I have a mechanic I have taken vehicles to for many years now. I am loyal to my mechanic because he has always done right by me. Mechanics, like car salesmen, are known in caricature for their lack of responsibility, their lack of owning up to their words and their deeds.
Yet the truth is that many are responsible, just like mine.
So what is the responsibility of a company or corporation? Is it the same as for a person? They have many of the legal rights of a person, whether we agree with that proposition or not. They act in our world, doing well and doing poorly, just as most of us do well and less so. And yet, do we hold them accountable the way we do people – real people?
So what if a corporation has owned a mine for more than 50 years, a mine that has been highly profitable for its stakeholders? What is that corporation’s responsibility to the workers, or the people they help support, or the various service companies, or the community in which the mine is located?
I have written before of how large corporations are not part of our communities, how they can sell assets (mines or gas wells or power plants) and walk away in ways that individuals who are part of the communities rarely do.
BHP Billiton is the largest mining conglomerate on Earth. What is its responsibility to the people of Nenahnezad or Burnham, some of the communities in which they mine?
We have strong indications that BHP will sell its Navajo Mine, which feeds the Four Corners Power Plant. This is a mine that, until the last few years, operated with virtually no oversight, with weak agencies and free rein.
In the last few years, the Navajo Mine has been challenged on its burial of the coal ash waste from the Four Corners Power Plant. This is waste that is toxic and dangerous, and millions of tons of it are buried in the mine.
There is increasing attention to the mine’s expansion onto people’s homes and grazing lands. With the coming Environmental Impact Statement on the mine and power plant, for the first time ever, BHP is facing a truly public process that will shed light on its actions.
Now that it faces the scrutiny of public processes and attention, it appears BHP is turning and running.
If our mechanics looked for ways out of their responsibilities, as BHP may be doing, we would take our business elsewhere. It is this precept that perhaps defines small businesses; if they mess up, they lose. For big corporations, such as BHP, there is no such accountability.
Responsibility means holding oneself accountable. If BHP walks from the Navajo Mine, it must remain accountable for the coal ash buried in the mine, for the water it has polluted, and continues to pollute, for the homes it has destroyed.
Too big to fail? Too big to stand up to your responsibilities? Too big to be accountable? Let us hope not.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.