Academic journal article Social Justice

Environmental Crime and Pollution: Wasteful Reflections (1)

Academic journal article Social Justice

Environmental Crime and Pollution: Wasteful Reflections (1)

Article excerpt

The history of men is reflected in the history of sewers.... Crime, intelligence, social protest, freedom of conscience, thought, theft, all that human laws prosecuted or have prosecuted was hidden in this pit. -- Victor Hugo, Les Miserables


IN THE 1970s, A NEW MENACE BECAME THE CENTERPIECE FOR A NEW GENERATION OF environmentally minded reformers. Organized crime, which controlled the private sanitation industry in the Northeast, moved center stage. This took place at approximately the same time that the U.S. government passed the first important toxic waste legislation in its history. The most significant legislation passed was the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act that mandated special handling of the newly recognized category of waste called either toxic or hazardous. Interestingly enough, the legislation was designed to patrol and discipline the waste disposers, not the producers. It was based on the premise that once the waste passed from its producers -- chemical companies and other industrial firms -- into the hands of the disposers, it ceased to be the producers' property. In any case, a great deal of needed attention was focused on the mob firms and their practices. There was some rectification of this when Superfund legislation was passed in the early 1980s. It mandated that all responsible parties (prod ucers and disposers) would have to clean up polluted sites. It has not always worked very well. I will discuss this issue at some length using a particularly egregious organized crime waste group as a template. Concentration on waste disposers had another significant side. Around 1970, several private carting firms began a rapid process of expansion, buying dozens and dozens of small carting companies and landfills across the country. In a relatively short period, they became the waste industry's most important companies. I will spend some time explaining the methodology of expansion, for it bears a striking resemblance to the methods employed by organized criminals. Reformers particularly watched the giants, if for no other reason than their sheer size and, as I will show, their penchant to behave improperly.

By the 1990s, the giants had finally moved into the New York market on the heels of the government finally doing something significant about mob control. Once New York was gained, another period of intense consolidation took place. Two firms ended up controlling most of the New York market. This was a somewhat unexpected development, I suppose, for one of the charges against organized crime was that it had constructed a monopoly in New York. Thus, the criminal cartel monopoly was replaced with a two-firm oligopoly. I shall argue that the variance between the mob cartel and the giants when it comes to legal issues such as antitrust and pollution was not very large. I will take an in-depth look at the past practices of two large firms that were gobbled up in the last phase of consolidation in New York, for they were involved to one degree or another with illicit plans and actions to dump toxic waste in Third World countries. Finally, in the last section of the article, I will discuss other kinds of companies t hat routinely pollute.

Criminal Cartels in Waste

In 1957, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, chaired by Senator John McClellan, showed that organized crime had built "business empires in the private carting industry through a system of monopoly enforced by trade associations and cooperative labor unions." (2) This was another instance of organized crime's domination of certain working-class trades in New York, which included, at one time or another, cinders, cloth shrinking, construction, flower shops, the Fulton fish market, funeral homes, hod carrying, ice, kosher butchers, laundry services, newsstands, overall makers, paper hangers, taxicabs, waterfront workers, and window cleaners. …

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