BNF: How do the Koch brothers and Big Oil figure into what you do day by day as a criminologist and Professor?
Dr. Melissa Jarrell: I examine a particular form of corporate crime: environmental crime. As a criminologist, I want to make sure that I teach students about corporate and environmental crimes and give them a better understanding of the nature and distribution of these types of crime. People picture criminals as gang members, not corporations that dump pollution into the air or the water. They do not usually picture a wealthy and powerful man in a suit making decisions that affects millions of people in big cities and small towns all over the country
Corporate and environmental crimes are far more responsible for illnesses, injuries and deaths than crimes we think about on TV. My research has looked at environmental crimes committed by the petroleum industry, particularly the refining industry, of which the Kochs are big players.
In addition to teaching and researching, I also make efforts to assist victims of environmental crimes whenever possible. I’m able to produce research to help them fight their victimization in the press, courts and the court of public opinion.
When did you first hear about the Koch brothers and what’d you think?
I first learned about Koch Industries in 2004 and saw Koch Industries was at the top of the list in terms of committing serious environmental crimes (10 criminal cases in 2001-2002). Over the years, Koch Industries has committed multiple environmental crimes that have caused harm to thousands of people. But, even when convicted and punished, its criminal behavior has continued. Corporations, like Koch Industries, are not concerned about paying fines. After all, if you make billions of dollars each year, a few million in fines is pocket change. Big Oil, led by Koch Industries, spends millions of dollars trying to convince the public that the EPA is killing jobs by creating and enforcing environmental laws.
How has the EPA changed the last 10 years, and who’s been responsible?
The EPA has always been underfunded and understaffed, and our environmental laws are watered down versions of what they should be. The EPA has been directly attacked by industry lawyers who argue that the agency lacks authority to enforce legal and important safety protections.
Remember, policies are only as good as their enforcement. While we argue over the scope and nature of a new policy, we often ignore the fact that these measures, if enacted, have little value because they are routinely ignored by industry. The EPA does not have the workforce to monitor the thousands of industries across the U.S. that emit pollution on a daily basis. The standards we have are better than nothing, but much weaker than they should be and will almost always be weakened further by leaders who fear confrontations with business and special interests.
What’s the balance between legality and safety in terms of EPA standards and pollution? What pressures are brought to bear to shift the fulcrum?
As long as people aren’t dropping dead on a daily basis from polluted air and water, I think the tug-o-war will look much the way it does right now. Gain an inch; lose an inch, back and forth. However, one day, when the air and water are so polluted that it affects those with power and wealth, perhaps then something will be done about it. If I were in charge, I would immediately pass a law that states that NO ONE should live within 5 miles of major brick-and-mortar sources of pollution. And I would require corporations like Koch Industries to help relocate affected communities and take better care of their workers.
The Arkansas video is disturbing and frustratingly familiar. Corporations like Koch could do more to protect the people the people in these communities from air, water, and soil pollution. They could install the best pollution controls, provide better monitoring, and help relocate communities. However, corporations like Koch Industries are more concerned about profits and presenting an image of environmental stewardship than actually changing their polluting practices and helping communities.