In 1977 the top executives of Allied Chemical Corporation were confronted with a choice by District Court Judge, Robert R. Merhioe. Either pay a $13.2 million fine for poisoning the James River with the pesticide, keoone, or find a way for the fine to benefit the people of Allied offered to make a contribution of $8 million to endow an environmental protection fund for Virginia. Judge Merhioe approved the proposal and reduced the fine by the amount of the contribution.
Thus was born the Virginia Environmental Endowment (VEE) — a citizen organization that funds projects related to water quality and water pollution’s effects on human health. Another one million dollars was added to the endowment when FMC Corporation Pleaded guilty in a federal felony prosecution and agreed to make such a donation.
Using portions of corporate fines this way helps build citizen defenses and citizen power against similar abuses in the future. VEE, through its grants, is advancing science, training skilled pollution experts, assisting in spotting future pollution problems and helping mediate Groups supported by VEE have continued keoone research at the Medical College of Virginia developed a practical “how to” manual for local officials who learn of a toxic spill into the communities’ drinking water and monitored the enforcement of environmental regulations.
A uranium mining company has been pushing for uranium mining in Virginia for the first time. VEE funds have gone to generate information on the environmental and worker health consequences of such an extractive industry. Virginia Commonwealth University has prepared, with VEE help, toxic substances educational curriculum for middle and high schools. If this curriculum works, it will be made available to the rest of the country.
Critics of VEE have faulted it for not being aggressive enough even for Virginia conservative political climate. It avoids supporting projects that take an adversary role against recalcitrant corporate polluters. But should there be a more vigorous demand by the citizenry that an organization born as a result of corporate toxic crimes should pay more attention to other similar crimes going on in the state, VEE may become more forceful. Furthermore, the VEE Board of Directors should find room for citizen activists and victims of toxic pollution to broaden its base and expand its boldness.
These qualifications aside, VEE shows the way toward a use of constructive corporate fines and mandatory refunds overcharges as in the utility and energy areas. Just think of what endowed strength the consumer energy movement could have drawn from a small allocation of the multi-billion dollar oil company overcharges that Reagan’s Department of Energy has been so reluctant to prosecute adequately.
In California, the state’s supreme court is considering the placement in a consumer defense trust fund of some $13 million arising out of price-setting violations by Levi-Strauss. Since, as in the oil it is virtually impossible to locate most of the overcharged customers (at 45 cents per jean purchased in the Levi settlement), both plaintiffs and defendant company agreed to the trust fund to defend consumers against anti-competitive abuses like price fixing. price fixing.
Readers who want a copy of the latest annual report should write to the Virginia Environmental Endowment, 700 East Main Street, Richmond, Virginia 23206. The report will help you keep an eye on a similar opportunity in your state that could follow a successful prosecution or settlement of a corporate toxic crime.