There’s a meeting Monday night of folks responsible for a new perspective on the Mahoning River.
They have plans for cleanup, grant initiatives and activities designed to bring people and appreciation back to the river.
You might, by way of these efforts in the past year or so, also give them credit for empowering someone — an anonymous person — to blow the whistle on a Valley businessman who, if accusations are correct, might someday be added to the book on the Valley’s top serial polluters.
Ben Lupo has about as many companies as Berkshire Hathaway.
Charges filed against him this week allege he used some of those companies for purposes of dumping thousands upon thousands of gallons of volatile drilling waste, including brine water, into the Mahoning River.
Officially, from the charges, he’s accused of doing it since November.
But when you look at his business and environmental history profiled by reporter Jamison Cocklin on today’s front page of The Vindicator, it’s clear that his is a history worth scrutinizing.
It’s fair to wonder: How much pollution did he truly cause to the Mahoning River and other waterways in his four-plus decades in business?
The lineup of companies under Lupo’s name seems less a tribute to business success like a Warren Buffet and more like a deck of cards he can shuffle better than the neighborhood card shark.
The biggest concern now is: What punishment awaits him?
Concern has been that he’ll be paraded in front of the community, be made the object of scorn and then be slapped on the wrist with a fine that most would find laughable.
But a closer look at recent violations of the Clean Water Act reveals that if found guilty of the charges, prison time is quite possible.
Two months ago, federal courts sentenced a Louisiana man to five years in prison for illegally discharging water from oil-field operations into streams and municipal wastewater operations.
The situation is strikingly similar to ours. So are other cases in recent years that also carried prison time.
In 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that it opened 320 criminal investigations. Almost half the probes resulted in criminal charges against individuals. They scored a conviction rate of 95 percent that resulted in 79 years in prison terms and $44 million in fines. Here are some examples:
In Miami, a businessman was sentenced to 13 months in prison for illegal receipt, purchase and sale of ozone- depleting refrigerant gas that had been smuggled into the United States contrary to the Clean Air Act.
In Illinois, a man was convicted in 2011 for the illegal removal, handling and disposal of asbestos and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In Royal Oak Township, Mich., a public official was sentenced to three years for fraud and violating the Clean Air Act’s asbestos requirements.
In Seattle, a business owner who directed a teenage employee to illegally dispose of hazardous chemicals into waterways was sentenced to 33 months in prison.
And in Ohio, a man was sentenced in 2011 to six months in jail for Clean Water Act violations.
As important to the above sentencing trends is the need to restrict an offender’s future opportunities to wreak havoc on the environment after whatever sentence is served. Gov. John Kasich, in comments about the Youngstown dumping incident, expressed interest last week in ensuring such precautions were taken in Ohio.
Keep in mind this is all to be considered if Lupo is found guilty. He’s simply accused at this stage. But his own words and his own history certainly deserve the scrutiny we give them today.
In addition to whatever becomes of Lupo, I hope this incident also continues to fuel the new interest in the Mahoning River. The Monday meeting is at 6:30 p.m. in the main library on Wick Avenue.
Said one friend of the Mahoning:
“There are a lot of good things happening with the river right now. The best thing is that people have started to take ownership of the river as evidenced by everyone’s reactions to the brine dumps.”
And as evidenced by one person blowing the whistle on Lupo.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at email@example.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.