Posted by: Green Knight | January 7, 2012


In case I didn’t mention it previously, I am lately an associate member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. What does that mean, exactly? Did I go to “J-school?” No. Was I an English major? Also, no. Do you necessarily have to do either of those things to be an ink-stained wretch? No, indeed. But I qualify according to their definitions, because I write about environmental issues for the general public.

This came up because I was thinking about my publication and media history in this field. I’ve been on the pointy end of the journalistic sword many times while a state inspector, doing newspaper and magazine interviews, radio shows, and being the official on the scene for TV during emergencies. As a teacher, I’ve written a zillion exam questions on the subject, for K-12 and for grownups in professional courses. I wrote a textbook chapter for a national certification program, and revised it once, for the Certified Hazardous Materials Manager folks. I moderated a session and gave a talk which was published in the Proceedings of the 18th Annual Missouri Waste Management Conference. I wrote a column on environmental issues for the local law newspaper for three years. And I write this froggy blog.

Does that make me a journalist? I have no idea. Professions have gotten a lot tighter with their definitions over the last 20 years. But it was enough to get me into the SEJ. I see some people just putting their byline on an API story and publishing it in the local paper. That’s not gonna win anyone a Pulitzer. However, I can identify with “investigative” journalism, because when I was an inspector, I was investigating things companies were trying to hide, and I could write a fat book about the situations I ran across…anything that isn’t in active litigation is public information and therefore fair game. It’s a thought.


There’s been a lot of activity over the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case over the past year. I’m with Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, that corporations aren’t “persons” in terms of being able to make anonymous contributions to political candidates. We’ve seen too many elections bought and sold lately. How does this tie into environmental stuff, you might ask? Well, aside from the extra clout that the decision gave the big polluter lobbies, it sort of caused me to think about semantics a bit, and how complicated legal language can be. Under the Superfund law, aka CERCLA (the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980), corporations ARE “persons,” but in terms of liability for misdeeds, not in terms of being able to support bad actors from the shadows. Here’s the regulatory language, found in 40 CFR 300.5 (that’s title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations, section 300.5):

“Person as defined by section 101(21) of CERCLA, means an individual, firm, corporation, association, partnership, consortium, joint venture, commercial entity, United States government, state, municipality, commission, political subdivision of a state, or any interstate body. As defined by section 1001 of the OPA, “person” means an individual, corporation, partnership, association, state, municipality, commission, or political subdivision of a state, or any interstate body.”

See, different agencies use the same terms to mean different things. That’s why I always go to the definitions section first when reviewing regulations. Corporate personhood is a bad idea when it lets them run our political process, but it’s a good thing when it takes them to task for fouling our air, land, and water. I’m all for ambiguity in legal language if it gets the job done. Rock on!!  (P.S. the OPA is the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, written as a response to the Exxon Valdez spill, which was but a footnote in history to BP’s Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. and THESE guys are the ones making the big campaign contributions. We need to think with our brains as well as our wallets. And now they want to drill in the Arctic…sure, let’s just MELT the planet!)

Photograph by Steven J. Kazlowski/Alamy. Arctic Fox—Fall, for National Geographic


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