Beverage corporation Diageo has recently been fined £1.2 million for violating environmental regulations. Diageo is a multinational corporation that owns a variety of liquor brands, including Johnnie Walker, Tanqueray, Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, Don Julio, Crown Royal, and several others. Headquartered in England, it operates all over the world, with its North American subsidiary being one of its most profitable. In violation of UK regulations, the beverage company has failed to report the environmental impacts of some of its sites for the past six years and has failed to secure permits for the relevant operations. The corporation alleges that these omissions were the result of an administrative error.
“Sustainable,” “eco-friendly,” “ethical,” “recycled” — all buzzwords you might see the next time you’re shopping for a new outfit, designed to make you as a consumer feel like you’re making better choices to help reduce your carbon footprint. But what do those buzzwords really mean — is there any traceable impact the company has made to reduce its carbon footprint? In many cases, unfortunately not. The fashion industry has a major impact on climate change. It is estimated to contribute between 4 and 8.6 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, and for the most part is largely unregulated. Any efforts to increase sustainability, such as by reducing pollution or eliminating labor abuses, are predominately voluntary commitments with little to no repercussions for failing to uphold those commitments.
“Soft on You, Softer on the Planet” declares an advertisement for the Icon-Impact Collection from UGG® which debuted this fall in a store near you. Touted as an innovative product with a positive impact on the environment, the newly introduced collection uses reclaimed wool, a sole made of sugarcane, and repurposed plastic from at least two recycled plastic bottles. It’s all part of the brand’s Feel Good initiative, and in partnership with One Tree Planted, UGG® promises to plant one tree for every pair of shoes bought at select UGG® stores and online. It’s also an example of “green marketing,” the practice of appealing to consumers’ preferences for sustainable and eco-friendly products, especially Millennial and Gen Z consumers who are willing to pay a little bit extra for their purchases.
On October 13, 2020 Earthjustice filed a petition for review with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups and scientists asserting that a Final Rule promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) failed to adequately regulate certain carcinogenic emissions as required by the Clean Air Act. The Miscellaneous Organic Chemical Manufacturing (“MON”) rule, effective as of August 12, 2020, regulates toxic emission of about 200 chemical plants which release dangerous carcinogens including ethylene oxide which have been shown to be contributing to cancer hotspots around the country. However, the petitioners contend that the final MON rule fails to properly regulate unacceptable levels of risk posed by ethylene oxide and the other carcinogens released by MON facilities.
Shipping is the backbone of today’s globalized world and accounts for the carriage of roughly 90% of international trade. Given the sheer number of countries that engage in international shipping, the United Nations created an agency known as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for regulatory oversight purposes. The IMO subsequently created the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), the most significant international agreement dealing with maritime vessel pollution to date. A predominant responsibility of the IMO is to reduce shipping emissions, seeing as the industry accounts for nearly 3% of global CO2 emissions. Likewise, sulfur emissions are unacceptably high, which has compelled the IMO to take unprecedented steps toward reducing the sulfur content in the grade of fuel oil used by maritime vessels.
On March 25, 2020, a judge for the United States District Court in the District of Columbia held that the Army Corp of Engineers (hereinafter the Corp) failed to comply with the standards of the National Environmental Policy Act (hereinafter “the Act”) by failing to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before deciding to approve federal permits for construction of a portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline which ran under the Mississippi River. The ruling came four years after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe brought the original action in 2016. The Act is meant to ensure the public that agencies have considered the environmental consequences of a potential project before going forward with it, and so requires agencies to consider any and every significant environmental impact that could result from the project through completion of an Environmental Assessment, and, in some cases, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
On August 29, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (“the EPA”) announced a proposed reconsideration amendment to an Obama Administration rule regulating the natural gas industry’s methane emissions. This proposal is in response to President Trump’s order for federal agencies to review their actions, purportedly to remove potential resource burdens. The EPA asserts that the changes will remove regulatory duplication and save the industry millions of dollars, but the savings may come at the expense of increasing the planet’s vulnerability.
The battle over pesticide use has long plagued the agricultural sector. The legal challenges to the use of chlorpyrifos has created a debate about how to protect our agricultural system and the harm caused by these dangerous chemicals. A lawsuit was filed based on the EPA’s failure to follow advice of their own scientists. The battle over the use of certain pesticides, and the shifting focus of the EPA has created concerns over the ethical standards of officials in key positions.
Since the Hanford Site stopped producing plutonium in 1987, contractors continue to clean up leftover radioactive contamination and hazardous solid and liquid waste. Although precautions are being taken to prevent workers from being contaminated by or exposed to the waste, the risk remains and worker’s compensation claims follow. The Department of Energy (DOE) OIG recently published an audit report concluding that the DOE does not have effective policies and procedures concerning the Workers’ Compensation Program at the Hanford Site.
Environmental regulation has been heavily targeted by President Trump since the first days of his presidency, and even throughout his campaign. He announced early on that he wanted to cut general business regulations by at least 75%. His justification was that he wanted to remove red tape and delays and promote industry growth and economic development. The two industries potentially most affected by changes to environmental regulations are the oil industry and the coal mining industry.
One of this administration’s first big moves towards environmental deregulation was withdrawing from the Paris Accord. Against the advice of many leaders in the tech and fossil fuel industry, Trump chose to withdraw, stating that the terms of the accord were not as favorable to the United States. Experts say the support of the Paris Accord stems from a general trend towards reducing emission and creating more sustainable sources as a better investment than coal and oil, and a more “global framework”. Although some experts and leaders in the fossil fuel industry have been denouncing the changes, others are consulting with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interior Department on policy changes and leading the teams created to evaluate and remove regulations.