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Corporate Polluters, too Big to Jail

I wrote recently about Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff, two animal rights activists charged with releasing 2000 mink from a fur farm, who face major prison time as terrorists. If jailed they will follow in the footsteps of dozens of other militant environmental and animal rights activists, some still imprisoned with “terrorist enhancements” after more than a decade.

At the same time the FBI and Department of Justice are preparing to throw the book at people who are viciously trying to save our planet’s animals, plants and minerals from corporate exploitation, they are failing to pursue over 99.5% of corporate violations of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Carey L. Biron’s article about this, published online by Portside, reports “Both the EPA and the Department of Justice do continue to score high-visibility accountability successes for environmental crimes every year, but most of these are civil charges….”

The few corporate polluters who get caught only face fines. True, it is more difficult to obtain a criminal conviction because the prosecution must prove the defendants’ criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt. But many corporations who are convicted and fined are repeat offenders whose agents have tried to cover up their illegal activity. Criminal intent is obvious in such circumstances.

Corporations don’t like fines, but they are treated as part of the cost of doing business and passed on to the purchasers of the company’s products. And unbelievably such fines are also tax deductible. Moreover, even the number of civil cases prosecuted against polluters is dropping.

We can conclude that the government is only interested in pursuing criminal environmental prosecutions against those whose actions threaten corporate profits. The actual polluters appear to have an unlimited number of Get out of Jail Free cards. No one even faces prison for BP’s Deep Horizon disaster which resulted in eleven human deaths and region-wide ecological devastation.

You could conclude that what I’ve written above demonstrates that the system is stacked against those trying to solve our cascading environmental problems. That’s true, but it goes deeper. America’s most powerful economic forces, from the military industrial complex to the fossil fuel industry to the manufacturers of disposable consumer goods, have the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the Federal and State governments in their pockets. Isn’t the juxtaposition I’ve described powerful proof that the system itself is the problem?

I’ve never met Tyler and Kevin, but to me their actions demonstrate that they know two things: 1. We must transform the nature of our interaction with the plants and animals with whom we share our planet. 2. Our profit-driven economy is rotten to the core. You may disagree with their tactics, but their analysis is light-years ahead of the mainstream environmental experts who argue we can engineer our way to a de-carbonized, sustainable economy within the confines of the current economic and political system. Such wishful thinking is a powerful lure, but in order to be effective whatever actions we take to hold off the approaching catastrophes must be based upon Tyler and Kevin’s understanding, not that of the so-called experts.
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