Environmental Enforcement Roundup: Wire Co. Criminal Fine; Ethanol Lawsuit; Slippery Rock Settlement; Bristol Township to Revamp Treatment Plant

by | Nov 11, 2010

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Wire Manufacturer Pleads Guilty to Criminal Wastewater Discharge 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday that the Davis Wire Corporation of Irwindale, Calif. pleaded guilty to one count of negligent discharge of acidic pollutants into a publicly owned treatment works.

Davis Wire was sentenced to pay $1.5 million in restitution to the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts (LACSD) for damage done to its sewer system, and pay a $25,000 criminal fine.

Investigators determined that Davis Wire, which manufactures galvanized wire, illegally discharged wastewater with acidic levels from its plant in Irwindale on a routine basis. A team of inspectors found that the company’s discharges had, over time, impaired sewer lines to such an extent that the entire trunk line must be re-lined at a cost of more than $1 million.

“Davis Wire has an extensive history of noncompliance since at least 2004, including repeated discharges of highly acidic wastewater,” Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest said in a press release. “Their illegal discharges put the surrounding community at risk by damaging the sewer pipes, potentially impacting public health and the environment.”

The plea and sentence culminates a joint investigation and prosecution effort by EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, FBI, LACSD, Los Angeles County Public Works, Los Angeles County Fire Department, California Department of Toxic Substances Control, and the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.

“All companies must ensure their compliance with federal environmental regulations or face the consequences, as demonstrated by the sentencing of Davis Wire for a combined $1,525,000 million fine and restitution,” Nick Torres, Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Criminal Enforcement for EPA’s Pacific Southwest region said in a prepared statement.

The case opened in February 2008, when a LACSD employee detected acid wastewater (with a pH level of approximately 3.0) while working in the southern portion of the Irwindale Trunk Line. The LACSD traced the source of the discharge back to the Davis Wire plant. The company’s industrial wastewater discharge permit with the Los Angeles County Sanitation District does not allow a discharge with a pH level below 6.0.

Davis Wire uses sulfuric acid in its manufacturing process, and is required to neutralize the acid with a wastewater treatment system before sending it to the public sewer. However, throughout the months of February, March, April and May 2008, inspectors recorded acidic discharges between pH levels of 4.0 and 1.0. A total of 14 illegal discharges were recorded during this period. The investigation revealed that Davis Wire’s wastewater treatment system has been in need of upgrades for years.

Lawsuit Challenges New EPA Ethanol Rules

Food and livestock groups are joining the oil industry in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency that seeks to reverse rules that allow an increase in the amount of ethanol that is added to gasoline, the Des Moines Register reports.

The groups say the EPA doesn’t have the authority to permit higher ethanol blends in some vehicles of the vehicles included in the new rules. The EPA last month agreed to allow cars and trucks that are 2007 and newer to run on gasoline with 15 percent ethanol, a blend known as E15.

The limit has long been 10 percent for all vehicles except for “flexible fuel” cars and trucks that are manufactured to run on ethanol or gasoline.

“This legal action will give EPA a second chance to get this important decision right,” Scott Faber, vice president for federal affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers Association told the Des Moines Register.

Livestock producers and food groups have long argued that ethanol usage is driving up the cost of producing meat, milk and other products.

Their concerns were bolstered by Agriculture Department reports Tuesday that sent corn and soybeans prices higher on projections of tight crop supplies and increased export demand.

“This challenge to the EPA’s decision is necessary to reduce the strain that ethanol production from corn has placed on U.S. agriculture,” Scott Vinson, vice president of the National Council of Chain Restaurants told the Des Moines Register. Other groups suing the EPA include the American Petroleum Institute, National Pork Producers Council, National Chicken Council, American Meat Institute and the National Meat Association.

Groups representing gasoline refiners, manufacturers of outdoor power equipment among others also are considering similar legal challenges.

Many in the ethanol industry are unhappy with the EPA, too, both because it limited E15 to the newest vehicles and because it is proposing to put a warning label about ethanol on pumps. The agency is waiting on research to be completed before expanding the E15 approval to include vehicles made since 2001.

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis told the Des Moines Register that the lawsuit was the food industry’s latest attempt to stop the growth of ethanol production. “Having been unable to dispute the overwhelming science in favor of E15, they are now turning to the legal process to slow progress on renewable fuels,” he said.

The EPA said its E15 decision was “based on strict adherence to the Clean Air Act and grounded firmly in science. The agency relied on numerous rounds of rigorous testing 19 car models and, at every step, worked in close consultation with automakers and fuel suppliers.”

Pennsylvania and Slippery Rock University Settle EPA Clean Air Claims

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has lodged a proposed consent decree with Slippery Rock University and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the U.S. District Court in Western Pennsylvania.

In a complaint (pdf), filed simultaneously with the consent decree (pdf), the United States alleges that the Slippery Rock University and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania violated the Clean Air Act regulations included in the Pennsylvania State Implementation Plan, by causing excess particulate emissions from boilers on the university campus.

According to EPA’s complaint, the boilers on the Slippery Rock University campus have violated the Clean Air Act since 2003.

Under the proposed consent decree, Slippery Rock University and the Commonwealth will install pollution control technology to reduce particulate emissions, will comply with the regulatory emissions limits for particulate matter, and agreed to store its coal in a coal storage building to protect coal from degradation. Slippery Rock University also agreed to perform periodic testing to ensure that the facility is complying with the emissions limits. Slippery Rock University and the Commonwealth agreed to pay a $50,000 civil penalty.

The Department of Justice is soliciting public comments concerning the proposed consent decree for a period of 30 days, after which it will be considered by the court for approval.

Bristol Township Settles EPA Complaint, Agrees to Revamp Treatment Facility

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has lodged a proposed consent decree with Bristol Township in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Pennsylvania.

The proposed consent decree (pdf) relates to the operation of the publicly owned treatment works in Bristol Township, and obligates the Township to implement a series of immediate reforms, repairs and upgrades to more accurately assess the function of its collection system.

The proposed consent decree also requires the Township to perform a wide variety of short, medium, and long-term studies to assess what additional capital improvements will be required. Once these studies are reviewed and approved by EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), the consent decree requires that the capital improvements be completed in accordance with schedules that it establishes.

 The consent decree, which resolves the claims brought by EPA and the Commonwealth, also obligates the Township to pay a civil penalty of $226,000 and establishes a sliding scale of stipulated penalties in case Bristol does not come into compliance with the conditions of its permit.

The Department of Justice is soliciting public comments concerning the proposed consent decree for a period of 30 days, after which it will be considered by the court for approval.

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