Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Filth and The Furious - The EPA's Most Wanted

The Environmental Protection Agency is turning up the heat on dirty criminals. Deputy director Doug Parker began compiling a list of the EPA’s “Most Wanted” in March of 2008 to ferret out those who are wanted on criminal investigation of environmental felonies. Although a relatively new endeavor, the list of 21 fugitives reaches back as far as 1996, when a man by the name of Mauro Valenzuela smuggled oxygen canisters onto an airliner, causing the deaths of 110 people when they ignited – causing the plane to crash into the everglades. Included on the roster are Albania Deleon, who ran an operation that hired workers to remove asbestos without proper certification, and two men who are believed to have trafficked ozone depleting coolants.

According to Cornelia Dean’s article in the New York Times, Parker states that the E.P.A. has “’180 agents fully authorized with arrest powers, carrying firearms’ around the country, but that it usually worked with state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies as well as the Coast Guard, the Homeland Security Department, and Interpol.”

While I applaud the idea behind the efforts of Parker and the agency, one omission I found glaringly obvious, was that of the range of penalties for these crimes. While Mauro Valenzuela would likely be brought up on charges that could include homicide, and is as of yet at large, what is to become of the perpetrator who places countless lives in danger in a more subtle manner that may span over a number of years? It has seemed that the victims often must rely on litigation for resolution, and if successful, may wait years for vindication. If ever they do. Twenty years after the massive travesty of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which had been ignored by the behemoth corporation and was cleaned up by good Samaritans, the diminutive sum that they were ordered to pay was again reduced by the Supreme Court. While the Exxon episode may have been deemed an accident and, therefore, not criminal, they’re lack of response is beyond irresponsible. And in cases where people or corporations deliberately act in ways that put the public at risk, they should be penalized in a similar manner as if they used any other weapon.

So, bravo to Doug Parker and the E.P.A for putting a face on environmental terrorists. Let’s hope it’s not just a never seen tribute to the post office wall.