Lawyer Monthly - September 2023

resources, either at the behest of its pollution industry or because Kansas was simply unwilling to make a priority of the health of its citizens. So, if the government is failing us, who can Americans rely on to protect them from environmental contamination? Juries. Juries Are the True Environmental Regulators in the United States With pollution and its horrible consequences so dramatically on the rise in the US, I am sometimes asked whether we need tougher anti-pollution laws. My answer has always been: no. We have tough anti-pollution laws on the books right now, both civil and criminal. And regulations, too. We just need to enforce them – really, we need the will to enforce them. However, as I describe above, in the US today, we have a system of concentrations of a carcinogen if they posed a cancer risk of more than one in 1 million. This is called the ‘excess cancer risk’, or ECR. It is a measure of how many excess, or unexpected, cancers in a population of 1 million people would be caused by their exposure to those concentrations. Today, however, the government often allows people to be exposed to concentrations that cause 100 excess cancers in 1 million. That is a tolerance for 100 times greater cancer risk. Why? There are several reasons for this, but one certainly is the pollution industry’s persistent efforts to influence government to alter health standards in a way that favours industry profitability, such as by allowing more pollution to infiltrate a community without regulatory consequence. Budget cuts Environmental laws are only as strong as our willingness to enforce them. American law is filled with civil and criminal laws that empower the government to, for example, force 26 LAWYER MONTHLY SEPTEMBER 2023 polluters to stop polluting, compel companies to clean up the pollution they caused, and imprison corporate decision makers who knowingly endanger lives. But, despite the fact that our country is inundated with industrial chemicals that can ruin our lives and health, when was the last time any pollution executive was ever convicted and sentenced to prison for breaking environmental laws? And why are the environmental laws and regulations that we do have not enforced with more vigour, or at all? Over the last few decades, both federal and state governments have stripped environmental regulators of the resources necessary to enforce the law. One extreme example comes from the state of Kansas. When the state announced late last year – years after it first knew – that the groundwater underlying a large Wichita community might be contaminated with industrial chemicals, the state confessed that it had no money to address the problem. Pathetically, it asked for voluntary donations so that it might do so. Kansas had stripped its budget of enforcement

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