Published: Wednesday 15 May 1996

Polluting companies in the US - the country which has often screamed the loudest at the merest hint of environmental negligence - can now rest easy. Protecting them from engendering environmental disruption are several American states. Strange as it may sound, one US state after another is now adopting laws which will shield companies from public disclosure or punishment, whenever environmental offenses are discovered in their own backyards.

The connivance of the states with the industries has, however, not found favour with environmentalists and also lawyers for victims of pollution. They believe that the clause will now allow the companies to exploit the laws so as to avoid adverse publicity and also disclaim any responsibility for environmental misdemeanours, if any. "This is a disaster for environmental enforcement," said David Ronald, chief of environmental crimes unit in the Arizona state attorney general's office.

The advocates of this legislation point out that far from allow- Ing companies to go scot-free, these laws are aimed to encourage companies to monitor their activities without fear that what they discover will be used against them. Since 1993, 18 states beginning with Oregon, have adopted such measures. These states, either allow companies not to report to the public what they unearth during environmental audits, or else shield them from civil or criminal prosecution if they volunteer incriminating information. In Colorado, for instance, companies have been permitted to withhold information about air pollution.

The Clinton administration, waking up to the current arrangement between the states and industries, has issued a warning that it will curtail the right of the states to enforce such laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, if the stow go a long way to provide protection to the companies.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.