Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Deregulation Enables Criminal Conduct

The developing world has gotten a lot of lipservice from our industries, but not a great deal of real help. The dumping of our wastes has emerged as a really squalid area of neglect by businesses that chase profits in the face of real damage to our world.

In dumping our wastes abroad, we are infecting our own world. It is horrible abuse to put profit motivation above the natural world that we all need to protect. Talk about our children and grandchildren's futures rings particularly hollow, when its financial institutions rather than safety and health that is being protected.

One business emerged today as leading the way toward responsible practice.

PC maker Dell Inc. on Tuesday formally banned the export of broken computers, monitors and parts to developing countries amid complaints that lax enforcement of environmental and worker-safety regulations have allowed an informal and often hazardous electronic-waste recycling industry to emerge.

Although Dell's announcement does not mark a significant change in the PC maker's behavior, environmental groups hope that by making its standards public, Dell will raise the bar for other electronics makers.

In the absence of U.S. regulations, those groups are banking on competitive pressure to make companies improve their e-waste practices.

"This is very significant announcement," said Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics Takeback Coalition, which has long pressured Dell and other electronics makers to improve their recycling programs. "It may seem like nuance, but what Dell's doing is drawing a very sharp and clear line and saying they won't cross it, in a way that is just much brighter and clearer than the way anyone else does it."

Environmental groups like Greenpeace and the Basel Action Network have tracked shipments of e-waste intended for recycling to countries such as China, Ghana and Nigeria and found computers, TVs and other electronics being dismantled by smashing or burning, exposing people to mercury, lead and other toxic chemicals.

No one knows exactly how much of the electronics turned over to recyclers ends up in such conditions, but Greenpeace and others say it could be 50 percent to 80 percent of the items collected in the U.S. for recycling.

That's despite broad acceptance of the Basel Convention, an international treaty that controls the movement of hazardous waste across borders. The U.S., which has no federal law against sending such e-waste to scrap dealers overseas, has yet to ratify the Basel Convention. (Emphasis added.)

We have suffered eight years of aggressive ignorance, and the damage is immense. Our national honor, our economy, our laws are bad, but the damage to future generations is more dreadful. The environment isn't waiting for U.S. voters to realize they have been robbed, it gets worse every day that we spout wastes into it.

Great Britain is in the throes of discovery of gross environmental damages to the Ivory Coast, deliberately committed and with great cost to the local population. Those damages are actionable, and they are being prosecuted.

London's High Court will on Wednesday hear allegations of dirty tricks in the biggest class action ever brought before the British courts.

It arises from the dumping of toxic waste three years ago in Ivory Coast's largest city, Abidjan.

In the aftermath, up to 100,000 people fell sick and 16 died.

The waste belonged to a multi-national oil trading company, Trafigura. In the wake of the incident, 30,000 Abidjanis are suing them for damages.

The irresponsibility of criminal conduct by business isn't assuaged when the perpetrators pay damages. As we see in our own country, the taxpayers are left with the burden of cleaning up and paying for reparations, while the profits are sent offshore.

Deregulation has done lasting harm to this country and many of the developing nations. We must return to oversight of business practices. The damages done by those practices are not going to deter a business community that has shown its only standard is profit and loss. When deterred by regulations and oversight agencies, the business community will serve, rather than destroy, this country.

When left to their own devices, our business community has shown it hasn't got the good judgment to develop the very consumer economy it depends on.

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