UtiliCorp agrees to settlement of environmental claims against former wastewater unit

UtiliCorp United said it would settle claims arising from violation of environmental reporting requirements by several employees of a former division, Omaha-based PeopleService, in managing the analysis of wastewater treatment operations for several communities in eastern Nebraska.

KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 15, 2001 -- UtiliCorp United said it had reached agreement with state and federal agencies to settle claims arising from violation of environmental reporting requirements by several employees of a former division, Omaha-based PeopleService, in managing the analysis of wastewater treatment operations for several communities in eastern Nebraska.

"Although the actions of this small group of employees, which were clearly wrong, took place without the knowledge of UtiliCorp's management, we nonetheless acknowledge that the violations occurred and have worked openly and cooperatively with the United States Attorney's Office to arrive at a satisfactory settlement," said James G. Miller, a UtiliCorp senior vice president.

The terms of the complete settlement agreement call for UtiliCorp to pay $150,000 to the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund as a community service; $750,000 to Back to the River, Inc. as an additional community service; and a $100,000 criminal fine. All funds paid as community service will be used for the preservation and improvement of water resources and water quality in Nebraska, including actions to preserve rivers, lakes and streams from degradation and to improve community access to rivers, lakes and streams.

UtiliCorp also will pay $125,000 to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to settle civil liability.

"No environmental harm as a result of the violations was ever documented," Miller said. "These employees violated UtiliCorp's express policies and practices, and we're saddened that their irresponsible actions resulted in the first-ever serious environmental citation against our company."

UtiliCorp owned the PeopleService business from 1988 to January 17, 1997, when it was purchased by PeopleService employees. According to Miller, UtiliCorp did not learn of the violations until two-and-a-half years after the sale.

The charges against the employees included making false reports and statements regarding their analyses of wastewater under the Clean Water Act. In the majority of cases, the samples submitted to laboratories had been taken without using the appropriate sampling techniques. In some cases, the wastewater either had not been analyzed or the test results had been falsified.

In February 2000, one PeopleService employee pleaded guilty to two felonies in U.S. District Court in Omaha. He was fined, placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution.

Related civil penalties also were resolved by the settlement, Miller said.

Based in Kansas City, Missouri, UtiliCorp United is an international electric and gas company with energy customers and operations across the U.S. and in Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia. In Nebraska, UtiliCorp operates as Peoples Natural Gas and ServiceOne. UtiliCorp's risk management and wholesale energy subsidiary, Aquila, Inc., also operates in Nebraska.

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