The ‘Green Nobel Prize’

Apr 14, 2008 1:17pm

Rosa Hilda Ramos, say her admirers, took on the polluters and won.  She’s a local activist in Puerto Rico, in Cataño, a low-income section of San Juan.  Today she will be cited as one of the six winners of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prizes, sometimes described as the ‘Green Nobel Prize.’  The award, in her case, is $150,000, though she’s apparently unlikely to keep the money for herself. Cataño is reported by the EPA to have the highest rates of cancer and respiratory disease in Puerto Rico, and environmental groups blamed PREPA, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.  After her mother died of cancer in 1990, Ms. Ramos formed an activist group and brought suit against the power company. Eventually the EPA stepped in, and after a long legal battle, PREPA paid $7 million in fines.  Ms. Ramos lobbied the EPA to take the money and use it to protect a nearby wetland — valuable as open space in an industrial area, and as a natural buffer against the threat of flooding. The Goldman prizes, awarded annually since 1990, come from a foundation set up by Richard Goldman and his late wife Rhoda (she was a descendant of Levi Strauss, the blue jeans maker).  Of course, the environmental crusaders cited by the Goldman foundation are less than appreciated by the companies with which they did battle; witness the case of two other winners, Pablo Fajardo and Luis Yanza, from Ecuador.  They did battle with Texaco, which they alleged spilled 17 million gallons of oil into waterways and soild in the Ecuadorian Amazon from 1964 to 1990. Texaco has since been bought by Chevron, which has a posted its side of the argument HERE, and issued a statement objecting to the award: "Chevron regrets that the organizers of the Goldman Environmental Prize were skillfully misled into naming Mr. Fajardo and Mr. Yanza as prize winners. "While both Mr. Fajardo and Mr. Yanza are being lauded as environmental crusaders, the truth is their actions have protected the culprit — state-owned oil company Petroecuador. They have even tried to block clean up efforts and extended miserable conditions for those they say they are defending. "These two men have twisted the facts in a legal case waged against Chevron for pure financial gain. Fictitious claims of cancer made by their associates have been thrown out of Federal Court in San Francisco. Mr. Fajardo and Mr. Yanza are ignoring the ongoing pollution in Ecuador by Petroecuador and are using it to seek billions of dollars in damages for decades ago operations in the region by Texaco Petroleum. Chevron became a convenient but unjust lawsuit target after it acquired Texaco in 2001." (Photo above of Ms. Ramos by Tom Dusenbery for the Goldman Prize.)

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