Ari Hershowitz or Elliott Negin, 202-289-6868
NRDC Requests Documentation of U.S. Pressure on Costa Rica to Allow Offshore Oil Drilling
WASHINGTON, DC (June 7, 2002) -- Just days before Costa Rica's newly elected president, Abel Pacheco, plans to meet with President Bush, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) warned that there are unconfirmed reports that the Bush administration is pressuring Pacheco to reverse his stand on banning offshore oil drilling. Today, NRDC filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents from any meetings between State Department officials and Costa Rican officials or oil industry representatives on this issue.
In his inaugural address in early May, Pacheco declared "peace with nature" and rejected basing his country's economic future on offshore oil drilling and large-scale mining. Instead, he plans to develop ecotourism and protect his country's environment. (For more information, see May 13, 2002, press release.) Pacheco will meet with President Bush between June 10 and 12 in Washington.
"President Pacheco is charting the right course for his country, but we fear that the Bush administration wants to revive the United States' traditional role in the region as a bully," said Jacob Scherr, director of NRDC's International Program. "Sources in Costa Rica have told us that the U.S. embassy there has been putting pressure on the new Pacheco government to open its coast to U.S. oil companies."
Like Florida, Costa Rica's economy is dependent on tourism, and oil drilling would pose a significant threat, Scherr added. "The Bush administration made the right decision when it backed off drilling near Florida. It should do the same in Costa Rica."
The day before Pacheco took office, Costa Rica's outgoing environmental minister, Elizabeth Odio, denied an appeal by two U.S. oil companies to allow oil drilling near Talamanca off the country's Caribbean coast. The election of Pacheco, who had consistently opposed offshore drilling, appeared to have killed any prospects to resuscitate the project.
But the U.S. State Department, apparently working on behalf of the two oil companies, MKJ-Xplorations of Louisiana and Harken Energy of Houston, allegedly is trying to change Pacheco's mind. It should be noted that President Bush is a former Harken board member.
"Oil companies should not be determining U.S. foreign policy, let alone our domestic policy," said Scherr. NRDC recently won the court-ordered release of thousands of documents from Vice President Cheney's energy task force showing that oil companies drafted many key proposals in the administration's energy policy.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
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