174 Engineering Ethics: An Industrial Perspective
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QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. When the Exxon Valdez polluted Prince William Sound with approxi-
mately 24 million gallons of oil, Exxon was fined $150 million and settled
damage claims of $900 million.Why was First Energy not fined for starting
the Northeast blackout? Why did it not have to settle damage claims?
2. When the Exxon Valdez polluted Prince William Sound, Congress
enacted the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to prevent future oil spills. Why
has Congress not enacted legislation to prevent another Northeast
blackout?
3. View Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Gibney, 2005), a film
documentary produced by Gibney. The film was based on a book of
the same name, which was written by McLean and Elkind. Energy
deregulation enabled Enron to shut off power generation arbitrarily,
cause rolling blackouts in California, and to manipulate electricity
prices. This eventually cost California $30 billion and Governor Gray
Davis his job during an election recall. As already detailed in this
chapter, energy deregulation decreased reliability of the North
American grid. Name some North American grid benefits of energy
deregulation.
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4. What ethical dilemmas were present in the First Energy system before
the Northeast blackout occurred?
5. In 1996, Tampa Electric opened an innovative power plant that turned
coal, the most abundant but dirtiest fossil fuel, into a relatively clean
gas, which it burns to generate electricity. Besides decreasing pollution,
this coal-fired power plant is also 10% more efficient than traditional
coal plants. The technology used was the integrated gasification
combined cycle process, which chemically strips out pollutants such as
carbon dioxide from gasified coal before it is burned, rather than trying
to filter it out of exhaust. However, even though this technology offers
operational cost savings that offset the higher construction costs
(+20%), 90% of coal plants planned in 2005 for construction are still
based on old coal processing technology. According to William Fang,
deputy counsel for the Edison Electric Institute, a trade association
whose members account for 75% of the country’s generating capacity,
many of his members think that mandatory carbon controls can be kept
at bay in the United States, possibly indefinitely. Mandatory carbon con-
trols are in place in most of the world since the Kyoto Protocol came
into force in February 2005 to reduce global warming (Stier, 2005).
Discuss why these energy companies are resistant to change.
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