The case for / against the Atlantic Cement Company implicates a set of ethical issues at stake as company's operations continue to inform attitudes of local residents and company owners. The Atlantic Cement Company has a business case for operating a decidedly polluting business (particularly given operation date in 1962). From a business perspective, the Atlantic Cement Company creates jobs for local residents, offers value for local and broader communities (by manufacturing a much on-demand product required for construction works and a host of building- and construction-related industries) and, not least, supports government's efforts to help expand on a construction boom required for development. Further, in defending her business case by showing how socially responsible and comparatively less pollutant given the company's adoption of latest technology – a concept largely misunderstood in actual corporate practice (Shrivastava, 1995) – the Atlantic Cement Company confirms her development and value creation role as opposed to claimed harm by local residents. From a local resident perspective, the Atlantic Cement Company's cement plant is a source of noise, pollution and harm for buildings (because of vibrations). If anything, local residents are directly affected by introducing a polluting industry into the local community. The harm is physical. The moral stakes in the current case reside, accordingly, in balancing out a company's business needs and a local community's health rights.
Consequentialist Theory: Impact on Stakeholders
As noted above, the Atlantic Cement Company has a decidedly business case for operating a polluting plant. This case is based on job creation, value addition and, not least, corporate social responsibility. By creating jobs, the Atlantic Cement Company helps local residents earn livings, but also reduce commuting too far workplaces in a state (i.e. New York) notorious for job volatility. Further, by operating a plant close to a residential area, the Atlantic Cement Company helps to attract new businesses and, accordingly, enhances chain value. Not least, the Atlantic Cement Company shows, according to the company's claims, corporate social responsibility by minimizing harmful impacts by using the latest (and least polluting) technology.
Apparently, local government's role in current case is limited to offering plant permit. Otherwise, no major intervention seems to be made by local government during subsequent case developments. This lack of, one would say, proper government intervention runs against confirmed role local governments play in the sustainable development process (Brugmann, 1996). Indeed, by failing to intervene as proper, the local government's role has been at best opportunistic aiming, apparently, to reap permit benefits at the local community's expense. The local government in current case should have been a stockholder of resort in addition to the court.
Court Decision: Reasoning and Implications
Given historical context of current case (early 1960s), court ruling appears to be appropriate. However, giving growing awareness of environmental stewardship and climate change in recent decades (Ruhl, 2010) coupled by reported gaps in legal framing of environmental issues as independent cases (Lazarus, 2000), court ruling, in author's view, is largely misguided and wrong.
If anything, court decision is justifying by a reasoning based on greater benefits gained from keeping the Atlantic Cement Company's cement plant operating as opposed over closure. The decision appears to be based on a cost analysis, particularly as local residents are offered a one-time fee for property rental. Thus, by downplaying health problems, let alone environmental impact (an issue of little, if no, weight given historical context), court decision appears to support business over not only local resident interest but also broader community's stake in a sustainable environment. In current perspective, such court ruling may have generated much greater opposition and could very possibly overturned as climate change and environment stewardship has come to be issues of greater stake in communities and, not least, much more guarded.
Brugmann, J. (1996). Planning for sustainability at the local government level. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 16(4-6), 363–379. ScienceDirect. doi: 10.1016/S0195-9255(97)81658-7
Consequentialist Ethical Theories. (n.d.). University of Washington. Retrieved from http://faculty.washington.edu/wtalbott/phil240/trconseq.htm
Lazarus, R. L. (2000). Restoring What's Environmental About Environmental Law in the Supreme Court. UCLA Law Review, 47(3). Social Science Research Network. doi: 10.2139/ssrn.216433
Ruhl, J. B. (2010). Climate Change Adaptation and the Structural Transformation of Environmental Law. Environmental Law, 40. Social Science Research Network. Retrieved from http://ssrn.com/abstract=1517374
Shrivastava, P. (1995). The Role of Corporations in Achieving Ecological Sustainability. Academy of Management Review, 20(4), 936-960. Academy of Management. doi: 10.5465/AMR.1995.9512280026