Corporate Violence as Crime

by Rena Steinzor | January 09, 2015

A year ago, about 300,000 people in and around Charleston, West Virginia, lost their drinking water source when thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical known as MCHM (4-methylcyclohexanemethanol) leaked into the nearby Elk River through a hole in a rusted-out storage tank. Last month, the wheels of justice began to catch up with the owners of the responsible company when they were indicted by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.  Coincidentally, the West Virginia indictments came down on the same day that the Justice Department charged 14 people in Massachusetts for their role in producing and distributing meningitis-tainted steroid injections that killed 64 people.

The same-day indictments framed a question business leaders would do well to contemplate: When do corporations and their executives cross the line between unavoidable human error and preventable criminal misconduct? Prosecutors seem increasingly ready to push reckless management to the criminal side of the line as one corporate fiasco after another claims lives and causes hugely expensive damage to communities and local economies.

Under American law, criminal prosecutions serve dual, mutually reinforcing purposes: they both punish and deter. Yet until recently, prosecutors have been excessively cautious about defining routine industrial behavior as a guilty act that triggers criminal culpability. Defense lawyers work hard to preserve this status quo, arguing that drugs are contaminated inadvertently, chemical spills are unavoidable, and in cases of deadly but preventable defects in automobiles, cars sometimes don’t work. In other ...

Modernization? The Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015 Adds 74 New Steps to the Rule-Making Process

by Erin Kesler | January 09, 2015
This week, House Republicans re-introduced the “Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015,” (H.R. 185). Proponents of the bill are claiming that it would “modernize” the rule-making process and streamline government inefficiencies. In fact, the RAA would bog down attempts by federal agencies to protect our health, safety and environment in red tape by adding over 74 new requirements to the rule-making process, including over 29 new “documentation” requirements.  Center for Progressive Reform Senior Analyst James Goodwin compiled a list of all the potential ...

Obama’s Path to Progress: Preventing Train Derailments

by Matt Shudtz | December 23, 2014
We are closing out the “Path to Progress” series for this year with a potential bright spot. In its Fall 2014 Regulatory Agenda, the Obama Administration set a target date of March 2015 for finalizing new rules designed to prevent and minimize the consequences of derailments in trains carrying crude oil and other highly hazardous materials. If the Department of Transportation is able to accomplish that feat, it would beat even our own proposed schedule—a welcome achievement. We are looking ...

CPR President Rena Steinzor Reacts to Final Coal Ash Rule

by Erin Kesler | December 19, 2014
Today, the EPA announced national standards governing coal waste from coal-fired power plants, also known as coal ash. The rule does not treat coal ash as a hazardous material, but as household garbage. CPR President and University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor reacted to the classification: It's bitterly disappointing that the electric utility industry, which earns profits hand over fist, has succeeded in bamboozling the White House to gut this rule.  Originally designed by EPA to prevent fatalities, injuries, and grave long-term damage to the public's health, ...

Electronic Reporting Requirements: A No-Brainer

by Anne Havemann | December 18, 2014
The main tool available to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit the amount of pollution discharged into the nation’s waterways is a system of permits issued to polluters that restricts how much they may discharge. This permitting scheme, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), requires permittees to monitor their operations and report back to the EPA or an approved state environmental agency. On those data rest EPA’s ability to enforce the terms of the permits, and thus control pollution ...

OSHA Urged to Pick up Its Pen for Poultry Workers

by Matt Shudtz | December 17, 2014
Today, Nebraska Appleseed, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and several allied organizations sent a letter to OSHA requesting a response to their petition for a rulemaking on work speed in poultry and meatpacking plants. The groups originally submitted the petition to OSHA over a year ago, and it’s been radio silence ever since. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of workers, most low-income and socially vulnerable, continue to work in conditions that lead to crippling musculoskeletal disorders. The workers’ advocates who submitted ...

Steinzor Reacts to Indictments in West Virginia Chemical Spill Case

by Rena Steinzor | December 17, 2014
CPR President Rena Steinzor issued the following statement in response to today's announcement that a grand jury had indicted owners and managers of Freedom Industries in connection with the massive leak of 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MHCM) that fouled the Elk River and triggered a drinking water ban for 300,000 residents earlier this year: Booth Goodwin continues to distinguish himself as a tough prosecutor who is willing to use the law to punish and deter those who threaten public health.  Because this harsh ...

Why Not Jail?

by Matt Shudtz | December 16, 2014
When 29 miners died at Upper Big Branch or 11 workers died on the Deepwater Horizon, when 64 people died from tainted steroids, or when hundreds got Salmonella poisoning from peanut butter, did you ask yourself, 'Why not send the people responsible to jail?' You're not the only one. In her new book, Why Not Jail: Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction, CPR President Rena Steinzor asks the same question and concludes: The criminal justice system is as important ...

Obama’s Path to Progress: Will the White House Compel Rich Utilities to Clean Up Giant Coal Ash Pits?

by Rena Steinzor | December 15, 2014
We’ll soon learn the results of White House deliberations over EPA’s long-delayed coal ash rule, one of the Essential 13 regulatory initiatives we’ve called upon President Barack Obama to complete before he leaves office.  Under the terms of a consent decree, EPA is required to issue its new rule by Friday, December 19. As glad as we are to see this phase of the rule’s tortuous odyssey come to a close, we suspect that court, not a victory party, will ...

