Karen Savage is an investigative journalist who has reported on climate change-related itigation, environmental justice, policing, and other social justice issues. Her work has appeared in Climate Docket, Undark Magazine, In These Times, Project Earth, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Truthout, City Limits, and more. Karen is an alum of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she won the Sidney Hillman Award for Social Justice Reporting.
Donziger Sentenced to Six Months For Contempt Related to Chevron-Ecuador Case

Donziger Sentenced to Six Months For Contempt Related to Chevron-Ecuador Case

A federal judge has sentenced human rights attorney Steven Donziger to six months in prison for criminal contempt in relation to a $9 billion judgment he helped win against Chevron for pollution left behind in the Ecuadorian Amazon. 

Over the years, Donziger showed an “astonishing disrespect for the law and rule of the court,” U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Preska said during a sentencing hearing held Friday in Manhattan.

“Only the proverbial two by four between the eyes will instill in him any respect for the law,” the judge added. 

Preska denied Donziger’s request for post-sentencing bail pending his conviction appeal, but has allowed him to remain on house arrest for one week, while his legal team appeals her bail denial. If the bail appeal is denied, Donziger will await the results of his conviction appeal behind bars.

Donziger was found guilty by Preska in July on six counts of criminal contempt stemming from his work with the Indigenous and small farming communities in Ecuador, which are still dealing with oil pollution. 

The 2011 Ecuadorian judgement was upheld by all levels of that country’s judiciary, however, Chevron has long-maintained the award was won through fraud and corruption. US District court judge Lewis A. Kaplan in 2014 agreed and banned Donziger from profiting from collection of the award. 

Chevron later suspected Donziger was violating that ban and asked Kaplan to investigate. The judge ordered Donziger to comply with several post-judgement discovery orders, including the demand that he hand over his computer and cell phone to the court, along with any communications related to the case.

Donziger argued that the request violated attorney-client privilege and potentially endangered the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, and refused to hand over his devices pending an appeal of the order. Chevron then requested Kaplan charge Donziger with civil …

Indigenous Water Protectors, Allies Protesting Line 3 First Ever To Be Cited under Obscure County Ordinance in Minnesota

Indigenous Water Protectors, Allies Protesting Line 3 First Ever To Be Cited under Obscure County Ordinance in Minnesota

Opponents to Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline expansion project in Minnesota have filed a lawsuit against Hubbard County for blockading access to an Indigenous-led camp and convergence space.

In the suit, which was filed Friday in Hubbard County District Court, Winona LaDuke, Tara Houska, and two additional plaintiffs allege that the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office illegally blockaded the camp driveway last month and is continuing to issue citations to Indigenous water protectors and their allies for using the driveway. 

They are the first and only individuals ever to be cited for allegedly violating county ordinance #36, which went into effect in 2007, according to public records obtained by Drilled News. The ordinance prohibits vehicular use on certain county-owned land without the county’s permission. 

The citations raise questions about whether the sheriff’s department is selectively enforcing the law, and about the financial arrangement Enbridge has with Minnesota law enforcement. 

The Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office is a member of the Northern Lights Task Force a coalition of state and local law enforcement and public safety agencies created to respond to pipeline resistance. 

The task force was assembled in 2018 to “coordinate planning, resources and response” to Line 3 construction and possible protests. Members include law enforcement agencies from 15 Minnesota counties near and along the pipeline route, as well as the Fond du Lac Reservation. 

Records indicate Minnesota officials sought out advice from North Dakota law enforcement officials in the wake of mass resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline, where counter-terrorism tactics were used against Indigenous water protectors, their allies, and journalists.

To date, Enbridge has paid over $1 million to law enforcement and other Minnesota agencies for pipeline protection through an escrow account funded by the company and managed by a state-appointed administrator.

The account was set up last year as …

“Like a War on the Environment” —Texaco’s 30 Years in Ecuador

“Like a War on the Environment” —Texaco’s 30 Years in Ecuador

There is one core allegation at the center of the decades-long court fight by Indigenous Ecuadorians for environmental justice: That to save money, Texaco (later acquired by Chevron) deliberately dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into hundreds of uncovered, unlined pits that now dot over a million acres.

Texaco has admitted to dumping 15.8 billion gallons.

Better technology might have prevented some of the subsequent environmental contamination from those pits, but Texaco chose not to use it.

Oil in its natural state is trapped underground and surrounded by water. During extraction, the water — referred to as production, waste, or formation water — rises to the surface with the oil. This waste water is salty and often mixed with oil, naturally occurring radioactive material, and other chemicals. It’s highly toxic, and must be handled and disposed of with caution.

