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Chevron Fined $8 Billion for Polluting the Amazon in History-Making Case

Amazon rainforest

BP isn't the only oil company in recent months to get slapped with steep cleanup costs for environmental pollution. This week, Chevron was fined $8 billion for dumping over 18 billion gallons of toxic, carcinogenic materials into both Amazon rivers and unlined pits between 1972 and 1992.

The 18 year-old lawsuit, brought on by 30,000 Ecuadorians, charged Chevron with destroying parts of the rainforest, increasing cancer rates among locals, destroying crops, and killing animals. Originally filed in New York, the case was moved to Ecuador after Chevron lobbied to have it heard in the country where the pollution supposedly occurred. And while the case slogged through the courts, Chevron continued to deny any wrongdoing, even setting up a website to plead its innocence.

According to the company, it already cleaned up its mess. "The Ecuadorian court's judgment is illegitimate and unenforceable," Chevron noted in a statement. "It is the product of fraud and is contrary to the legitimate scientific evidence. Chevron will appeal this decision in Ecuador and intends to see that justice prevails."

But here's the thing. It doesn't matter whether Chevron appeals—or even whether the appeal succeeds. This is already the the second largest judgment in an environmental damage case (first is BP's Deepwater Horizon $20 billion settlement fund). And most importantly, it happened in Ecuador.

"Today’s case is historic and unprecedented. It is the first time Indigenous people have sued a multinational corporation in the country where the crime was committed and won," said Amazon Watch and the Rainforest Action Network in a statement.

Oil companies can no longer pollute with abandon in developing countries and expect to avoid consequences. Environmental pollution is now just as important in the Amazon as it is off the Gulf Coast. In case oil giants didn't know this before: the world is watching you.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Ariel Schwartz can be reached by email.