After consistently refusing for the past 17 years to initiate protections in the workplace for its LGBT employees, Exxon Mobil Corporation finally announced that it will update its corporate policies to safeguard employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

People cleaning up the Exxon Valdez oil spill

What good are workplace protections in an industry that has granted no such protections to our planet? Above, volunteers cleaning up the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, the second largest oil spill in U.S. history. Credit: Jim Brickett/ Creative Commons

The company will now comply with President Obama’s historic amendment to executive order 11246 issued in July 2014 forbidding businesses receiving federal contracts from discriminating against LGBT people. Earlier, Obama amended Executive Order 11478 to include “gender identity” to other protected categories in the federal civilian workforce. During his presidency, Clinton amended this Executive Order to prohibit discrimination toward U.S. government employees based on sexual orientation.

This may be fine that Exxon Mobil Corp. has ever-so-reluctantly, though finally, added LGBT workplace protections. However, Exxon Mobil Corp. remains one of the primary environmental polluters in an industry that threatens the Earth and life as we know it. What good are workplace protections in a corporation and in an entire industry that has granted no such protections to our planet?The environment group, Sierra Club, charges Exxon Mobil Corp. with being one of the biggest polluters in the country. Even a cursory review of Exxon Mobile Corp.’s environmental record brings to light this corporation’s criminal policies.

Exxon Mobil Corp. was ordered to pay approximately $2.3 million in fines following charges by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality that the company, through accidents and leaks, pumped approximately 4 million pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the environment from its Baton Rough oil refinery and chemical plant between 2008 and 2011.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General filed criminal charges in 2013 against Exxon Mobile Corp. for illegally unloading tens of thousands of gallons of toxic hydraulic fracturing waste at one of its drilling sites in 2010. Exxon Mobil Corp.’s subsidiary, XTO, removed a wastewater tank plug resulting in 57,000 gallons of polluted waste water deposited into the ground.

In New York, a U.S. court of appeals ordered Exxon Mobil Corp to pay damages in the amount of $105 million for contaminating New York City’s groundwater by dumping a toxic gasoline additive.

In addition, the U.S. Justice Department announced it has ordered the company to pay $6.1 million following the Environment Protection Agency’s assessment that Exxon Mobil Corp. has not adequately reduced the sulfur content from emissions in its refineries in Baytown and Beaumont, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Torrance, California.

And I hope we never forget the disastrous voyage in 1989 of the Exxon Valdez tanker that went aground in Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska spilling literally hundreds of thousands ofbarrelsof crude oil. This second largest oil spill in U.S. history resulted in the death of millions of land and sea animals and plants. It turned what was previously a pristine corner of the Earth into a nightmarish waste land. How very tragic it was watching helpless oil-drenched birds fighting valiantly but impossibly for their lives, and witnessing a seemingly endless sea covered with the lifeless corpses of fish and other sea creatures turned over on their sides.

Evidently, the fines and fees Exxon Mobil Corp. has had to pay does not seem to matter to the company since it hardly made a dent in the bottom line of this second of the world’s largest corporations. But how many more Exxon Valdez and British Petroleum oil spills, polluted and poisoned waterways and skies, dead lakes, clear cut forests, mine disasters, mutilated and scorched Earth, nuclear power plant accidents and meltdowns, toxic dumps and landfills, trash littered landscapes, extinct animal and plant species, encroachments on land masses by increasingly raising oceans and seas, and how many more unprecedented global climatic fluctuations will it take for the these corporations to place the health of the planet and by extension, the health of all Earth’s inhabitants on the front burner, if you will, of policy priorities over the unquenchable lust for profits by corporate executives and their shareholders?

Webster’s dictionary defines “oppression”as a noun meaning “the unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power” on the individual/interpersonal, institutional, and larger societal levels. Human treatment of the environment certainly falls under this definition. As opposed to “oppression,” I define “social justice” as the concept that local, national, and global communities functioning where everyone has equal access to and equitable distribution of the rights, benefits, privileges, and resources, and where everyone can live freely unencumbered by social constructions of hierarchical positions of domination and subordination.”

This concluding phrase is of prime importance, for when humans place themselves into “hierarchical positions of domination and subordination,” environmental degradation inevitably results. This is no different in a U.S. context from other hierarchies of power and privilege: white people over people of color, men over women, rich over working class and poor, heterosexuals over homosexuals and bisexuals, cisgender people over transgender people, able-bodied people over people with disabilities, native-born English speakers over immigrant linguistic minorities, adults of a certain age over youth and over seniors, Christians over member of all other religious and spiritual communities as well as over non-believers, and the spokes on the oppression wheel continue to trample over people and over our environment.

So while corporate and government non-discrimination policies provide a step forward, unless and until we enact stronger politics protecting our planet from discrimination and oppression, inevitably, no humans will survive to enjoy their civil and human rights.

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Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).


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