WASHINGTON - July 14 - A Texas environmental attorney was paid about $200,000 by Formosa Plastics over ten years while he was fighting on behalf of the environment and the public interest to get the petrochemical giant to stop polluting Lavaca Bay - which sits mid-way between Corpus Christi and Galveston on the Texas Gulf Coast, according to an article in the current issue of Corporate Crime Reporter.
Houston attorney James Blackburn is one of a handful of attorneys that Texas activists can turn to fight off big polluters.
In the early 1990s, shrimper Diane Wilson called Blackburn for help.
Wilson, a mother of five who lives in Seadrift, Texas on Lavaca Bay, was interested in putting a halt to the petrochemical pollution of her bay and her community.
Throughout the 1990s, Wilson battled the multinational petrochemical company with lawsuits, press releases, hunger strikes, civil disobedience - she's been to jail 13 times - and an attempt to sink her own shrimp boat.
In 1992, following one of her hunger strikes against the Taiwan-based company, and with Blackburn at her side, Wilson and Formosa agreed to what she believed would be a pathbreaking settlement with Formosa - an agreement that would allow activists to name monitors at the facility and that would allow workers at the facility to organize unions free of corporate intimidation.
But only a few days after shaking hands over this agreement with Formosa, the company reneged.
And as a result, Blackburn and Wilson had a falling out.
But instead of dropping the case, Blackburn decided to negotiate a deal between himself and Formosa.
And he did.
Wilson said that the deal was signed in Austin Texas in 1992, in front of television cameras.
What was generally not known at the time about the fight between the environmentalists and Formosa was that Blackburn was being paid by Formosa.
Also not generally known at the time was that Wilson was so distraught by the deal, that she tried to kill herself by downing two bottles of sleeping pills. The sleeping pills made it hard for her to breathe, but they didn't kill her.
The historic fight over Lavaca Bay is detailed by Wilson in her new book - An Unreasonable Woman: The True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas (Chelsea Green, 2005).
The book is scheduled to hit bookstores in late August.
In an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter, Wilson said that she has sold film rights to her story to filmmaker Robert Greenwald.
Andie MacDowell is penciled in to play Wilson.
Who will play Blackburn?
"I don't know. I've always told him it's going to be Danny DeVito." (For a complete transcript of the interview with Wilson, see 19 Corporate Crime Reporter 29(1) pages 8 to 16, July 18, 2005, print edition only).
Blackburn told Corporate Crime Reporter this week that he was never paid by Formosa while he was representing Wilson - that he negotiated the payments only after he had severed his relationship with her and other environmental groups.
Blackburn said that about half of the payments were filtered through environmental groups - like the Galveston Bay Conservation and Preservation Association.
"Rather than bill Formosa, I made pro bono donations to Formosa," Blackburn said. "In exchange, Formosa made donations to environmental groups, for which I had done pro bono work. And the environmental groups would then pay me."
The other half of the payments went directly from Formosa to Blackburn for his work as the "public interest" member of Formosa's technical review commission - a commission that grew out of one of the agreements that Blackburn negotiated with Formosa.
When asked why he didn't just do all of the work pro bono, Blackburn responded - "I was broke."
"There are limits to pro bono," Blackburn said. "That was the whole reason."
Blackburn and Wilson still consider each other friends, although they have differing views of the net effect of the agreements with Formosa.
Wilson generally sees the battle as lost, with Formosa still using the bay as its private dumping ground.
Blackburn says that much progress has been made in cleaning up Formosa's operations. He says that the agreements are among the best he has been involved in and have led to 35 to 40 percent reduction in wastewater from the facility. He hopes that the agreements will eventually lead to zero discharge from the facility.
In the interview with Corporate Crime Reporter, Wilson said that Formosa officials liked Blackburn more than they liked her.
Wilson wanted to fight and win. Blackburn wanted to compromise, she said.
"Formosa was real friendly with him," Wilson said. "They liked him. I used to get furious. They always went through Blackburn. They never went through me. And this is one of my big gripes. It's not just an environmental thing. It's not just about people's lifestyles. It had to do with just being a working class woman out there. Formosa did not like going through me at all."
Wilson's fall book tour might have to be postponed.
She was convicted last year of criminal trespass for climbing a fence outside of a Union Carbide facility in Seadrift to protest the company's activities in Bhopal, India.
If an appellate court doesn't overturn the ruling, she is scheduled to serve four to six months in prison - perhaps beginning as soon as this month.