Jaz Brisack: December 2015 Archives

American consumer, environmental and worker protections aren't as strict as they should be. And they're getting even weaker, thanks to trade deals that put the profits of giant multinational corporations above our nation's laws.

For example, the World Trade Organization, threatening over a billion dollars' worth of sanctions against the United States if our lawmakers didn't comply with its demands, just forced Congress to strike down our country-of-origin meat labeling law, which informed shoppers of the nations where the livestock they intended to consume was born, raised and slaughtered.

Previously, the WTO has forced the US to abandon our Clean Air Act provisions regulating gas pollution standards at the urging of Venezuela and Mexico, change our auto fuel efficiency standards at the behest of the European Union, nullify the section of the Endangered Species Act protecting sea turtles from deadly shrimping practices at Malaysia's request, and prohibit the use of "dolphin-safe" labels on tuna after complaints from Mexico.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership contains even stronger language, meant to further eviscerate American consumer, environmental and worker protections, which are already at risk from the WTO, NAFTA, and our other existing trade deals. We need to repeal the deals we have, not ratify new ones!
A West Virginia jury just found former Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship guilty of a conspiracy to violate safety standards, but exonerated him from several other charges. Blankenship was only convicted of a misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of $250,000 and a year in jail (sentencing will not occur until next March). This is a ridiculously insufficient punishment. What's $250,000 to a man worth hundreds of millions? And, until Blankenship and his fellow coal industry culprits are truly held accountable, how can we expect them to stop their illegal and devastating practices?

In 2010, a coal dust explosion -- the worst mining accident since 1970 -- at the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners. Prior to the explosion, the mine had been cited for over 1,300 safety violations by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, but Blankenship dismissed concerns, stating in an interview that safety violations are "a normal part of the mining process." Accordingly, he faced charges of security fraud, making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and defrauding the federal government, in addition to the conspiracy indictment.

Massey Energy has been guilty of a myriad of environmental crimes, in addition to their disregard for workers' safety. As of 2010, it was the biggest perpetrator of mountaintop removal mining, an extremely deleterious practice, and has been careless with its toxic coal ash since the 1980s. Massey's irresponsible practices have contaminated much of West Virginia's groundwater, causing sickness, cancer and birth defects. According to the environmental site PolluterWatch, Blankenship has long "consider[ed] environmental regulations 'as silly as global warming,' of which he is an avid denier."

Despite its inadequacy, the jury's verdict is significant because it marks one of the first times that a leading figure in the coal industry has been held legally responsible for wrongdoing. However, it underscores the necessity of increasing the penalties for these heinous offenses -- and of actually enforcing them.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Jaz Brisack in December 2015.

Jaz Brisack: November 2015 is the previous archive.

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