In the U.S., stretching back decades to the 1970s, regulators require that drilling waste water be re-injected into the ground, where it is less likely to harm people or the environment. Texacos’s 1960s-era drilling predates that requirement, but at a minimum, as Tim Lagonegro, a geologist who spent more than 30 years consulting for oil companies, put it: “They had tarps back then, too.”

But in Ecuador, where there were no regulators making similar demands, Texaco saved billions by dumping its oily waste into unlined pits and leaving it there. The company dug these pits wherever it was most convenient. Sometimes those sites were next to homes, adjacent to drinking water wells, and uphill from rivers and streams local residents relied on for bathing and fishing.

Judith Kimerling, a former New York assistant attorney general who helped prosecute Occidental in the 1970s for its contamination of Love Canal, says what happened in Ecuador is appalling.

“I thought that …

Oil Industry Links in Donziger Contempt Trial

Oil Industry Links in Donziger Contempt Trial

Just a few years ago, human rights attorney Steven Donziger was traveling from New York City to a tiny oil town in the Ecuadorian rainforest about twice a month, as part of a team working with a group of Ecuadorians to sue Chevron over toxic waste pits in the Amazon.

This November, the outcome of a New York-based criminal trial will determine whether Donziger — who eventually helped the Ecuadorians win an $18 billion dollar judgement against Chevron in the Ecuadorian courts (since reduced to $9.5 billion) — will spend time in prison himself. In response to a request from Donziger’s legal team, the private legal team appointed by a federal judge to prosecute Donziger, disclosed a link between their firm and Chevron.

Drilled News has uncovered another link between the firm, Seward & Kissel, and the oil industry: The husband of lead prosecutor Rita Glavin, Matthew S. Amatruda, who recently worked for ExxonMobil.

While Exxon is not a part of the Ecuador case, Chevron and Exxon are co-defendants in dozens of climate change-related lawsuits filed by municipalities across the United States.

Dave LaBahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys said he sees no conflict for Glavin related to Amatruda’s work for Exxon.

“He works for another company, so I think that really cleanses it,” said LaBahn.

Conflicts could potentially only arise if Amatruda worked for Chevron, or if Exxon were involved in the Donziger case, he said.

Seward & Kissel, which has handled the prosecution of Donziger since 2019, disclosed in March that it has represented Chevron as recently as 2018.

Documents obtained by Courthouse News show that through the end of May, the firm billed taxpayers nearly $260,000 for its prosecution of Donziger, a total that is likely now much higher.

Donziger’s attempts to get the case …

Climate Liability Cases Score a Win with 9th Circuit Decision to Keep Them in State Court

Climate Liability Cases Score a Win with 9th Circuit Decision to Keep Them in State Court

Six California municipalities scored crucial wins on Tuesday when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent their climate liability suits against several fossil fuel companies back to state court, rejecting the companies’ arguments that the cases belong in federal court.

The 9th Circuit is the second appellate court to rule that climate-related lawsuits brought by municipalities across the country belong in state court. The 4th Circuit ruled earlier this year that a case filed by Baltimore against more than two dozen fossil fuel producers and distributors belongs in state court. The 10th Circuit is currently considering whether a suit filed by three Colorado communities belongs in state or federal court, and the 1st Circuit is reviewing the issue in a case filed by Rhode Island.

“I think a lot of plaintiffs were watching very carefully to see what happened in the 9th Circuit to see how this question of jurisdiction was resolved,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.

The battle over jurisdiction — whether these cases belong in state or federal court — has been hotly contested. Fossil fuel companies are arguing for them to be heard in federal court, where the firms generally have had better success getting them dismissed. Municipalities want to keep them in state court, where the majority of the cases have been filed, and the plaintiffs expect to have better luck.

“With the 9th Circuit holding in favor of tort and nuisance claims based on state law, it’s really going to open the door to lots of other public plaintiffs that may be considering similar suits,” Muffett said.

Suits filed by Honolulu, King County in Washington state, and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a trade association of West Coast fishermen, have been on hold pending the 9th …

SEC Orders Exxon to Let Shareholders Vote on a Climate Denier’s Resolution

SEC Orders Exxon to Let Shareholders Vote on a Climate Denier’s Resolution

The Securities and Exchange Commission, for the second year running, has allowed Chevron and ExxonMobil to bar shareholder resolutions calling on the firms to fully disclose how they are working to curb their contributions to climate change.

