Environmental and indigenous rights activist, author and attorney Judith Kimerling will receive the Albertson Medal in Sustainable Development. Village Earth, the Fort Collins-based nonprofit, will present the award at its Fourth Annual Albertson Gala on August 27th at the Colorado State University Lory Student Center Ballroom at 6 p.m. Kimerling will receive the medal for her defense of the Amazon rainforest and the human communities that depend on it for their culture and survival. According to David Bartecchi, Executive Director of Village Earth, “Kimerling’s research starting in 1989 blew the whistle on the devastating impacts that oil companies are having on the Amazon’s ecosystem. She has continued to this day to defend the rights of indigenous communities living in the Amazon and for remediation of their natural resources.” Judith Kimerling is a Professor at The City University of New York (CUNY) Queens College. After graduating from University of Michigan and Yale Law School, she worked for seven years as an environmental litigator, including five years as an Assistant Attorney General for New York State, where she worked on the Love Canal litigation and other hazardous waste cleanup litigation and negotiations. In 1989, she moved to Ecuador and worked with indigenous organizations in the Amazon Rainforest to document the environmental and social impacts of oil development there. Her findings and photographs first placed concerns about the impact of oil production on indigenous peoples and the environment in tropical forests on the international environmental and human rights policy agendas. Her book Amazon Crude was called “the Silent Spring of Ecuador” by The New York Times. In the U.S., it prompted a prominent class action lawsuit, Aguinda v. Texaco, Inc. Her story was was popularized by the 1995 New York Times Business Bestseller, “Savages” by Joe Kane. The following is an excerpt from the book.
In 1967 Texaco discovered commercial oil in the Oriente [the Ecuadorian Amazon region]. In 1972 it completed a 312-mile pipeline from the Oriente to Ecuador’s Pacific coast. During the next seventeen years-until Petroecuador assum ed operational control of the pipeline-the Texaco consortium shipped 1.4 billion barrels of oil over the Andes and accounted for 88 percent of the oil taken from the Oriente. Ecuador had no environmental regulations for oil production, and almost no attempt was made to assess its environmental impact until 1989, when an American named Judith Kimerling came to the country and began to stick her nose into things. Traveling by foot, canoe, and truck, sleeping in homes of Indians and colonists, she visited producing wells, exploratory sites, seismic trails. She combed government reports. A former environmental litigator in the office of the New York State attorney general, she learned that the Texaco pipeline had ruptured at least twenty-seven times, spilling 16.8 million gallons of raw crude (the Exxon Valdez spilled 10.8 million off the coast of Alaska), most of it into the Orient’s delicate web of rivers, creeks, and lagoons. Little of it had been cleaned up, and the pipeline was all but worn out and rupturing with increasing frequency. She calculated that the petroleum industry was spilling an additional 10,000 gallons of oil from secondary flow lines every week and dumping 4.3 million gallons of untreated toxic waste directly into the watershed every day….
After Kimerling wrote up her initial findings (they eventually appeared as a book entitled Amazon Crude), Petroecuador tried to have her deported. It was dissuaded by the American embassy, which argued that making an international incident of Kimerling’s investigation would draw further attention to it, but the military arrested her, in Coca. She was released only when Jose Miguel Goldaraz and the local Quichua federation intervened on her behalf.
Professor Kimerling currently serves as international counsel for Ome Gompote Kiwigimoni Huaorani (Defendemos Nuestro Territorio Huaorani), an alliance of indigenous Huaorani communities who came together to protect a 758,051-hectare area of rainforest known as “The Intangible Zone.” Located in traditional Huaorani territory and the Yasuni Biosphere
Reserve, The Intangible Zone is also home to the last known group of people still living in voluntary isolation in Ecuador’s Amazon region. Professor Kimerling also serves on the Technical Advisory Committee of REDOIL, a network of Alaska Natives of seven tribes who joined forces to address the impact of the oil industry in Alaska and promote sustainable development on Native lands. David Bartecchi, Village Earth’s executive director, first met Judith in 2007 at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York where they discussed possibilities for collaboration. According to Bartecchi, “we’re all really excited about this award and hope it will serve as a launch pad for our work together.”