Opinion

Time to pay for polluter

A Gazette editorial from the Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When was the last time you heard of a polluter pleading guilty in court, let alone serving jail time, for poisoning the public’s water? Thanks to U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and his team, it was last week.

Former Freedom Industries President Gary Southern pleaded guilty to three federal charges related to the January 2014 Elk River Chemical leak that closed schools and businesses and sent people to hospitals with eye and skin problems. Southern faces a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of three years in prison and a fine of up to $300,000. He is the sixth former Freedom Industries official to plead guilty to various charges.

Goodwin has taken the unusual and overdue attitude that environmental lawbreakers deserve to be treated like other perpetrators. “If you place our water at risk, you face prison time,” Goodwin said after Southern’s plea hearing.

But the plea deal submitted to U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston also says that Southern’s substantial property will be restored to him seven days after he begins serving his sentence. That property includes $7.3 million, a Bentley luxury car and a house on Marco Island, Fla. Here Goodwin chose not to pursue any assets as restitution, as federal law allows, aside from $92,000 to reimburse the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Southern’s property was seized by federal officials when he faced allegations that he tried to hide his personal wealth from federal bankruptcy court and in a class-action suit. Those 12 counts were dropped as part of the plea agreement.

So now, Southern’s considerable assets should be back in play…

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