The effects of environmental destruction are getting worse and it is becoming an increasingly discussed topic. The world’s population has increased exponentially and animal natural habitats are disappearing to make room for this human expansion. Resources like water and land are being depleting at record rates, and nature is unable to replenish what is used. As a result of this human consumption coupled with poor environmental planning, the earth is unable to sustain life in certain areas.
There are corporations that use natural resources to make money, thus creating jobs and providing revenue for the geographic areas where they are located. There are also conservation groups looking out for the environment, animals and habitats at risk of exploitation. There are numerous law enforcement agencies ranging from the federal level down to the smallest municipalities that have the ability to enforce various laws relating to the protection of the environment.
Some of the largest corporations on the planet derive their income by using the planet’s resources. These assets range from lumber, water, coal, metal ores, and various petroleum/gas products. The extraction of any of these resources cannot help but leave some impact upon the environment. This impact may appear in the form of large stretches of land bare of trees, large machinery used to siphon water or gas products that in turn create noise, air, and water pollution through either their direct operation or their byproducts. Among the largest corporations in the world are those in the petroleum business.
The first petroleum business to examine is ExxonMobil. It is “world's largest publicly traded international oil and gas company, providing energy that helps underpin growing economies and improve living standards around the world” (ExxonMobil, 2010). ExxonMobil’s most notable disaster is more commonly referred to as the Exxon Valdez accident, which was named after a cargo ship carrying a load of crude oil. On March 24, 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez, en route from Valdez, Alaska to Los Angeles, California, ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
The vessel was traveling outside normal shipping lanes in an attempt to avoid ice. Within six hours of the grounding, the Exxon Valdez spilled approximately 10.9 million gallons of its 53 million gallon cargo of Prudhoe Bay crude oil. Eight of the eleven tanks on board were damaged. The oil would eventually impact over 1,100 miles of non-continuous coastline in Alaska, making the Exxon Valdez the largest oil spill to date [May, 2010] in U.S. waters (Cleveland, C., 2010).
Although ExxonMobil has had record profits in the billions, “it continues to stonewall on paying roughly $5 billion to fishing communities and Native Alaskans in punitive damages assessed for the impact of the Exxon Valdez spill” (Mokhiber & Weissman, 2005).
The second petroleum business to be discussed is British Petroleum, better known as BP. This company is headquartered in London, England with offices and operations located throughout the world. “BP is one of the world's largest energy companies, providing its customers with fuel for transportation, energy for heat and light, retail services and petrochemicals products for everyday items” (BP, 2010). While it may be one of the largest in their industry, BP’s reputation for acquiring monetary fines for violations of environmental laws and safety standards is unprecedented. In the past five years (2005-2010), BP has made national headlines for its disasters and environmental damage. In 2005, there was a “BP refinery explosion in Texas City, Texas that killed 15 people and injured 180.
Then in 2007, a BP pipeline spill poured 200,000 gallons of crude oil into the pristine Alaskan wilderness” (Thomas, Jones, Cloherty, & Ryan, 2010). Their latest, and still-pressing fiasco occurred 2010. This disaster “in the Gulf of Mexico, which began following an April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, is already the worst oil spill in U.S. history” (Herron, 2010).
The chief law enforcement agency overseeing the environment is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA was established by late President Richard Nixon in 1970. Its mission is “to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment -- air, water and land -- upon which life depends” (EPA, 2010). To accomplish their mission, they employ scientist, engineers, lawyers, investigators, who consult with various Federal and State agencies that play a role in protecting the environment.
One of the laws that the EPA enforces comes from Clean Water Act (CWA). This act deals with surface water like oceans, lakes, and streams. “It employs a variety of regulatory and non-regulatory tools to sharply reduce direct pollutant discharges into waterways, finance municipal wastewater treatment facilities, and manage polluted runoff.
These tools are employed to achieve the broader goal of restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters so that they can support "the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and recreation in and on the water" (EPA, 2010). While there are other acts and laws to consider, the CWA is of great importance. This is particularly true because many experts believe that the recent and on-going BP Deepwater Horizon disaster may be the largest environmental pollution case in United States history.
A portion of the CWA allows the Federal government to seek civil penalties in court for every drop of oil that spills into U.S. navigable waters, including the Gulf of Mexico where BP's leaking well is located. As a result, the U.S. government could fine BP and others affiliated with the Deepwater Horizon, “up to $4,300 for every barrel leaked into the U.S. Gulf (Schneyer, 2010). The basic fine, according to the CWA, is $1,100 per barrel spilled. The penalty can rise to $4,300 a barrel if a federal court rules the spill resulted from gross negligence.
Another federal agency charged with protecting the health of the environment and industry workers is a branch of the Department of Labor, known at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. According to an October 30, 2009 news release, “the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today announced it is issuing $87,430,000 in proposed penalties to BP Products North America, Inc. for the company's failure to correct potential hazards faced by employees. The fine is the largest in OSHA's history. The prior largest total penalty, $21 million, was issued in 2005, also against BP” (OSHA, 2010).
When resources are mismanaged, the effects on the environment are truly devastating. Decades earlier, scientist, corporations, and government officials were unaware of the effects of some substances and how it their use could effect the Earth. As a result of this lack of knowledge or planning, there are areas across the United States which are no longer suitable for life. Areas are laced with toxic, poisonous substances that pose not only a health risk to humans, but also to animal life in the surrounding areas.
Towns sit abandoned due to their health risks while those poisonous substances are left abandoned by the companies or individuals unable to dispose of them properly. One such town is Treece, Kansas which that is surrounded by millions of tons lead and zinc mining waste. The “Environmental Protection Agency outlined the steps yet to go before the approximately 100 residents of the southeast Kansas town can be paid for their property and moved away from environmental hazards left behind by a century of lead and zinc mining” (Lefler, 2010).
As responsible stewards, corporations need to plan for the future growth of their businesses while still considering how their actions effect the environment and the generations to come. Corporations should be setting an example by using environmentally sound practices to harvest the earth’s resources and minimize waste left behind from their operations. While there are numerous policing agencies on the planet, the Earth is a vast place and policing such a huge area is a daunting task. It is up to the individuals of the world to step forward and be the eyes and voice of the environment.
British Petroleum. (2010) Retrieved May 26, 2010, from http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=3&contentId=2006926 Cleveland, C., (2010). Exxon Valdez oil spill. Encyclopedia of Earth. Retrieved June 2, 2010 from http://www.eoearth.org/article/Exxon_Valdez_oil_spill Environmental Protection Agency. (2010) Retrieved May 31, 2010, from http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/index.html Herron, J. (2010, June 3). Two ratings firm downgrade BP. Wallstreet Journal. Retrieved June 3, 2010 from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704025304575284542907114562.html?mod=WSJ_Commodities_RIGHTMoreInMarkets Lefler, D. (2010, January 25). Polluted Kansas town's residents may get buyouts this summer. The Wichita Eagle. Retrieved June 1, 2010, from http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/01/25/82936/polluted-kansas-towns-residents.html Mokhiber, R. & Weissman, R. (2005). The 10 Worst Corporations of 2005. Multinational Monitor, 26(11/12), 10-24. Retrieved June 2, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 1009548771). Schneyer, J. (2010, May 26). Special report: Civil fine in Gulf spill could be $4,300 barrel. Reuters. Retrieved June 1, 2010, from http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE64O75Q20100526 Thomas, P., Jones, L., Cloherty, J., & Ryan J. (2010). BP’s dismal safety record. ABC News. Retrieved May 27, 2010, from http://abcnews.go.com/WN/bps-dismal-safety-record/story?id=10763042&page=1