 10-year moratorium on development in Yasuni to give the Huaorani time to mount their own defense or arrange for development of their lands in a manner which would allow their survival. Since the meeting, 25 Latin American environmental groups have issued a joint statement supporting CORDAVI's efforts to block petroleum production in Yasuni and rejecting "the interference in this problem by North American organizations that seek to give their support to companies that are destroying nature."
NRDC attorney Scherr calls CORDAVI's version of the events "extraordinary distortions" and charges that CORDAVI "can't tell the differencebetween discussion and negotiation." Scherr emphasizes that NRDC has been meeting constantly with several Ecuadoran groups. NRDC, Conoco and CONFENIAE, a federation of indigenous groups in the Amazon region, are scheduled to meet in Ecuador at the end of May, at which time Scherr says he hopes the indigenous groups will be able to participate equally in discussions.
Scherr's position has been criticized by Judith Kimerling, a former NRDC attorney, who says she was fired because she disagreed with the strategy of negotiating with Conoco. Kimerling, who authored Amazon Crude, a report on the effects of oil drilling in Ecuador, says "They fired me because I disagreed with them, and I saw this initiative as a reversal of NRDC policy." She disputes the notion that Conoco is more environmentally sensitive than other companies, saying, "During [Conoco's] exploratory activities, I didn't see that they acted any differently than any other company." She also condemns NRDC's decision to ignore the concerns of Ecuadoran groups. "When the idea was first floated within NRDC, I objected.... I felt strongly that any reversal in policy should be directed from Ecuador and not from Washington."
Trouble in Paradise
Hazardous waste traders are facing increasing difficulties finding acquiescent governments to accept their refuse. With waste disposal costs in industrial countries rising and many West African countries prohibiting hazardous waste imports, the traders are shifting their attention to the South Pacific.
Bunny McDiamid of Greenpeace New Zealand says there have been between 15 and 20 serious proposals for waste disposal projects submitted to South Pacific governments in the last few years.
Typical of the situation faced by South Pacific governments is the case of Tonga, a tiny nation located south of the Samoan Islands which has a population of 108,000. Tonga's only exports are bananas and coconut products. Electricity for its residents comes from generators powered by increasingly expensive diesel fuel. Its economic situation is compelling it to consider a proposal from RDI Energy Technologies, a Seattle, Washington based company. RDI proposes sending 30 million used tires over a five-year period to Tonga, which would burn the tires in a power-generating incinerator. This plan would not only expose Tongans to chemicals emitted by the burning tires, it would also exacerbate the "greenhouse effect" by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. According to scientists at Environment magazine, the sea level rise which will accompany global warming would almost certainly flood many of the 169 coral and volcanic islands which comprise the nation of Tonga.
The Quayle Committee
The new Clean Air Act, already watered down to ensure passage, is now in the process of being further weakened by Vice President Dan Quayle. Quayle is the chair of the Council on Competitiveness, an agency created during the Reagan administration to "reduce the regulatory burden on the free enterprise system." The Council is reviewing regulations issued under the Clean Air Act by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and has already gutted or rejected several of the EPA's most important rules.
One rule squashed by Quayle's Council would have prohibited incineration of car batteries. The burning of batteries and several other types of household waste releases lead into the air which has dramatic effects on the health of children. U.S. Representative Gerry Sikorski (D-MN) condemned Quayle's actions, saying "In spite of all the evidence that lead kills and maims and retards, Americans will not be protected from lead in the air, all because a back-room group of White House bean counters has simply decided to reverse the EPA."
The Council also stopped an EPA rule that would have required incinerators to separate and recycle newspapers, cans, bottles and yard waste before burning garbage. This would have reduced the amount of garbage burned by 25 per cent.
Quayle's Competitiveness Council, which includes six other cabinet level appointees, among them Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher and Chief of Staff John Sununu, has the authority to review nearly all new regulations, no matter what agency issues them. The Council subjects health and environmental regulations to a cost-benefit analysis which often fails to take into account long-term factors such as overall energy savings from recycling or health care costs for victims of environmentally caused illness. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who heads the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, says that the "Council on Competitiveness ... has taken on the task of helping polluters block EPA's efforts to write Clean Air regulation."
The Council claims it is committed to ensuring "that EPA stays within the $26 billion cost estimate agreed to by the President and Congress" and "maximiz[ing] clean air benefits to society at minimum cost to the economy." David McIntosh, Quayle's assistant for domestic policy, says the Council plans to review 50 to 100 of the EPA regulations which will be issued under the new Clean Air Act.
No Makeup, No Job?
In an attempt to force female employees to conform to company standards of "acceptable" personal appearance, Continental Airlines fired a part-time ticket agent for her refusal to wear makeup. Teresa Fischette, who worked for Continental at Boston's Logan International Airport for more than two years, was dismissed in early May for refusing to comply with an airline rule that requires all female ground workers to wear makeup.
Fischette told USA Today that she would seek help from the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for Women to take her case to court, calling the dismissal "a women's choice issue and a civil rights issue."
Cindy Yeast of the Association of Flight Attendants says airline workers have been fighting the airlines for years over issues related to personal appearance such as required bi-yearly "weigh-ins" and questions about "how high your heels should be."
Fischette's willingness to go public as well as the outraged response she received put the image-sensitive Continental on the defensive. Company executives first offered Fischette a non-customer contact job, which she turned down, and eventually revised the policy, giving Fischette her job back.
— Jim Sugarman and Holley Knaus