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Environmental/Ethical Dilemma University of Phoenix LAW 529 CMBA-0903 Learning Team Assignment #4 Environmental/Ethical Overhearing a conversation concerning a potentially immoral and illegal act concerning public safety, one is put into an awkward situation of making hard choices directly affecting safety and livelihood of many individuals. It is of utmost importance to consider both the immediate and long term ramifications of any action you may take in such a precarious situation. In the situation of overhearing the Vice President of Production ask the environmental consultant advice on how to dump toxic waste into a holding pond, it becomes apparent there are both civil and criminal issues to consider. Reaching the appropriate decision of what action to take is not an easy decision. Environmental ethics relies heavily on the business's commitment to minimizing environmental harm. As the assistant to the Vice President (VP) you have an ethical obligation to your boss, the company, and the community. As an employee, you must decide how to handle the information you overhear the Vice President discussing with the companies environmental consultant. Breaches in ethics regarding the conversation you overhear vary in severity. The first matter to consider would be whether or not what you overhear the VP and consultant discuss is fact or hearsay. The conversation between the Vice President and consultant regarding dumping into the holding pond has the potential to cause the environment harm.
In the case of United States v. Hartsell, the defendants were sentenced to 51 months of imprisonment in addition to fines (Corely, Reed, Shedd, & Moorehead, 1999, p. 283). Further criminal penalty might arise from other federal and state acts such as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976. This act requires generators of toxic substances to identify such substances and comply with established record keeping procedures. Depending on the toxin in question, EPA licensed transport and disposal may be mandatory with records maintained through a manifest system. The RCRA carries criminal penalties of both fines and imprisonment similar to the CWA. Both the RCRA and CWA authorize imprisonment of up to 15 years if the extent of the violation is considered to be knowing endangerment. Options for handling this particularly awkward situation all have negative aspects and potentially undesirable consequences. Choosing not to take action is the riskiest and therefore has the widest spectrum of possible outcomes from maintaining the status quo to fifteen years of imprisonment. Opting for internal solutions may be a wise choice but can also raise other problems depending on the response of the corporate member to whom you bring the issue. Going outside of the company to state or federal agencies has the most predictable outcome and the most predictable negative outcome. There is the slim possibility that taking no action will result in nothing happening with no problems occurring in the future.
Take for example Ernest Oliver who reported his company to the Tennessee's Department of Environment and Conservation. After leaving the company, he was unable to acquire work as a well paid chemist and forced to take up a new profession as a plumber. He took the ethically correct action but it ruined his career as a chemist (May 29, 2001 Chattanooga Fax). There is also the possibility that the action of dumping toxic waste into the company's holding pond may not be deemed a violation or no prior dumping has occurred therefore there is nothing for the environmental department to prosecute. This would most likely ruin the whistleblower's career over hearsay between corporate officials. A lack of action would seem the most inappropriate, risky, and unethical choice allowing the environmental damage to occur while leaving the non-reporter open to great personal liability. Immediately reporting the incident to an external governing agency could be premature, self-destructive, and have long term negative consequences. The most viable option is to first report the matter internally especially if there are established venues in which to address the issue or if the potential violators are openly approachable. Statistically this is the safest and most common route taken by employees in similar situations (Callahan & Dworking, 1994, p. 178). Internally reporting the matter also leaves open the option of handling the problem externally later while reducing many of the risk taken by not allowing the problem to be resolved internally first.
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