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The Top 5 Worst Corporate Water Criminals

by Johnny Burnham June 21, 2015

Corporations and those who own them, run them and reap the benefits of their financial successes are often times quick to be praised. Forbes, Fortune and many other publications, organizations and institutions weigh their accolades solely on a corporation’s profits, sales, assets and on the value of its market share. 

Make no mistake, the majority deserve the positive recognition. But there are others on these lists (and many off of it) whose actions should be dubbed more criminal than commendable.

We have compiled a list of 5 of the worst corporate water criminals > that through the years have been just that > they are criminal when it comes to water.

EXXON CORPORATION - More than 25 years have passed since the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill in the Prince William Sound on the Gulf of Alaska. The spill sent nearly 11 billion gallons of crude oil into the ocean, killing almost all aquatic life it touched. Although things have returned to some normalcy, and Exxon paid $125 million in fines, the lives of those in the area will never be the same. The livelihood of Alaskan fishermen will never be what it was pre-spill. Salmon, herring and crabs no longer are in abundance.

Fast forward two and half decades and Exxon’s operations continue to be questionable; it continues to battle violations in court. For years the state of New Jersey has been fighting Exxon Mobil to clean up some 1,500 acres of marshes and small waterways which have become toxic due to two of its refineries (Bayway and Bayonne) leaking and dumping harmful chemicals not for years, but a century or longer. Exxon fought the state’s lawsuit for the clean up, tying it up in costly litigation. Ultimately, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, behind closed doors, agreed to settle the case for $225 million — far, far less than the $8.9 billion it originally asked.

DUKE ENERGY CORPORATION - Three subsidiaries of North Carolina-based Duke Energy Corporation, the largest utility in the United States, pleaded guilty this month to nine criminal violations of the Clean Water Act at several of its North Carolina facilities and agreed to pay a $68 million criminal fine and spend $34 million on environmental projects and land conservation to benefit rivers and wetlands in North Carolina and Virginia. Four of the charges are the direct result of the massive coal ash spill from the Dan River steam station into the Dan River near Eden, N.C., in February 2014. The remaining violations were discovered as the scope of the investigation broadened based on allegations of historical violations at the company’s’ other facilities. 

"Under the plea agreement, both Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress, must certify that they have reserved sufficient assets to meet legal obligations with respect to its coal ash impoundments within North Carolina, obligations estimated to be approximately $3.4 billion. Over two hundred sixteen million Americans rely on surface water as their source of drinking water. Duke Energy put that precious resource at risk in North Carolina as the result of their negligence,” Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said. Approximately 108 million tons of coal ash is currently held in coal ash basins owned and operated by the company. Duke Energy Corporation subsidiaries also operate facilities with coal ash basins in South Carolina (approximately 5.99 million tons of coal ash), Kentucky (approximately 1.5 million tons of coal ash), Indiana (approximately 35.6 million tons of coal ash) and Ohio (approximately 5.9 million tons of coal ash).

PLAINS ALL AMERICAN PIPELINE - On May 25th of this year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard issued a joint federal Clean Water Act order that requires Plains All American Pipeline to ramp up its work and continue its cleanup in Santa Barbara, Calif. to prevent further shoreline contamination from the largest coastal spill in California in the last 25 years. A 24-inch pipeline owned by the company ruptured on May 19, with an estimated 105,000 gallons of heavy crude oil inside. The oil not only seeped into the soil, but reached the shoreline and flowed into the ocean. The cleanup is expected to take quite some time. State of California and federal agencies have had to chip in to help correct Plains’ major mistake. 

“The Coast Guard will maintain its course to completion,” Capt. Jennifer Williams, Unified Command Federal On-Site Coordinator, said. “While this defines Plains Pipeline as the responsible party, federal and state agencies will continue to work alongside the responsible party and maintain our priority of safety of the public, personnel and the environment.” 

ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISES - Royal Caribbean, and cruise lines in general, have become notorious for polluting the world’s water as they set sail for weeks and even months at a time. Information shows that on the average-sized cruise ship (approximately 3,000 passengers), on a one-week voyage 1 million gallons of “gray water”, 210,000 gallons of sewage, and well over 100 gallons of hazardous and toxic waste is produced, and exhaust emissions that reach the equivalent of thousands of automobiles are emitted.
Where does all this waste go (or at least much of it)? It goes Into the ocean.

While Royal Caribbean is certainly not the only offender, it has been found in violation several times. At the turn of the century the company pled guilty to 21 felony counts of clean water and environmental crimes. It not only was found dumping waste oil and other hazardous materials into the ocean, but blatantly lied about it to investigators. It eventually paid an $18 million fine. 

A few years later, it admitted in court that it had installed special equipment to bypass pollution control devices on its ships. It also admitted to deliberately dumping pollutants and chemicals from photo processing equipment and dry cleaning into U.S. harbors.

NESTLE - Much of what Nestle, and in particular its subsidiary, Nestle Waters, does is widely considered unethical, but the world’s largest food company is no stranger to criminal activity as well.Nestle has been hit with several corporate crimes, including unethical marketing of artificial baby milk, exploiting farmers, union busting, continually promoting GM food, pollution, a scandal in Ethiopia in which it demanded the country pay $6 million when more than 11 million there were starving, and illegal extraction of water in Brazil.

And while it hasn’t officially been dubbed to have done anything illegal, Nestle has been sucking water out of the San Bernardino National Forest with an expired permit since 1988. The permit cost just $524 annually, small change for a conglomerate that profits about $4 million on every million liters of water. Previously published reports state that it cost Nestle between $2.25 and $3.71 per million liters of H20. That breaks down to costing $0.00000371 per liter (on the high end). It continues to bottle water from public sources despite California being in the middle of a record-setting drought. Read our complete look into Nestle here.

Here is a great video that compiles 25 years of corporate crime ... water and otherwise.

Johnny Burnham
Johnny Burnham


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