DO WE NEED THE EPA?
January 29, 2012
have cancer-causing, bird-killing DDT sprayed in your neighborhood?
How about having high levels of brain-damaging mercury dumped into your
favorite fishing spot? What about paper mill wastes clogging up rivers
and fouling the air people breathe? These health hazards were once commonplace
in communities throughout our country. That they are no longer the hazards
they once were is due in no small part to the Environmental Protection
Agency, which protects us from these and other environmental abuses.
Without EPA oversight, the United States would be a much less healthy
place to live.
who believe we do not need federal regulation of activities that can
turn the country into a toxic waste dump are likely unaware of the far-reaching
environmental and human health consequences of such actions. They may
also not want to accept the fact that some individuals and many corporations
will put profit ahead of all other considerations--including the health
and well-being of the general populace.
most of us readily notice a roadside littered with paper, plastic bottles,
and cans, whereas on the same highway we may give little thought to
a smokestack spewing yellow smoke or to polluted industrial wastewater
or coal fly ash being dumped into a stream or river. A litterbug is
easier to identify and arrest than a corporate polluter. But the insidious
pollution of air, water, and soil does far more harm to the environment
and public health than littering does. Some of the more zealous environmentalists
show utter disdain for anyone who doesn't recycle household items. Yet
they give little notice to improper disposal of waste by corporate and
even government entities. White-collar environmental crimes cost us
much more in the long term than the more obvious personal assaults on
the environment such as littering or failing to recycle.
what is a white-collar environmental crime? The term "white-collar
crime" was coined 72 years ago by criminologist Edwin Sutherland,
who defined it as a crime committed "by a person of respectability
and high social status in the course of his occupation." The fundamental
feature is that such crimes are committed by individuals or corporations
for financial gain and involve knowledgeable, educated participants
who attempt to circumvent the law. Prosecution of white-collar environmental
criminals is often complicated because of the difficulty in gathering
evidence and the complexities of interpreting and enforcing the law.
As with many illegal activities, political influence and money can help
protect the most serious abuses while minor offenses are easily singled
out and dealt with expeditiously.
to one legal definition, an environmental crime involves any "willful
criminal violation that results in actual and substantial harm to the
water, ambient air, soil, or land." The FBI actually investigates
white-collar environmental crimes, such as the discharge of toxic substances
into the air, water, or soil that pose "a significant threat of
harm to people, property, or the environment, including air pollution,
water pollution, and illegal dumping, in violation of federal environmental
Many people are concerned about attempts to weaken the Environmental
Protection Agency. The EPA is the watchdog of corporations and government
agencies that pollute our nation's air, water, or soil. Having a strong,
adequately funded EPA, one that vigorously enforces the law and is not
lenient toward corporate polluters, is in the best interest of all of
us. Some businesses that profit from such pollution use political rhetoric
to try to convince people that "regulation costs jobs." Nonsense.
Proper regulation does not cost jobs. Proper regulation creates jobs
while ensuring a clean and healthy environment for everyone.
well-connected, well-financed white-collar environmental criminals are
able to skirt the environmental laws, we the people suffer. We need
stringent enforcement of our environmental laws, which means having
a strong EPA. I have a suggestion for those who support weakening the
EPA or think federal environmental regulation is unnecessary: take a
look at what happened to the air, water, and soil in this country when
it was every company for itself.
you have an environmental question or comment, email