The Corporate Offenders and the Government’s Response

In recent years, environmental compliance has been a minor and marginal concern for some businesses and their owners. Increase in rate at which federal and state administrations both find and acquire criminal verdicts for environmental contraventions that are committed by companies. Throughout the 1970s, there were just about 25 cases of companies and facilities that are to be punished due to non compliance to environmental laws. Surprisingly, there were 134 environmental crime accusations in 1990. Two hundred fifty individual and corporate offenders were charged of environmental crimes.

The increase of cases caused environmental violators greater fines and longer jail terms. In 1982-1989, the courts asked for a 26 million US$ fine for corporations and their managers. The fine continuously increased until 1992 which totaled to 134 million US$. There was even a recent case that Exxon was charged 1 billion US$ for its oil spill in Prince William Sound. Longer terms in jail continued to increase. In 1982-1989, corporate managers were issued by the court an average of 35 years in jail every year. Aside from the large amount of money that they have to pay, environmental criminals are also asked to serve for a total of 99 years.

These increases in sanctions seem to be very effective in preventing environmental crimes according to District Attorney Richard Thornburgh (Lafreniere 1992). Corporate managers are the ones who are really affected by environmental laws. Corporate managers normally are not responsible if their business has committed an environmental crime. But corporate managers were very eager to comply with environmental laws probably because they want to protect the corporation from prosecution since they are a part of the corporation.

More recently, corporate managers became much concerned about complying with environmental laws so as to protect themselves from legal liability. Now, corporate offenders are being considered responsible for any environmental violations of the corporation. Any violation of environmental laws might send these corporate officers in jail even though they are not directly liable for the mistake of the corporation. According to the nation’s environmental statutes, anyone who is directly involved in the violation of one of them will be punished by the law whether it is the corporation itself or its employees.

Also, according to Heyat et al. (1994), “any manager who had a responsible relation to the situation” is liable for any violation. This is because it is his or her duty to use his or her power in such situations. To understand it more clearly, corporate managers are responsible for any act of violation of environmental law committed by his or her subsidies. Therefore, corporate managers do not have all the control on whether they will be prosecuted or not. It is a good policy actually because corporate managers will be forced to observe the corporation’s activities if it complies with environmental laws or not.

They will also be more careful in using substances that might be a pollutant or do something that can contribute to pollution. The only problem with this is the enforcement. It might be a good policy but if it is not implemented consistently and correctly, corporate offenders will still have the guts to do something illegal since they know that they are not going to be punished because the laws are improperly enforced. The policy seemed too harsh enough for the corporate managers but the enforcement is inadequate.

One way of solving it is increasing the sanctions so that corporate managers will think twice if they want to do something against the law. Since the law is improperly enforced, severing the sanctions might help in frightening the offenders even if they know that the possibility of getting caught is little. (Kubasek, 1996) Overall, the imposed sanctions on corporate offenders and the enforcement of the laws are quite inadequate and ineffective. Somehow, the government could make some structural changes in their system and do some investigations on the mediocre job the enforcers are doing.