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Temple-Inland Executives Should Face Jail Time

by Elizabeth Cook

In a recent WWL-TV report, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) administrator said that up until the recent dumping of black liquor into the Pearl River, Temple-Inland has been "good corporate citizens". DEQ has allowed the company to resume dumping, and production, on the Pearl River. How do we judge corporate criminals versus blue collar or low income criminals? Clearly, there are double standards in play.

That same WWL-TV report reiterates that Temple-Inland did not inform the state of the dumping of the black liquor into the Pearl River for four days after the start of the incident. This is criminal violation of regulations that are supposed to protect the health and safety of our river and marine life and the people who depend on them.

DEQ, in a recent report on their web site, cite additional safeguards that they are requiring of Temple-Inland to prevent an incident of this kind from happening again. However, when a company chooses to flagrantly violate federal and state laws and regulations, how do you prevent this?

It is unclear why Temple-Inland chose to dump massive amounts of black liquor into the Pearl River. It's retention ponds hold waste water, according to a WWL-TV report, and are impacted by excessive rain. Just where and how Temple-Inland deals with the byproduct of paper mill production, the black liquor, is unclear at this point, and has not been discussed publicly to my knowledge. It is my hope that residents of Louisiana take a strong interest in the Temple-Inland process of dealing with the black liquor, as this is critical to understanding and preventing future events of the magnitude that killed thousands of marine life in the Pearl River and sickened local residents.

It could be argued that the mill should remain closed, and possibly shut down for good. This kind of flagrant violation of federal and state regulations belies an arrogance and complete disregard for the community in which Temple-Inland is supposedly a "good corporate citizen".

This issue also underscores the difference in treatment of white collar criminals, and low income and middle class folks who have been charged with crimes. There is no forgiveness for people who rob convenience stores, banks, steal cars, resist police arrest, parade unruly, sell their wares without permits, etc. There is usually no discussion as to what a good person so and so was and therefore, fines should be assessed as opposed to jail time. Has anyone ever heard of a person who has robbed a home receiving fines instead of jail time?

DEQ and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) has coddled corporate criminals and assisted them in concealing their crimes. DHH has done nothing to assist the fishermen and women, and residents of the Gulf coast whose health has been ruined by the use of Corexit on the BP oil disaster. By ignoring the health issues of her Gulf residents. essentially, the agency and state is cooperating in a cover-up. This is the definition of criminal. If corporate criminals should have jail time, so should government officials who assist those corporate criminals in concealing or downplaying their crimes.

Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) has filed a "notice of intent" to file a civil lawsuit, and this is good news:

In response to the devastating aquatic organism kill in the Pearl River Basin caused by the discharge of pollution by the Temple Inland paper mill in Bogalusa, LA, LEAN has filed a Notice Of Intent to file a citizens suite against Temple Inland for failure to comply with their water pollution control permit, the Clean Water Act, Louisiana state law and violation of the Endangered Species Act.

But the issue of collusion between DEQ, the state of Louisiana and corporate polluters is an issue that is not necessarily to be solved in the courts. This is a political issue, deserving of much attention from activists and dissenters.

Officials with DEQ recently stated that the Pearl River was a disaster caused by "oxygen depletion", attempting to downplay the extent of the toxicity to the water caused by the massive dumping of the black liquor. Evidence of this toxicity is demonstrated in the deaths of turtles and sea otters. Both species do not breath the water, so oxygen depletion would not be a cause of their death. Yet Mike Wood with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department even hedged as to whether there were any deaths of sea otters and turtles as a result of this incident. The deaths of turtles was reported early on, so it remains to be seen whether this is an issue that can simply be ignored away. Loyola University Professor Bob Thomas, in a Fox 8 news report, had this to say about the deaths of turtles:

Loyola University’s Bob Thomas has monitored the Louisiana environment for decades, and he says the dead turtles in the river are of special concern.

“Turtles don't respire oxygen out of the water, they breathe air,” Thomas said.

He worries about the future of two turtles in particular, the Ringed Map Turtle, and the Pearl River Mapped Turtle, unique to that region.

“When they died, you knew there was toxics involved,” Thomas said.

The toxics in the ‘black-liquor’ discharge were so strong, that it killed turtles that don't filter water on contact. But Temple-Inland, the company that claimed responsibility for the chemical spill, is downplaying the toxicity of the discharge, which it says was caused by a 'process upset'.

The question should be asked: why would DEQ cooperate with Temple-Inland to downplay this incident as one of "oxygen depletion" rather than toxicity? If DEQ is attempting to manipulate the process to the benefit of Temple-Inland, to reduce their fines, penalties or threats of criminal sanctions by manipulating the assessment of the incident, this also is criminal and government officials should face intense scrutiny from the public that ought to be demanding full accountability from all those involved.

Independent scientists could play a role here and perform tests on those two species to determine the cause of their death. LEAN is conducting an important investigation of this ecological disaster, and have posted initial observations on their site. Results of tests of dead organisms in the river and water quality are being tested by LEAN and will be posted. It is unknown if LEAN is testing dead otters and turtles, but it is my hope that they are. At this point, the public should have little trust in any tests conducted by DEQ or other state agencies in this matter.

The public must become more adept at policing the environment that we are all dependent on, and demanding accountability for those in government responsible for protecting our environment. "Jail time" should be one of the rallying cries for the public and activists. Those government officials who look the other way while corporate marauders foul our natural resources and allow dangerous levels of toxins to affect the health of residents, should face jail time. Collusion between government and corporate entities is also a crime.

It is clear what crimes the political class truly hold as threatening: certainly not the discharge of toxic chemicals into a Louisiana river. Otherwise executives, for this purposeful and flagrant violation, would be facing hefty fines and jail time.

The meltdown of the American economy, orchestrated by the largest financial institutions in our country, has not seen a single CEO jailed, or facing criminal charges of fraud or malfeasance. Certainly it could be argued that our economy has been sabotaged by risky practices that saw profits and benefits for a select few at the expense of the many.

Clearly, crimes like the ones committed that fouled the Pearl River and the lives that depend on her, are crimes that corporations know will go largely, physically unpunished. I predict fines will be imposed, but for the most part, corporations view fines as a cost of doing business in America. Jail time would drastically increase that cost, and make these white collar criminals think twice before fouling an American or foreign ecological resource, and think twice before taking advantage of people within our economic system.

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