Global environmental challenges
The Green Gauge: Vedanta, Sterlite ordered to shut smelter
This month, Vedanta Resources and subsidiary Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd. made headlines for posing a public health risk to the surrounding community in southern India with pollution from a large copper smelter. They share the top spot in this issue of The Green Gauge, a breakdown of companies recently in the news for winning or losing credibility based on environment-related activity.
Selections of companies were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.
Vedanta Resources, Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd.
Vedanta Resources faces a new environmental setback in India after a Madras High Court ordered the closure of a large copper smelter at Tuticorin belonging to Vedanta’s Indian subsidiary, Sterlite Industries. Claiming that “the right to have a living atmosphere congenial to human existence is part of the right to life,” the Madras court argued that toxic emissions from the copper smelter, the 9th largest in the world, posed a public health risk to the surrounding community. The Indian Supreme Court granted permission for the facility to continue to operate while Vedanta appeals the verdict.
Murphy Oil Corp.
Murphy Oil recently reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department as a result of violations of the Clean Air Act at its refineries in Meraux, Louisiana and Superior, Wisconsin. The settlement, which resulted from high emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and benzene at the facilities, requires Murphy to pay $1.25 million in a civil penalty, $1.5 million for a supplemental environmental project as well as to spend $142 million for upgraded pollution control equipment at the facilities. The total settlement amount of $144.75 million represents 16 percent of the company’s FY 2010 net profit.
A California judge has ordered Target to stop disposing of defective goods that should qualify as hazardous waste following a lawsuit filed by several cities and the state of California that could eventually result in significant fines against the company. The lawsuit contends that Target has routinely disposed of items such as pesticides, bleach, and electronics improperly throughout the state, including 5,000 pounds of unsalable hazardous waste that was sent to a local food bank in Los Angeles. Target denies the charges and claims that it has a comprehensive program to ensure that its waste disposal is compliant with California state laws.
In the wake of a series of environmental problems in its pipeline system in the mid-West including a damaging spill in the Kalamazoo River in July, the Wisconsin Attorney General also announced that the company faces $1 million in fines due to violations of state air pollution laws. The violations, which date as far back as 2001, include failures to maintain proper seals on gaskets and storage tanks at the company’s Superior terminal.
As part of its commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative, Covanta Energy is partnering with Project Kaisei to convert plastic waste in the Northern Pacific into fuel. The company has developed a new waste-to-fuel technology that will convert plastic debris into diesel fuel. Covanta hopes to convert 50 tons of plastic debris from the ocean into diesel, and the company believes that the collaboration with Project Kaisai will raise awareness both of the problem of plastic debris in the oceans as well as the possibility for renewable technologies to help address the problem.
More information on Project Kaisai is available here.
At the Clinton Global Initiative, the U.S. sustainability network Ceres announced a collaboration with Nike, the Skoll Foundation and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) to promote sustainability goals and practices in publicly traded companies. The initiative will host a series of roundtables between companies and investors in order to drive a more fundamental integration of sustainability goals into companies’ core strategies. The initiatives will be based on The 21st Century Corporation: Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability, and will include such goals as making energy efficiency and renewable energy fundamental to corporate operations, eliminating waste and wastewater emissions, and developing incentives for executives to promote sustainability efforts in their business.
A link to the Ceres’ Roadmap is available here.