EPA Enforcement Roundup: Week of 12/20

Posted on 12/20/2021 by Lauren Scott

Industrial facilities in the United States are subject to complex, overlapping environmental regulations concerning air emissions, discharges to water, hazardous waste management and disposal, oil spills, chemical management, and more. Failure to comply with all applicable US EPA requirements can result in future liability and civil penalties as high as $100,000+ per day, per violation (and growing every year).

The EPA enforcement actions highlighted below provide insight into how and why the Agency assesses civil penalties for environmental noncompliance. All violations mentioned are alleged unless we indicate otherwise.

We withhold the names of organizations and individuals subject to enforcement to protect their privacy.

WHO: A telecom company
WHERE: Lake Tahoe, CA
WHAT: RCRA violations
HOW MUCH: Up to $1.5 million

A West Coast telecom provider agreed to spend up to $1.5 million to remove eight miles of abandoned telephone cables at the bottom of Lake Tahoe. The cables were replaced with fiber optics cables in the 1980s but were never removed after the switch. Because the cables are comprised of over 3 pounds of lead per foot, the initial lawsuit argued the cables are solid waste to be managed under RCRA hazardous waste rules.

One cable stretches from the southwestern shore of the lake at Baldwin Beach to the west shore at Rubicon Bay. The other runs past the mouth of Emerald Bay. Initial cost estimates for cable removal range from $275,000 to $550,000; however, the company agreed to spend up to $1.5 million to guard against cost overruns.

WHO: A pesticide provider
WHAT: FIFRA violations
HOW MUCH: $22.2 million

A major agricultural company recently plead guilty to 30 environmental crimes by allowing workers to enter corn fields on Oahu too soon after spraying a restricted glufosinate ammonium-based pesticide in 2020 and further agreed to plead guilty to two other charges related to the storage of a banned pesticide that were the subject of a 2019 Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA). As part of the plea agreement, the company also admitted to unlawfully spraying methyl parathion, a banned pesticide, on research crops at one of its facilities on Maui in early 2020.

As a result of actions taken by the Justice Department, the pesticide company agreed to pay a total of $22.2 million for two RCRA felonies and the 31 total FIFRA misdemeanor offenses. The company will pay $12 million in criminal penalties, $200,000 in FIFRA civil penalties, and $10 million in community service payments.

WHO: A chemical manufacturer
WHERE: Pittsburg, CA
WHAT: RCRA violations
HOW MUCH: Up to $70,000 for each separate violation

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is asking a judge to issue civil penalties and to order a chemical manufacturing facility to stop violating hazardous waste control laws. According to DTSC, the facility illegally treated wastewater with hazardous levels of toxic and corrosive chemicals in 2016, 2017, and 2020 without prior authorization and operated numerous tanks that were either open or had open vents, which could lead to uncontrolled emissions of toxic chemicals into the air.

The case was referred to DTSC in 2019 by EPA after a 2016 inspection allegedly found improper management of the wastewater treatment system and potentially hazardous waste streams. For violations occurring after January 1, 2018, Health and Safety Code sections 25189 and 25189.2 authorize the Court to impose civil penalties of up to $70,000 for each separate violation or, for continuing violations, for each day that the violations continue.

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Tags: EPA, EPA Enforcement Roundup, FIFRA, fines, hazardous waste management, penalties, pesticides, RCRA

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