There’s nothing that can generate attention and donations in a non-election year in politics quite like a clip of your senator or representative unleashing a barrage of righteous fury in a committee meeting at some political villain who, due to their position, has to act politely.
While this is because corporate executives and appointed functionaries don’t have the latitude to be a firebrand that politicians do, it looks like they’re just sitting they’re and taking it on the chin as your hero of a congressman/congresswoman gives them the what-for. Sometimes they deserve it — but even if they don’t, it certainly looks good on Twitter.
There’s one way it can reliably backfire, however: if your elected representative doesn’t know what they’re talking about and the person they’re supposed to be rhetorically mauling does — or is simply confused.
To that end, I give you Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, member of the “squad” and hard-left heavyweight. Tlaib is a member of the House Oversight Committee — where, on Thursday, oil executives from ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell were paraded before the panel to take their licks from Democrats.
As The Washington Post’s Maxine Joselow and Dino Grandoni reported, the left sought “to grill them about what Democrats say is their decades-long history of sowing doubt about the effects their products are having on Earth’s temperature and the stability of its climate system.”
As for Tlaib, she was grilling them about … well, something.
During the hearing, Tlaib accused oil companies of funding trade groups like One Alaska and Colorado Rising, which opposed stringent environmental regulations, including the accusation that Chevron owned a firm that bankrolled Colorado Rising in part.
“When you look at these ads, they don’t say the name Exxon, BP, Chevron anywhere,” Tlaib said, according to CNN. “Y’all hide and you deceive the public.”
Chevron CEO Mike Wirth would later clarify that Chevron didn’t own Noble Energy, the company that funded Colorado Rising, when it was giving them the money.
So there was that — and then there was the real showdown.
“Mike, Mike Wirth,” she said. “When are you going to cut the check?”
There was a pause. “Congresswoman, I’m not sure I understand the context of your question.”
Oh, but he was walking right into a gotcha moment!
“That’s OK,” Tlaib said.
“Chevron has about 70 serious cases of environmental and community abuses in 31 countries worldwide, owing over $50 billion in judgments and settlements,” the representative continued after a short exchange.
Wirth said he wasn’t familiar with any of the data she was citing — and, indeed, she wasn’t giving a source for the information
“When are you going to cut the $50 billion check that you owe? It went through the courts!” she said.
“Congresswoman, I’d be happy to take a look at the source for your information on this and get back to you on it because I have no understanding on it,” Wirth said.
“Well, I have a message for you as Chevron CEO,” Tlaib said. “You made what, $29 million last year in poisoning the planet. Mr. Wirth, you can’t arrest us all. You can’t arrest the truth. Can you understand what I’m trying to say to you?” Tlaib asked.
Wirth again didn’t comprehend. Tlaib then said this had to do with “your targeting and actions against the human rights lawyer [Steven] Donziger … I just want to remind you, there are more of us than there are of you.
“You can poison the planet to you can make money, but we’re going to defend the planet so we can live. And we will win,” she continued.
Rashida Tlaib accuses Chevron CEO of making $29 million for "poisoning the planet" and says that Chevron owes $50 billion to "communities in 31 countries."
Confused CEO says he has no idea what she's talking about pic.twitter.com/VgoHNbyLTl
— X Strategies LLC (@XStrategiesLLC) October 28, 2021
Does that sound incoherent to you? That’s, in part, because it’s meant to be; she’s ushering us all past the facts, which aren’t at all as bad as she makes them sound. It makes a bit more sense when you look through the sources and information behind the verbal three-card-monte game of fulmination Tlaib was playing here, however.
So, about that $50 billion that Chevron owes: That number comes from a report from radical environmentalist group Amazon Watch titled, “Chevron’s Global Destruction: Ecocide, Genocide, and Corruption.”
Yes, genocide. Along with the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge and the government of Myanmar, we can now count Chevron.
The title is enough to tell us this is isn’t a trustworthy source. Moreover, there wasn’t time for Wirth — or anyone at Chevron, for that matter — to examine the data. As environmentalist website Mongabay notes, the report was released just one day before the House Oversight Committee hearing. Tlaib, however, apparently had enough time to take a look at it and come up with her trite, “Mike, when are you going to cut the check?” line.
