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Justice in the Environment

Jim Boyce of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst talks about the new report, Justice in the Air. It looks at EPA data showing that the toxins spewing from company smokestacks hit minorities and the poor hardest. And Leslie Lowe of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility talks about Chevron’s refusal to disclose the $27 billion liability it faces in a court case happening in the Amazonian rainforests of Ecuador. The company is accused of dumping toxic oil byproducts from years of drilling, damaging the environment and the health of residents.

Sea Change Radio Co-Host Bill Baue recently spoke with Justice in the Air lead author Jim Boyce in the WMUA studios at the University of Massachusetts. Boyce explains how the report builds on PERI’s work in the Corporate Toxics Information Project for the past several years compiling the Toxic 100 – the top 100 corporate air polluters in the US. This year, with the help of the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California, the project added an environmental justice component, looking at the impact of pollution on the poor, and people of color.

Boyce distinguishes between environmental justice and traditional environmentalism, which does not take social justice or racism into account. He also explains how the report slices and dices the data by race and income, as well as by state and municipalities. He also discusses the “TRI Effect” (referring to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory), where the very act of disclosure leads to companies reducing their toxic emissions without further regulation — though he acknowledges the limits of this effect, and therefore the need for stronger regulation.

Leslie Lowe runs the energy and environment program at ICCR, a coalition of 300 faith-based institutional investors with over $100 billion in assets that conducts shareowner action. In other words, they talk with companies on improving environmental, social, and governance performance. And when talks stall, they file shareowner resolutions, airing the issue at annual shareholder meetings. Almost a half-decade ago, Bill Baue interviewed Leslie for a series of articles on Chevron failing to disclose to investors the risks it faces from a lawsuit over environmental and human health damages in the Ecuadorian rainforest (Chevron issued a statement responding to this article on its website on the Ecuador case.)

Bill Baue caught up with Lowe on the day Chevron hosted its annual general meeting, where it faced a resolution asking it to disclose more information on the risks it faces from this lawsuit. She provides background on the case before discussing more recent developments, such as New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo sending a letter to Chevron asking them to clarify the financial risks of the case in Ecuador. As well, major mainstream investment and research firms are expressing concern. Barclay’s called the Ecuador case a “drag” on Chevron’s stock value, Oppenheimer said the case “could depress the stock until a settlement is reached,” and RiskMetrics urged the company to disclose more details of the potential $27 billion environmental liability.

Lowe also discusses the Jekyll-and-Hyde aspect of Chevron’s agreement to track and report on the carbon content of its product, prompting the ICCR members who filed a resolution seeking such disclosure to withdraw it. While this provided some daylight for concerned shareowners, the annual meeting saw intense pressure from investors on the Ecuador issue.

Disclosure: Leslie Lowe serves on the Sea Change Advisory Board, and Sea Change Media is producing a podcast series for ICCR on its history.

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