Maryland’s Phosphorus-Laden Farms: One More Reason for the EPA to Get Back to Work on a Comprehensive CAFO Rule

by Anne Havemann | December 12, 2014
[Under an] Obama Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency will strictly monitor and regulate pollution from large [industrial animal farms], with fines for those who violate tough air and water quality standards. —Sen. Barack Obama, 2008 The animal farms to which then-candidate Obama was referring are known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and they house tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of chickens per flock. The ballooning popularity of these factory farms—at least with industry—means they now raise more than ...

Media Advisory: CPR and the University of Maryland Carey School of Law to Co-Host a Luncheon with Maryland Attorney General-Elect Brian Frosh on Environmental Enforcement

by Erin Kesler | December 10, 2014
Contact: Erin Kesler                                     Email: ekesler@progressivereform.org Telephone: (202) 747-0698 X4 What: CPR and the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law will host a luncheon and Q&A session with MD Attorney General-elect Brian Frosh on the state of environmental enforcement in the Chesapeake Bay. Mr. Frosh will speak to a group of Bay advocates, University of Maryland faculty, attorneys at firms that represent Maryland businesses, ...

CPR's Steinzor Reacts to Maryland Governor-Elect Larry Hogan's Vow to Fight the PMT

by Erin Kesler | December 08, 2014
At the Maryland Farm Bureau's Annual Convention today, Maryland Governor-Elect Larry Hogan vowed to fight against the state's proposed phosphorus management tool (PMT) regulations. CPR President and University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor reacted to Hogan's comments, "It’s truly a shame that Governor-elect Hogan is indicating so early that he is willing to jeopardize the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay by rejecting pollution controls out of hand rather than working with scientists to improve them.  As the Governor-elect will soon discover, ...

New Map Plots Farmer-Reported Data to Show “Excessive” Soil Phosphorus Levels at All But One of 60 Large Poultry Farms in Six Eastern Shore Counties Due to Manure Usage

by Anne Havemann | December 08, 2014
Without Better Phosphorus Management on Farms, Maryland Will Not Meet its Responsibility Under the Chesapeake Bay Pollution Diet A new interactive map from the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) and the Chesapeake Commons demonstrates that all but one industrial-scale chicken farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore reported having at least one field saturated with “excessive” soil phosphorus from the spreading of manure. The data on the 60 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in six counties was obtained from public planning documents from the ...

Victor Flatt in the Houston Chronicle: Pollution trading could allow more efficient water cleanup

by Erin Kesler | December 08, 2014
Recent stories about "dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay are a reminder that despite progress on some water pollution fronts, we still have a serious problem to address. One politically popular approach to addressing the problem is a market-based solution, in which hard-to-regulate "non-point" pollution sources (farming, run-off, other sources without a "pollution pipe") and point sources engage in pollution-credit trades. So, for example, an industrial polluter might pay farmers to control run-off of fertilizer, ...

Obama’s Path to Progress: Protecting our Nation’s Lakes and Streams from Pollutant-Laden Stormwater Runoff

by Anne Havemann | December 05, 2014
This week and next, CPR is using this space to highlight several key regulatory safeguards meant to ensure that the nation’s rivers, lakes, and streams are protected from damaging pollution—rules that are currently under development by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and included in our recent Issue Alert, Barack Obama’s Path to Progress in 2015-16: Thirteen Essential Regulatory Actions. Today’s post will highlight the pressing need to rein in stormwater pollution, while also examining some of the challenges the EPA must overcome ...

Baltimore Sun Op-ed by Rena Steinzor and Sally Dworak-Fisher: Maryland's Whistleblower Laws Need Teeth

by Erin Kesler | December 05, 2014
Today, the Baltimore Sun published an op-ed by CPR President Rena Steinzor and Public Justice Center attorney Sally Dworak-Fisher entitled, "Maryland's whistleblower laws need teeth." According to the piece: Whistleblowers can help identify and put a stop to all sorts of illegal activity, if they're properly protected. Dozens of state and federal laws include provisions intended to shield whistleblowers from retaliatory actions by employers who have been outed. But this piecemeal approach, with different laws enforced by different agencies, is too complicated and ...

CPR Executive Director Matt Shudtz on the President's Comments on Regulation

by Erin Kesler | December 03, 2014
Today the President addressed the Business Roundtable on the subject of regulation. When speaking about revising current regulations, he spoke about the need to keep child labor laws. According to CPR Executive Director Matt Shudtz: The President was right to start his remarks with the clear examples of how strong (or to the business lobby, “costly”) regulations save lives and improve the environment. There are hundreds more where they came from, including our labor laws. That’s what makes his later statement ...

Obama’s Path to Progress: Protecting America’s Wetlands and Other Fragile Water Resources

by James Goodwin | December 03, 2014
Over the next two weeks, CPR will publish a series of blog posts highlighting several key regulatory safeguards for protecting the integrity and health of U.S. water bodies against damaging pollution—rules that are currently under development by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and included in our recent Issue Alert, Barack Obama’s Path to Progress in 2015-16: Thirteen Essential Regulatory Actions.  Today’s post will examine the clean water safeguard that has attracted perhaps the most vociferous opposition from industrial and agricultural ...
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