Environmental enforcement has trended downward for sometime.  As we pointed out last fall, there has been a steady decline in federal inspections (conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]) since 2012.  For example, in 2012, there were 20,077 inspections, and in 2018, that number was nearly cut in half to 10,612 inspections.  Civil enforcement has declined steadily since 2008.

While federal enforcement has declined, it has not disappeared.  Further, the current administration has encouraged authorized states to take the lead on enforcement, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to what your state regulators might be planning in the way of inspection and enforcement efforts.

Here is a summary of federal enforcement during the first quarter of 2020.

Excess of $20 Million in Penalties

A release of nearly 3,000 barrels of crude oil in 2015 was finally settled.  According to the EPA, “Federal officials announced a civil settlement with Plains All American Pipeline L.P. and Plains Pipeline L.P. (Plains) arising out of Plains’ violations of the federal pipeline safety laws and liability for the May 19, 2015, discharge of approximately 2,934 barrels of crude oil from Plains’ Line 901 immediately north of Refugio State Beach, located near Santa Barbara, California.”

Recent federal environmental enforcement news includes violations under the Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Clean Air Act (Image by SusuMa from Pixabay).

The EPA reports that the crude oil discharge impacted Refugio State Beach, the Pacific Ocean, as well as other shorelines and beaches.  The spill also closed other beaches and fishing areas and “…adversely impacted natural resources such as birds, fish, marine mammals and shoreline and subtidal habitat.”

The consent decree includes $9.45 million in Clean Water Act (CWA) penalties, including $5.925 million to the EPA, $2.5 million to the California Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, and $1.025 million to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Nearly $3 Million for CWA and RCRA Violations

In late February 2020, the EPA announced that, “Dyno Nobel, Inc. (Dyno Nobel) has reached a settlement with the United States to address violations of the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act at Dyno Nobel’s explosives manufacturing facility in Carthage, Missouri and its ammonium nitrate facility in Louisiana, Missouri.”

The settlement is based on a lawsuit filed by The United States in April 2019. The lawsuit alleged that Dyno Nobel violated the Clean Water Act at both facilities (Louisiana and Missouri).  The pollutants identified in the complaint included ammonia, nitrate, pH, Total Suspended Solids, Biochemical Oxygen Demand, E. coli, and Nitroglycerin.

Dyno Nobel will pay a civil penalty of $2,900,000 to the United States.

Clean Air Act Violations

Finally, the Department of Justice, the EPA, and the State of California announced a settlement with Kohler Co. (Kohler) for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act and California law.

According to the release from the EPA, “Under the terms of the settlement, Kohler will pay a $20 million civil penalty and retire more than three million kilograms (kgs) of unlawfully generated hydrocarbon (HC) + oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emission credits.  Retirement of these credits will result in approximately 3,600 tons of HC + NOx emissions reductions.”

This enforcement action was centered on alleged violations of Kohler’s small engines.  These small engines were manufactured and distributed but did not conform to the required certification applications that Kohler was required to submit to the EPA and the California Air Resources Board.

In addition to paying a $20 million civil penalty and retiring over three million kilograms of hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emission credits, “Kohler will also implement an emissions testing validation plan that includes third-party observation and emissions verification testing, conduct annual audits, implement corporate governance reforms, and conduct annual regulatory compliance training of its employees.  The injunctive relief measures are estimated to cost approximately $3.7 million.”

There was also a Supplemental Environmental Project portion that includes providing $1.8 million worth of solar-battery generators to low-income residents of California.

Environmental Compliance Help

Environmental enforcement at the federal level, while not as robust as it once was or, perhaps, may be again, is still happening.  Further, as we stated, keep a close pulse on state-led initiatives.

If you need help with an environmental compliance issue, including a compliance assessment, contact Matthew Schroeder, P.E., or Brooke Sullivan, EIT, at 248-932-0228.

Principled Foundation  |  Thoughtful Advice  |  Smart Solutions