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Our Dirty Double Standard for Corporate Polluters

Photo by thierry ehrmann | CC BY 2.0

We have much for which to be thankful for here in Montana — vast landscapes, stunning mountain ranges, crystal-clear lakes and blue-ribbon trout rivers that are the envy of anglers worldwide.

But one thing we shouldn’t and can’t be thankful for is the double standard by which our society and its so-called “regulatory” agencies treat corporate polluters compared to private citizens. Proof positive is the recent announcement that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has yet to fine anyone for the deaths of more than 3,000 snow geese on Butte’s Berkeley Pit last year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is supposed to be protecting our public wildlife, had “no comment.”

The EPA/Fish and Wildlife Service could have levied fines of up to $5,000 per dead snow goose on BP-ARCO and Montana Resources, the two private corporate entities that own the toxic disaster known as the Berkeley Pit. Mind you, these two scions of multi-national corporate giants are far from broke.

The real name of BP-ARCO is British Petroleum–Atlantic Richfield Company. BP is a London-based corporation and the sixth-largest oil and gas company in the world. In 2016 alone, BP brought in $183,000,000,000 (that’s billion) in revenues and its CEO’s salary was a stunning $11.6 million, down from his 2015 salary and benefits of $19.6 million after a shareholder revolt.

Montana Resources is owned by Dennis Washington, who has an estimated personal net worth of $6.2 billion, making him the richest person in Montana and the 75th richest person in the U.S. as ranked by Forbes, which added: “He spent an estimated quarter of a billion dollars fixing up his yacht.”

These are the corporations and individuals sitting at the top of their industrial and social ladders, living lavish lifestyles and accumulating vast wealth on a daily basis. Dennis Washington’s net worth rose by $100 million in the last year alone. Yet Trump’s EPA and Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t feel justified to fine these companies for the destruction of more than 3,000 publicly-owned snow geese — and make no mistake, in the United States, wildlife is owned by the public, not by the government, not by individuals and certainly not by the corporations that so regularly degrade their habitat, threaten their very existence and all too often are responsible for their fatalities.

Rather than levying the $15 million in fines they could have collected from these corporate polluters, the “regulatory” agencies that are supposed to be protecting our environment and wildlife decided to settle for nothing. Sorry Americans, but despite the destruction of your assets, we simply can’t bring ourselves to hold the private corporations financially responsible for the carnage.

Those fines could make a huge difference in addressing the perpetual problem of the Berkeley Pit, especially since the EPA’s budget is being cut a whopping $538 million in the latest House bill — about 30 percent. But instead of the fines, the agency and the corporate polluters agreed to set up an advisory committee to find a minimal-cost “solution” to the deadly pit.

One might wonder where are the voices of our elected officials, the people we pay to protect our publicly owned resources. But the silence from the governor and our congressional delegation is deafening — and that speaks volumes about whom these “public servants” actually serve.

If any citizen illegally killed a fraction of that many snow geese, they’d be charged, fined, and lose their hunting and fishing privileges. But since those responsible for the mass goose slaughter were corporations, they don’t even get a slap on the wrist.

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George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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