|James Laughlin, Managing Editor|
In 2012 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency levied $252 million in civil and criminal penalties for violation of environmental rules. At the same time, the agency helped reduced air, water and land pollution by several billion pounds, according to the agency.
Several companies and quite a few municipalities were hit with penalties for violating the Clean Water Act during the year. In many cases illegal discharges were due to aging and overwhelmed infrastructure and/or poor management. Some were simply reporting violations, while others were criminal acts.
Enforcement of drinking water standards over the past few years has paid off in the form of fewer serious violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA reported. The number of systems with serious violations has declined by more than 60 percent in the past three years, partly as a result of combined federal and state enforcement work.
On the Clean Water Act front, more than 67 percent of large combined sewer systems across the country are either under consent decrees or working to implement clean water controls to reduce raw sewage and contaminated stormwater flowing into rivers, lakes and oceans.
Companies and industrial facilities across the country have had to pay some pretty hefty fines for violation of the Clean Water Act. As an example, Roquette America Inc. agreed to pay a $4.1 million civil penalty to settle alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit at its grain processing facility in Keokuk, Iowa.
EPA also pushed criminal prosecutions in some water-related cases. In December, a former general manager of a company that provided wastewater treatment services for various industrial processes and oilfield facilities was sentenced to 60 months in prison plus a $100,000 fine for illegal wastewater discharges. In another case, an employee of a chrome plating company received five years of probation and 200 hours of community service for failing to report illegal discharges.
EPA also cracked down on Clean Air Act violations. One of its biggest cases involved BP North America, which agreed to pay an $8 million penalty and invest more than $400 million to install state-of-the-art pollution controls and cut emissions from BP's petroleum refinery in Whiting, IN. EPA also incorporated fenceline monitoring into some CAA settlements, requiring companies to monitor their air emissions and make that data available to the public.
Some municipalities have complained of a heavy hand by EPA enforcers, especially in a time when cities are struggling to make ends meet in a down economy. EPA has apparently been listening and recently announced plans to ease up on enforcement and work more closely with communities to design integrated solutions for sewer overflows and contaminated stormwater runoff. The agency also recently agreed to take into consideration the financial ability of communities to meet their Clean Water Act obligations.
It's a nice trend for the municipal folks, but I wouldn't expect it to extend to commercial and industrial facilities that violate their permit limits. More information about EPA's FY 2012 enforcement results, visit http://www.epa.gov/enforcement/data/eoy2012/index.html