This month, the president and owner of Oil Chem Inc. was sentenced to 12 months in prison for violating the Clean Water Act. Robert J. Massey, 70, of Brighton, Michigan, carried out illegal discharges of landfill leachate — totaling more than 47 million gallons — into the city of Flint sanitary sewer system over an eight and a half year period.
Massey pleaded guilty in January and received his sentence on Friday. According to the Department of Justice, the company held a Clean Water Act permit issued by the city of Flint, which allowed it to discharge certain industrial wastes within permit limitations. The city’s sanitary sewers flow to its municipal wastewater treatment plant, where treatment takes place before the wastewater is discharged to the Flint River. The treatment plant’s discharge point for the treated wastewater was downstream of the location where drinking water was taken from the Flint River in 2014 to 2015.
From January 2007 through October 2015, Massey arranged for Oil Chem to receive 47,824,293 gallons of landfill leachate from eight different landfills located in Michigan. One of the landfills was found to have polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in its leachate. PCBs are known to be hazardous to human health and the environment.
This toxic waste was not accidentally leaked either. Massey had criminal intent when releasing mass pollution on the unwitting residents of Flint.
According to court documents, Massey signed and certified Oil Chem’s 2008 permit application and did not disclose that his company had been and planned to continue to receive landfill leachate, which it discharged to the sewers untreated. Nor did Massey disclose to the city when Oil Chem started to discharge this new waste stream, which the permit also required. Massey directed employees of Oil Chem to begin discharging the leachate at the close of business each day, which allowed the waste to flow from a storage tank to the sanitary sewer overnight.
Though the 70-year-old toxic waste tycoon was given a prison sentence for his crimes, it comes nowhere near a just sentence for the scope of his actions. The United States justice systems allows for rampant crimes which affect thousands of people to go largely unpunished, Like Massey’s, while viciously prosecuting folks in the war on drugs.
Highlighting this disparity is the case of Allen Russell, a 38-year-old man from Mississippi, who is serving a life sentence for marijuana possession.
Russell was caught with a little over 1 ounce of marijuana in the state of Mississippi. And, despite the fact that the state just legalized medical marijuana in November, “possession of between 30 and 250 grams is a felony punishable by a maximum of 3 years imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $3,000.”
While three years for having a tiny bit of a plant is certainly excessive, what happened to Russell moves beyond excessive into the realm of cruel and unusual. In 2019, Russell was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole because he had a little bit of a plant which happens to be available over the counter in a dozens states. His appeal was knocked down and his life sentence was just upheld earlier this month.
Because Russell had two prior run-ins with the law, once in 2004 and once in 2014, the marijuana conviction put him away for life.
Russell’s actions affected no one, harmed no one, and led to him spending the rest of his life in a cage while Massey’s actions harmed countless individuals and he will get just a single year.
What this comparison proves is that in the ostensible land of the free, there are two sets of justice systems: one for all those within and connected to the system, and one for everyone else.