Controversy Surrounds AECOM's Profit-Driven Pollution Project and FDEP Funding

Photo by International Environmental Justice Advocate Stel Bailey

Environmental Concerns Intensify as Allocation of Taxpayer Funds Comes Under Scrutiny

Brevard County, Florida — AECOM, a well-known company with a history of involvement in various environmental projects, is now at the center of a growing controversy related to a project that seems to profit from pollution. Recently, AECOM has been in the news for its controversial algae harvesting technology and a project funded by taxpayer dollars. Critics claim it is yet another scheme to profit from pollution.

AECOM Contract with FDEP

In 2020, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) awarded AECOM a $1.5 million grant to develop and test an algae harvester for use in the Indian River Lagoon. The grant was part of FDEP's broader efforts to address harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the lagoon, which have been a major source of environmental and economic damage in the region.

AECOM's proposed algae harvester uses a combination of nanobubbles and surface skimmers to remove algae from the water. Nanobubbles are tiny bubbles that increase oxygen levels in the water, making it less hospitable for algae growth. Surface skimmers collect algae from the top layer of the water.

AECOM Contract with Brevard County and FDEP

In 2022, AECOM signed a contract with Brevard County and FDEP to pilot test its algae harvester in the Indian River Lagoon. The pilot project is focused on testing the effectiveness of the harvester in removing algae from the lagoon and determining its potential for large-scale deployment.

The pilot project is expected to last for two years. During this time, AECOM will collect data on the performance of the harvester and its impact on water quality. The data will be used to assess the feasibility of using the harvester to address HABs in the Indian River Lagoon and other Florida waterways.

Significance of the Pilot Project

The pilot project to test AECOM's algae harvester claims to be a significant step forward in the fight against HABs in the Indian River Lagoon. If the harvester is successful, it could provide a much-needed tool for controlling HABs and improving water quality in the lagoon.

The project is also being closely watched by other Florida counties that are struggling with HABs. If the harvester is successful in the Indian River Lagoon, it could be deployed in other waterways throughout the state, for a cost. With a clear appearance of profiting from pollution, concerns now center around the unethical background of the corporation receiving the tax dollars, AECOM. The public funding raises concerns about the potential for AECOM to profit indefinitely from technology that was developed for taxpayers with taxpayer dollars.

Criticism of the Pilot Project:

Some critics argue that AECOM should be required to share its profits from the algae harvester technology with the public or that the technology should be made freely available to other organizations that could use it to address harmful algal blooms (HABs) in other waterways. Others argue that AECOM should be required to reinvest a portion of its profits into further research and development of HAB prevention technologies.

The issue of how to balance public funding for research and development with private profits is a complex one. There is no easy answer, and there are valid arguments to be made on both sides of the issue. Ultimately, it is up to policymakers to decide how to ensure that public investments in research and development are used in a way that benefits the public good.

In the case of AECOM's algae harvester technology, it is important to consider the potential benefits of the technology to both the environment and the economy. If the technology is proven to be effective in controlling HABs, it could have a significant impact on improving water quality and reducing the economic costs associated with HABs. However, it is also important to consider the ethical implications of AECOM profiting from technology that was developed with public funding.

One way to address these concerns would be to require AECOM to pay a royalty to the government for each algae harvester that is sold. This royalty could be used to fund further research and development of HAB mitigation technologies, or it could be used to provide financial assistance to communities that are affected by HABs.

Another option would be to require AECOM to license its technology to other organizations at a reduced cost. This would allow other organizations to use the technology to address HABs in their own communities, while still allowing AECOM to make a profit.

Ultimately, the decision of how to address the issue of AECOM's profits from its algae harvester technology is a complex one that will require careful consideration of the various factors involved. However, it is important to have a public conversation about this issue in order to ensure that the public is aware of the concerns and that there is a transparent and accountable process for making decisions about the future of this technology.

AECOM's Unethical and Fraudulent Track Record:

This controversy is further compounded by AECOM’s track record of litigation stemming from fraudulent claims and findings. The project, aimed at addressing harmful algae blooms in the Indian River Lagoon, has received grants and taxpayer dollars for its implementation. While the initiative’s primary goal is to clean up the polluted waters, the controversy arises from AECOM’s apparent intent to transform the collected algae into commercial products and fuel through its partnership with various corporations, including Genifuel Corp.

What adds another layer of apprehension is AECOM’s legal history, which includes litigation related to fraudulent claims and findings. This history of legal entanglements has led many to question the company’s ethical practices and its ability to responsibly manage environmental initiatives.

AECOM has been involved in a number of legal disputes and has paid millions of dollars in fines and penalties. In 2014, the company was fined $32.5 million for overbilling the US Army Corps of Engineers on a flood control project in New Orleans. In 2016, AECOM was fined $1 million for violating the Clean Water Act by discharging pollutants into a river in Washington state. In 2019, the company was fined $1.2 million for failing to disclose conflicts of interest on a project for the US Department of Transportation.

In addition to these fines, AECOM has also been sued by a number of private parties for fraud, negligence, and breach of contract. In 2015, the company was sued by the city of New York for allegedly underestimating the cost of a water tunnel project by $1.4 billion. In 2017, AECOM was sued by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for allegedly failing to properly design a rail tunnel project, which resulted in delays and cost overruns.

These legal disputes have raised concerns about AECOM's business practices and its ability to manage large, complex projects. The company has taken steps to address these concerns, including implementing new ethics and compliance programs. However, it remains to be seen whether these measures will be enough to prevent future legal problems.

The controversy surrounding AECOM’s project underscores the need for careful oversight and accountability to ensure that taxpayer funds are used as intended and to prevent any potential misuse or mismanagement. Furthermore, the company’s legal history raises questions about its capacity to responsibly handle environmental initiatives, adding another dimension to the ongoing debate.

The involvement of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in funding these projects with taxpayer dollars through grants adds another layer of complexity to the issue. Many are now questioning the priorities and decision-making processes of such agencies in allocating resources and taxpayer funds for projects that may not align with broader environmental protection goals. It underscores the importance of transparent and accountable decision-making processes within government agencies, especially in matters related to the environment, and the need for a clear and public explanation of why certain projects receive funding.

The AECOM algae harvester project in the Indian River Lagoon is a complex issue that raises a number of important ethical and environmental concerns. While the technology has the potential to be a valuable tool for controlling harmful algal blooms (HABs), it is important to consider the potential for AECOM to profit indefinitely from technology that was developed with taxpayer dollars. Additionally, AECOM's history of legal disputes raises concerns about the company's business practices and its ability to manage large, complex projects.

Ultimately, it is up to policymakers and the public to decide whether or not the potential benefits of the AECOM algae harvester technology outweigh the ethical and environmental concerns. If the project is to move forward, it is important to establish clear safeguards to ensure that AECOM is held accountable for its actions and that the technology is used in a way that benefits the public good.

The Advocates Voice

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