On September 4 the Supreme Court of Canada rejected Chevron’s claim that its Canadian assets cannot be used to satisfy a $9.5 billion judgment against it for oil pollution in Ecuador. By a vote of 7-0, the Court upheld a December 2013 decision by the Ontario Court of Appeals rejecting Chevron’s claim that its Canadian subsidiary was a distinct corporate entity whose assets could not be used to satisfy a judgment against the parent corporation (see Dec. 22, 2013 blog post). In the decision below the Court of Appeals famously had said: “Even before the Ecuadorian judgment was released, Chevron, speaking through a spokesman, stated that Chevron intended to contest the judgment if Chevron lost. ‘We’re going to fight this until hell freezes over. And then we’ll fight it on the ice.’ Chevron’s wish is granted. After all these years, the Ecuadorian plaintiffs deserve to have the recognition and enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment heard on the merits in an appropriate jurisdiction. At this juncture, Ontario is that jurisdiction.” It is estimated that Chevron has $15 billion in assets in Canada.
This decision is very significant because it rejects the corporate shell game defense that Chevron so far has used successfully in Argentina and Brazil to resist enforcement of the judgement. The case now returns to the Ontario trial court where Chevron likely will claim that the Ecuador court’s judgment was obtained through fraud. A federal district court in New York has agreed with Chevron’s claim in a RICO suit brought by the oil conglomerate, but that decision currently is under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
On September 2 a Dutch court in Assen held liable a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil (known as NAM) for declining property values caused by earthquakes related to natural gas production at the Gronigen field. Twice this year the Dutch government has ordered reductions in production at the field because of the earthquakes. The Dutch Safety Board, an independent organization funded by the Dutch government, previously had determined that the companies and Dutch regulators had failed adequately to consider the danger of earthquakes from natural gas production in the field. It is believed that the damages due homeowners could run into the billions of euros. Reuters, Dutch Court Finds Gas Venture Liable for Earthquake Claims, N.Y. Times, Sept. 3, 2015, at B2.
On September 3 Nature magazine published the first comprehensive census of the world’s population of trees. T.W. Crowther, et al., Mapping Tree Density at a Global Scale, 1038 Nature 14967 (2015), online at: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature14967.html#close. Using both sophisticated satellite imaging and on the ground tree counting, the researchers estimated that the planet has approximately 3.04 trillion trees, far more than previous estimates. “Of these trees, approximately 1.39 trillion exist in tropical and subtropical forests, with 0.74 trillion in boreal regions and 0.61 trillion in temperate regions.” The study estimates that more than 15 billion trees are cut down each year, and that the global number of trees has fallen by approximately 46% since the start of human civilization.
Last week climate negotiations concluded in Bonn, Germany in preparation for the all-important COP-21 meetings in Paris in December. The tenth part of the second session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Advanced Action (ADP) was held from August 31-September 4. As usual, some progress was made, though several difficult issues remain to be worked out. The World Resources Institute reported the following: “While progress was uneven at times, the Bonn negotiators identified the most essential issues and began crafting a coherent architecture for the agreement. It was as though they were in a garage attempting to build an engine (battery powered of course), with parts lying about. Their task was to distinguish the various pieces, put them into clear categories, and then figure out how they should be ordered to build the engine. It’s a work in progress. The pieces are coming together, though you can’t see exactly what the final product will look like at this point.”
I currently am in Jakarta, Indonesia to participate in the 13th Annual Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law. The theme of this year’s colloquium, which is being hosted by the Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia, is “Forest and Marine Biodiversity.” I will be giving a presentation on “The Intellectual Heritage of George Perkins Marsh: Forest Preservation and the Roots of Global Environmental Law.” Two Maryland law students and a recent Maryland grad also will be presenting papers at the Colloquium, which includes environmental law experts from nearly 50 countries.