Environmental Fraud and Whistleblowers – What You Need to Know
The environment is filled with resources, but those resources are in limited supply and easily damaged without the proper care. In the manufacturing industry in particular, it’s easy for site owners or managers to make mistakes or perform intentional actions that put those resources at risk. It’s often whistleblowers who shed light on these practices and start the process of bringing these individuals to justice and protecting these valuable resources. Unfortunately, environmental fraud is a common practice that deserves a closer look.
What Is Environmental Fraud?
Site owners who own manufacturing facilities are required by law to conform to environmental, health and safety regulations. This includes a number of regulations designed to reduce the impact of the manufacturing process on the overall environment. For instance, a manufacturing facility’s owner may be required to monitor groundwater wells to determine if chemical compounds are leaching into the groundwater and the local water supply. Soil samples may also be required, depending on the type of work done at the facility. That monitoring is supposed to draw attention to unsafe practices, poor housekeeping or even illegal activities, such as dumping chemicals into a local stream, that put the environment at risk.
When these types of problems are found, the company must undertake costly remedial steps to put a stop to the activities. This can cut into the facility’s bottom line and create quite a bit of hassle. If illegal activities are found, the site’s owner and managers may be at risk for an arrest.
Sometimes, when problems are found through routine monitoring, the site’s owner will attempt to cover up the problem. This might be done through sending the wrong samples to the laboratory for testing, bribing officials to present better numbers in final reports or otherwise tampering with evidence of environmental pollution. This is known as environmental fraud.
Environmental fraud can also occur when a company intentionally deceives customers about environmental services performed and charged for. In a recent case reported through the Department of Justice, Luminaire Environmental and Technologies, Inc., reportedly offered consumers a service to pick up and properly dispose of PCB-ballasts, which contain toxic chemicals, for a fee. Instead of properly disposing of the products as advertised, Luminaire then took the toxic labels off of the ballasts and sold them for scrap metal, without removing the toxic chemicals. Thus, they fraudulently collected over $1 million in both fees and scrap metal sales profits. This is another example of environmental fraud.
Environmental Fraud Is Far Too Common
Environmental fraud is more common than many people think. While high-profile cases of factories illegally contaminating water supplies may make it to the news on occasion, smaller instances of falsification of data or inflation of invoices that relate to environmental issues are easily overlooked. Yet the far-reaching implications of the actions associated with these activities are still quite damaging to the environment.
Environmental Whistleblowers Play a Key Role
Unfortunately, the government often cannot find these instances of fraud because the companies that commit them are excellent at covering their tracks. For this reason, it’s typically an employee, client or other member of the community that works with or for the company that spots the fraudulent action and brings it to the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency. These environmental whistleblowers are essential to putting a stop to environmental law violations.
Unfortunately, many people are not willing to speak up because they fear retaliation from the company guilty of the fraud. These companies typically have quite a bit of money behind them that they can put into quieting whistleblowers. That’s why federal laws are in place to protect environmental whistleblowers. In fact, there are seven major environmental laws on the federal level that have specific provisions to protect employee whistleblowers.
Under these laws, whistleblowers have the right to call the Environmental Protection Agency and other law enforcement agencies to report environmental fraud. They can also refuse to follow the illegal orders of their supervisors in order to uphold the federal environmental laws. If an employee speaks out against environmental infractions, these laws prevent the company from firing the employee for their behavior.
That said, employers are quite creative about finding other ways to fire employees they believe have blown the whistle on their activities. That’s why it can be helpful to work with an attorney while working through the reporting process when you suspect environmental fraud. With legal counsel, you can determine if your employer is violating whistleblower protection laws or not, and take the necessary measures to protect your employment and income.
If you suspect that your employer or another company you know of is guilty of environmental fraud, don’t be afraid to blow the whistle. Call Bert Louthian at (803) 454-1200 or contact us online today.