Company sued in US court for contaminating Peruvian rainforest

Occidental Petroleum Corporation will face a lawsuit in the United States for contaminating the Peruvian rainforest for nearly 30 years according to a federal appeals court.

The proposed class action was filed on behalf of members of Indigenous communities represented by Los Angeles-based Earth Rights International, Amazon Watch.

They accuse Occidental, the fourth biggest oil company in the U.S., of discharging millions of gallons of toxic oil by-products into waterways in the northeastern Peruvian Amazon rainforest.

Occidental had convinced a lower court that the case should be litigated in Peru but the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling that the case be heard in Los Angeles, Occidental’s headquarters.

“Oxy will now face justice in the U.S. federal courts, rather than in a Peruvian legal system that has never compensated indigenous groups for environmental contamination,” said Marco Simons, legal director of Earth Rights International.

The Ninth Circuit expressed skepticism of the corporation’s motives for attempting to move the case to Peru under the doctrine of forum non conveniens (“inconvenient forum”), and asked numerous probing questions of Occidental’s counsel.

In October 2007, a group of 25 Achuar Peruvians filed suit against Occidental, demanding clean-up and reparations for environmental damages allegedly caused by Occidental over 30 years. Earth Right published A Legacy of Harm, which describes how Occidental’s operations discharged billions of barrels of untreated wastewater into local streams, caused numerous spills and resulted in many unremediated toxic waste sites in Achuar territory, with severe health and livelihood consequences for the Achuar.

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