A desultory glance at the report reveals much of that $50 billion number comes from dubious claims of back taxes from governments. One linked source in Amazon Watch’s paper is a Reuters report from 2019 about such a move in Nigeria: “Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Eni, Total and Equinor were each asked to pay the central government between $2.5 billion and $5 billion, said the sources, who saw or were briefed on the letters,” the wire service reported.
This decision to send a massive tax bill to several oil multinationals just coincidentally happened to come “after the central Nigerian government and local states settled a dispute over the distribution of revenue from hydrocarbon production. The sides agreed last year that [central government] would pay the states several billion dollars, three company and government sources said.”
Or take the case in Chad: “While producing 30% of the country’s oil, Chad found Chevron unwilling to pay taxes to the country. In 2006, Chad told Chevron to leave the country due to failure of payment of said taxes, they were given 24 hours to leave,” the report from Amazon Watch states.
The source in the paper is a CBS News piece they were probably hoping you didn’t click on, since it makes it clear then-Chadian President Idriss Deby seemed to be using it as a pretext to nationalize the assets of Chevron and other oil corporations operating in the country. The Chadian government had also had its proceeds from the oil project frozen after it reneged on its promise to spend some of the proceeds from the World Bank-backed project on the poor.
But that’s when we get to the biggest chunk of that $50 billion: $9.5 billion Chevron owes over an environmental suit in Ecuador. It’s also how Steven Donziger comes into all this.
According to The New York Times, Donziger was the lawyer who won the judgment over Chevron for environmental damage in the Amazon rainforest. He was also “found guilty in July of six counts of criminal contempt of court for withholding evidence in a long, complex legal fight with Chevron, which claims that Mr. Donziger fabricated evidence in the 1990s to win a lawsuit he filed against the oil giant on behalf of 30,000 Indigenous people in Ecuador,” the Times reported. “The convictions were preceded by Mr. Donziger’s disbarment last year.”
“On July 31, 2019, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, a former corporate lawyer, tried to charge Mr. Donziger with contempt of court based on his refusals in 2014 to give the court access to decades of client communications on devices like his phone and his computer,” the article continued.
“That year, Judge Kaplan supported Chevron’s complaint in a 500-page ruling finding that Mr. Donziger and his associates had engaged in a conspiracy and criminal conduct by ghostwriting an environmental report used as a crucial piece of evidence and bribing a judge in Ecuador.”
In a 2014 piece for Forbes, law professor Michael I. Krauss noted Chevron became the defendant in the Ecuador case because they bought Texaco Petroleum, which ran the oil concession in question. Two international auditing firms found that Texaco had remediated the relatively minor environmental damage it had done during its oil exploration and production in the country, which ended in the 1990s. When they left, Krauss said, the government “absolved, liberated and forever freed” the company from “any claim or litigation by the Government of Ecuador.”
“Subsequently, the state agency (not unlike other state agencies in other countries, made an environmental mess of the area. By its own admission, Petroecuador has created thousands of oil spills,” Krauss wrote. However, international human rights lawyers decided to sue Texaco for damages. U.S. courts decided our country wasn’t the proper venue, which meant the suit was filed against Chevron — which had subsequently bought out Texaco — in Ecuador in 2003, where the political situation had changed.
“A new Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa (a friend and ally of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez who had repudiated Ecuador’s foreign debt as illegitimate upon assuming office) toured the Lago Agrio site and solemnly declared that Texaco Petroleum’s behavior in Ecuador was a ‘crime against humanity,’” Krauss wrote.
“According to plaintiffs, Chevron owed $2.9 billion in compensation for over 400 cancer-related deaths, despite the fact that the even the plaintiffs’ ‘expert’ report failed to establish a causal link between alleged oil spills and cancer. Chevron was also sued for $8.3 billion for ‘unjust enrichment,’ though Texaco Petroleum’s actions were strictly pursuant to contract and though Petroecuador was by far the greatest beneficiary of the consortium’s work. Other alleged Texaco torts include introducing alcohol into the region, evidence for which included the alcohol-induced death of an indigenous shaman.”
So, Rashida, when are you going to call all this out?
Of course, sussing all of this information out takes a lot longer than watching Tlaib grill a confused CEO on Twitter. Granted, they were probably confused as all get-out by the clip. It’s probably better they stayed confused, however, because the reality of the situation is far more damning.