But in their March 23 announcement, federal financial regulators approved an Exxon shareholder resolution sponsored by a noted climate skeptic, which calls for the firm to do a “greenwashing audit”

The shareholder behind the proposal is Steven J. Milloy, a longtime conservative lobbyist and political operative who publishes JunkScience.com, a website that attacks established climate science.

Following the 2016 election, Milloy — who authored a book that year titled “Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix the EPA” — worked on then-President-elect Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team.

Milloy said he introduced the shareholder proposal in order to learn how much Exxon has spent on what he claims are “dishonest” public relations and advertising campaigns that portray the firm as “doing something on climate.” He has proposed similar resolutions in the past.

“Greenwashing is meant to protect management,” said Milloy. “They can go out in public and try to claim they’re doing something. It’s all just posing, they’re just posers, pretending they’re doing something on climate.”

Milloy, who E&E News reporter Scott Waldman described in 2018 as consistently “taking discredited positions for two decades” on the science behind public health and environmental regulations regarding air pollution, secondhand smoke, and climate change, said that if Exxon believed climate change was real, it would have acted by now to curb the firm’s contributions to the problem.

In 2015, InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times published investigations documenting how Exxon and other oil majors invested millions of dollars in public messaging campaigns promoting doubt about climate science in order to delay climate action, despite having …

Oil Companies Appeal to Supreme Court in Baltimore Climate Case

Oil Companies Appeal to Supreme Court in Baltimore Climate Case

Attorneys for ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP, along with nearly two dozen other fossil fuel companies named in a climate damages suit by the city of Baltimore, have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a March decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to keep the case in state court.

Baltimore Acting City Solicitor Dana P. Moore said in a statement that she was “disappointed” that the oil and gas firms “continue to do or say anything to avoid accountability” for decades of misleading the public about climate change in order to delay climate action. “After raking in trillions of dollars in profits for themselves in just the past 30 years, they now expect Baltimore’s taxpayers to pay the enormous costs for the climate change damage the corporations knowingly caused.” Her office has 30 days to respond to the appeal.

The question of jurisdiction — whether the proper venue for a case is state or federal court — has been a hotly contested issue in climate liability suits. The outcome of this appeal could have widespread ramifications for communities across the country attempting to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for worsening climate change.

Most of the suits have been filed in state courts, and allege violations of state law. But fossil fuel companies have typically tried to move them to federal court, where precedents set in an earlier wave of climate lawsuits found that the Clean Air Act took precedence over state or local liability claims.

In March, the 4th Circuit became the first appellate court to weigh in directly on the jurisdiction question, ruling that Baltimore’s case belonged in state court, where it was originally filed in 2018. The 1st, 9th, and 10th Circuit Courts have also heard arguments about jurisdiction in …

Montana Youth Sue State for Promoting Fossil Fuels

Montana Youth Sue State for Promoting Fossil Fuels

Sixteen young Montanans have accused the state and its governor of violating their rights under the state constitution to a clean and healthy environment, by supporting a fossil fuel-driven energy system that contributes to climate change.

In a lawsuit filed on March 13 in the First Judicial District Court of Lewis and Clark County, lawyers for the young plaintiffs, who range from 2 to 18 years old, have asked the court to declare that Montana’s energy policies violate the state’s constitution. They also want the court to order the state to prepare a detailed assessment of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, and to develop a science-based plan to reduce those emissions.

“Allowing emissions to continue unabated is utterly irrational,” Shiloh Hernandez, a staff attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center and co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a press release. “Montana is already suffering the lashes of climate change: higher temperatures, less snowpack, lower summer stream flows, worsening droughts, heatwaves, larger and longer wildfires and choking smoke waves, widespread forest die-offs, and decreased agriculture and tourism,” Hernandez added.

Lead plaintiff Rikki Held. (Credit: Our Children's Trust)
Lead plaintiff Rikki Held. (Credit: Our Children’s Trust)

The lead plaintiff in the case, Held et al. v. State of Montana et al., is 18-year-old Rikki Held, whose family has lived in the state for five generations.

“Our government knows the devastating effects of fossil fuels and must take action to protect the land that my family and fellow Montanans rely upon and hope to conserve for future generations,” Held said in a press release.

Other co-counsel for the youth plaintiffs include Nate Bellinger, a senior staff attorney with the nonprofit environmental law group Our Children’s Trust, and Roger Sullivan, a senior partner at McGarvey Law.

The state of Montana, along with Gov.Steve Bullock and several state regulatory departments, are …