ECOVIEWS: Why Do We Need the Environmental Protection Agency?

By Gibbons, Whit | The Tuscaloosa News, January 29, 2012 | Go to article overview

ECOVIEWS: Why Do We Need the Environmental Protection Agency?


Gibbons, Whit, The Tuscaloosa News


Want to have cancer-causing, bird-killing DDT sprayed in your neighborhood? How about having high levels of brain- damaging mercury dumped into your favorite fishing spot? What about paper mill wastes clogging up rivers and fouling the air people breathe?

These health hazards were once commonplace in communities throughout our country. That they are no longer the hazards they once were is due in no small part to the Environmental Protection Agency, which protects us from these and other environmental abuses. Without EPA oversight, the United States would be a much less healthy place to live.

Those who believe we do not need federal regulation of activities that can turn the country into a toxic waste dump are likely unaware of the far-reaching environmental and human health consequences of such actions. They may also not want to accept the fact that some individuals and many corporations will put profit ahead of all other considerations--including the health and well-being of the general populace.

Ironically, most of us readily notice a roadside littered with paper, plastic bottles, and cans, whereas on the same highway we may give little thought to a smokestack spewing yellow smoke or to polluted industrial wastewater or coal fly ash being dumped into a stream or river.

A litterbug is easier to identify and arrest than a corporate polluter. But the insidious pollution of air, water, and soil does far more harm to the environment and public health than littering does. Some of the more zealous environmentalists show utter disdain for anyone who doesn't recycle household items. Yet they give little notice to improper disposal of waste by corporate and even government entities.

White-collar environmental crimes cost us much more in the long term than the more obvious personal assaults on the environment such as littering or failing to recycle.

Exactly what is a white-collar environmental crime? The term "white-collar crime" was coined 72 years ago by criminologist Edwin Sutherland, who defined it as a crime committed "by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation." The fundamental feature is that such crimes are committed by individuals or corporations for financial gain and involve knowledgeable, educated participants who attempt to circumvent the law. …

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