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Lisa Kaas Boyle

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Occupy the Environment

Posted: 10/27/11 04:55 PM ET

The Occupy Wall Street Movement reflects a growing realization that our Democracy has been usurped by corporate power that drowns the voices, votes and concerns of average Americans. While the corporate hijacking of our democracy has been made clear for most Americans in the realm of finance with the Wall Street collapse and bailout, there is an analogous, but lesser known corporate hijacking of environmental policy.

As a nonprofit environmental attorney, I have been very concerned about the growing power of corporations to railroad existing environmental laws and to prevent new environmental safeguards. I wrote in The Huffington Post about my fears that the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United would further tip the balance toward corporate interests in exploiting our natural resources and away from protecting those resources for this and future generations. In that article, I stated that the Executive Branch was our last remaining hope for environmental protection, but recently that branch seems to have thrown in the towel too. I regret to say that we are witnessing a greater corporate impact to democratic decision-making and related threats to our environment than I had feared when the Citizens United decision came down.

I am writing to call for the Occupy Wall Street Movement to expand from the streets and into our precious natural environment. Yes, we should all be angry that our economy was destroyed by the games played on Wall Street, and that we bailed out criminal financial institutions to recover at our expense, only to reward themselves grandly while their victims suffer without recourse. It is proper that people are in the streets to cry for justice and reform so that this doesn't happen again. Americans are finally waking up to the fact that without government controls, big business will take and keep unfair profits to invest anywhere but in helping Americans at home prosper. The cleverest sign I saw in the coverage of Occupy Wall Street was "Trickle Down is for Pee-ons." But we must realize that the very air we breathe, the water we drink and the land we farm is at risk when we cede power to corporations over individuals.

There is just too much money in too few hands. See So Much Damn Money by Robert Kaiser, on the rise of lobbying and the decline of American politics. Without fundamental campaign finance reform to give power back to the people, not just the .05 percent who buy our leadership, there is no hope for just and democratic decision-making in any policy arena from banking to environmental protection. See Laurence Lessig of Harvard University on this topic.

The collapse of our economy has huge implications for our natural environment. When our government fails to collect adequate tax revenues and penalties from the wealthiest corporations and individuals, we are left with few financial resources to fund public services. That means less money to keep parks open; less money to monitor coal mining operations; less money to test water; less money to detect and enforce environmental crimes; less money to clean up toxic waste; and less money to preserve the wild. For just one example of how industry buys its way out of environmental enforcement, take a look at this short film about the Koch Brothers' Georgia Pacific Plant in Crosset, Arkansas where residents are dying from the chemicals the plant dumps into "stink creek" while the Koch brothers finance politicians to cut pollution penalties and to defund the EPA.

And when government doesn't have any money in the public coffers to serve the public in a fair and democratic fashion, who does it turn to fund programs? You guessed it, the same corporations who aren't paying enough taxes or penalties for their bad actions, the same corporations who are funding the elections of the decision-makers. The corporate sponsorship of public services with the corporations' vast under-taxed resources compounds the problem of undue corporate influence on government policies and actions. Let me give you one small example.

The recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/United Nations Environment Programme International Marine Debris Conference was funded through the riches of Coca-Cola and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a lobbying group for the petrochemical/plastics industry. 60-80 percent of the trash or debris in our oceans is plastic, and plastic pollution accounts for nearly 100 percent of the trash problem at sea since it is non-biodegradable, adsorbs toxins from the water, breaks down into smaller bits, and enters our food chain when consumed by sea life.

Although almost all the talks given at the conference were about plastic pollution in our oceans, the resulting "Honolulu Strategy Document" from the conference doesn't use the term plastic pollution once. This is not surprising since the ACC sat on the "peer review" panel to write the document.

"Marine Debris" is described not as mainly plastic, but euphemistically as "anthropogenic, manufactured or processed solid material." The solutions to the problem of "marine debris" are as could be expected, not on the supply side of non-biodegradable single-use plastics being manufactured and marketed, as this interferes with the business interests of the sponsors of the "NOAA/UNEP environmental" conference, Coca-Cola and the ACC, but on the clean-up side at the expense of volunteers and local governments after the pollution has entered the environment.

There are many more examples of corporate influenced environmental policy such as BP being granted the right to deep sea drill once again in the Gulf while that region still suffers from the worst oil spill in human history so recently. The Keystone Pipeline decision appears to be unduly influenced by the petroleum interests involved. EPA recently suspended its smog rules until after the election after intense lobbying from industry and their republican representatives.

We have put ourselves at the mercy of corporations whose interests are NOT aligned with the preservation of our environment, nor with good job creation here at home. As Van Jones says, a few jobs on an oil rig are not enough. We need all kinds of jobs: teaching jobs, park rangers, solar installers, environmental crimes detectives, river keepers, whale watching captains, new technology jobs, health care providers, organic farmers... It is only the least sustainable industries like the fossil fuel industry and unregulated wall street that stand to lose in a transfer of power to the majority of people.

So if you care about democratic decision-making and the future of this planet, lend your voice and your clever signs to expand the "Occupy" movement from Wall Street and into our precious natural environment.