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Joe Nocera

Chevron’s Longtime Nemesis Hits the End of the Road

The plucky lawyer taking on the big corporation isn’t always in the right.

He just keeps going.

He just keeps going.

Photographer: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP/Getty Images

Corporations are easy to hate. They are big, they are impersonal, and they operate by profit-driven rules that can sometimes seem cruel. When corporations are accused of wrongdoing by a community led by a plucky plaintiffs lawyer, there is a natural tendency to believe the latter over the former.

Chevron Corp., which is ranked 13th on the Fortune 500 and had $128 billion in 2017 revenue, has the added burden of being an oil company. There are those, like the influential environmental activist Bill McKibben, who believe that what oil companies do is inherently evil: Extracting fossil fuel from the ground is an activity that can only accelerate climate change. But even those on the left who are not as hard-line as McKibben tend to view oil companies more as entities that cause oil spills and fund right-wing think tanks than as the producers of the fuel that keeps the world economy churning.