Goldman Winners Include Pair Who Battled Oil Firms

April 30, 2008 | By The Pachamama Alliance

By Jim Carlton, The Wall Street Journal: This year's winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize—the green world's version of the Oscars—include activists who took on oil companies on two continents and a Mozambique rock star whose band sings to encourage improved sanitation.

The Goldman awards, now in their 19th year, were presented to seven activists at a ceremony in San Francisco on Monday.

The prizes are sponsored by a foundation headed by San Francisco philanthropist Richard Goldman, who started the awards with his late wife, Rhoda, to honor grass-roots environmental activists globally. This year, each award has been increased to $150,000 from $125,000 cash value. As has often been the case, most honorees say they are putting some of the money into their respective campaigns.

The winners for Asia and Latin America each took on oil development in sensitive areas. In Ecuador, Pablo Fajardo Mendoza, 35 years old, and Luis Yanza, 46, won Goldmans for leading legal battles against oil giant Chevron Corp. over massive pollution problems allegedly caused by Texaco Inc., which the San Ramon, California, company acquired in 2001.

The pair began working in the early 1990s to organize residents of Amazon-jungle areas affected by oil development to pursue lawsuits against Texaco and then Chevron. Their cases sought billions of dollars in compensation for a spike in cancer cases and general environmental problems.

Chevron officials have denied any liability. Chevron has instead blamed a state-run oil company that headed a consortium that included Texaco; Chevron says Texaco ceased operations in Ecuador in 1990. Ecuadorian officials have pointed the finger at Chevron. Court cases filed in the U.S. over the years have been dismissed. One is pending in Ecuador.

Also check out this animation piece commissioned by Amazon Watch on Chevron's handling of the Ecuador case.