A Boulder scientist accused of conspiring to fudge data in support of landmark litigation over oil drilling in the Amazon has pulled out of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conference in Denver this week amid a challenge to her credibility, including charges her research is tainted by an activist agenda.
Ann Maest, a geochemist and prominent environmental consultant featured in the controversial 2009 documentary, “Crude,” about the battle over drilling in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador, was going to make a presentation Wednesday at an EPA conference on hardrock mining but now will be replaced by a colleague from a Boulder consulting firm with which she is affiliated.
Citing allegations from a federal racketeering lawsuit filed last year against Maest and the consulting firm as well others involved in the Amazon litigation, Maest’s critics have launched a national campaign against her planned appearance at the Denver EPA gathering.
Some of those critics still are planning to protest Wednesday’s event at the Renaissance Denver Hotel in northeast Denver despite Maest’s absence from the dais. The pro-growth advocacy group Americans for Prosperity-Colorado has announced it is organizing a noon rally at the conference site against the EPA’s “regulators and biased scientists,” which it accuses of killing jobs.
“Ann Maest and Stratus Consulting are poster children for the kind of questionable, agenda-driven science that federal regulators and their green allies outside government use to block energy production, increase consumer costs, kill jobs and smother the American economy,” the group’s director, Jeff Crank, said in a statement released for the event.
Conference organizers confirmed late last week that Maest had been replaced but were vague about the reasons for the switch as well as about who had initiated it. An event planner helping put on the conference said Maest “called and said she was not able to participate” but acknowledged “there have been discussions about her participation” in the wake of the campaign to dump her. An EPA official co-chairing the conference said Maest’s name was on an earlier draft agenda but contended that her colleague at Boulder-based Stratus Consulting, who will take her place, rightly should have been the one to attend the conference all along because he is principal author of the work that was going to be presented. The EPA’s David Reisman contends it was “through some confusion” that Maest’s name appeared on the earlier draft agenda.
Yet, Reisman also acknowledged his office had received emails from those urging the agency to dump Maest from the program.
“I did see one or two of a hundred that went to my laboratory director,” he said.
Maest did not respond to requests for a comment.
Both Maest and Stratus, among numerous others, were named in the racketeering suit filed in February 2011 by Chevron Corp., which in turn is being sued by Ecuadorean and U.S. activist groups alleging environmental contamination of the Amazon by former U.S. oil company Texaco Petroleum Corp. Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001.
The American legal team suing Chevron includes Maest and Stratus as environmental experts and is accused in the energy company’s filing in U.S. District Court in New York of colluding with key players to concoct its case and inflate its multibillion-dollar claim for damages.
The documentary “Crude” in part chronicles the class-action suit against Chevron; the film was criticized by the company as biased in favor of the plaintiffs. Chevron asked the court to compel filmmaker Joe Berlinger to turn over outtakes edited from the movie, and the request eventually was granted after much controversy in its own right. Among the insights that turned up in the excised footage was a lunch meeting in a restaurant in which Maest and lead lawyer Steven Donziger, among others, appear to agree they don’t have evidence of broader groundwater contamination but essentially would bluff their way through because, in Donziger’s words, “this is Ecuador.”
In its racketeering suit last year, Chevron alleges the same legal team conspired to extort the company. Those allegations, as reported in the New York Times:
…center on the actions of an independent expert, Richard Cabrera, who was hired by the Ecuadorean court to conduct a study of the alleged environmental damage.
Chevron claims that the plaintiffs had lobbied for Cabrera’s appointment, but more serious for Stratus is the evidence that Cabrera based a lot of his conclusions on Stratus’ findings.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, who is presiding over the racketeering case, noted in one of his opinions not just that Cabrera’s report was based on Stratus’ work, but that Stratus later endorsed the Cabrera report in a press release issued by the plaintiffs.
Emails obtained by Chevron “confirm that Stratus drafted substantial portions of the Cabrera report,” Kaplan wrote.
Stratus has denied the allegations through its attorneys as well as through postings on its website and points to its “stellar reputation for the excellence and scientific quality” of its consulting work over the years to an array of public entities.
Among the critics challenging Maest’s appearance at the Denver EPA conference is the group Resourceful Earth, which recently launched an e-mail campaign denouncing Maest and the EPA. The campaign asserts that Maest’s planned appearance, …”proves that the agency has chosen to cast its lot with radicals who aren’t interested in the truth or science, but are interested only in shutting down natural resource extraction in the United States.”
The Colorado Public Advocate is an independent, nonpartisan news service covering issues of public interest throughout the state