Sunday, July 02, 2006

McWane Executive Sentenced to Prison For Clean Air Violations

Some companies never seem to learn. Charles Matlock, an executive with an affiliate of the notorious McWane Corporation, has been sentenced by a federal court to a year and a day in prison and a $20,000 fine for violating the federal Clean Air Act.

As one reader pointed out to me upon reading about this, the company's fines would have been much lower if they had just filtered the air through workers lungs instead of into the outside air. The only way an employer can go to jail under the Occupational Safety and Health Act is if they knowingly violate a standard that results in the death of a worker. Penalties under the Clean Air Act (and most other environmental legislation) are much more severe.

Matlock is an executive of the Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Co in Sprinville, Utah. Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe Company, owned by the notorious McWane Inc., an Alabama-based conglomerate whose extensive record of safety and environmental violations was highlighted in a 2003 NY Times/Frontline series.

On Feb. 8, a federal judge sentenced McWane to pay a fine of $3 million – the largest criminal environmental fine in Utah history – and serve a 3-year period of probation, after it pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act. At that time, Matlock also pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act by rendering inaccurate a stack emissions test required under the act.

"[The] sentencing of the former vice president and general manager of Pacific States Pipe Company underscores McWane's lamentable record of serious environmental misconduct nationwide," said Granta Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance. "The message should be clear that prosecutions will go as high up the corporate hierarchy as the evidence permits and we will hold senior managers of corporations accountable, as well as the corporation itself. All company employees should definitely think twice about knowingly breaking the law because they should clearly understand that they will face incarceration and fines for harming the environment and putting the public at risk."

Prosecutors were not happy with McWane's actions:
"Protecting local communities from harmful air pollution depends upon honest reporting by regulated companies, and when senior corporate executives cheat on required tests, public health and the environment suffer," said David Uhlmann, chief of the Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section.
Last April, Atlantic States, along with four of its managers at a New Jersey plant, were found guilty of conspiring to evade workplace safety and environmental laws. After that verdict, Uhlmann said that the verdicts "demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that McWane is one of the worst and most persistent violators of our nation's environmental and worker safety laws," said in an interview.

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