EPA Action: Puerto Rico pays largest Clean Water Act fine in history

Also in this report: New CAFO rule proposed; Merck connected to Wissahickon Creek cyanide discharge; Final rule finalized for cooling water intake, stormwater discharges at oil & gas facilities; Latest beach monitoring figures released; Southern Co. pledges $1.2M to Southeast wetlands restoration; Dredging begins at Sheboygan River site; 30 states to split $10M in beach protection grants; WaterSense water efficiency labeling program unveiled; Permit proposed to inject biosolids under L.A...

In other news below:
-- Rule proposed to control effluent from large animal feedlots
-- Merck facility identified as source of cyanide-related discharge to Wissahickon Creek
-- Final rule published for cooling water intake at new oil & gas facilities
-- Stormwater discharge rule finalized to comply with Energy Policy Act
-- EPA releases latest beach monitoring figures
-- Southern Company pledges $1.2 million to Southeast wetlands restoration projects
-- Dredging begins at Sheboygan River site
-- Bush Administration grants $10 million to U.S. beaches
-- WaterSense labeling program aims to raise awareness about importance of water efficiency
-- New guidance helps small drinking water systems identify affordable-treatment options
-- Permit proposed to inject biosolids under Los Angeles

Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority indicted for environmental crimes -- Will pay $10 million in criminal, civil fines and spend $1.7 billion improving wastewater treatment -- WASHINGTON, June 23, 2006 -- The Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) entered into an agreement to plead guilty to an indictment charging 15 felony counts of violating the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) through the illegal discharge of pollutants from nine sanitary wastewater treatment plants and five drinking water treatment plants, the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday. Under the plea agreement, PRASA will pay a criminal fine of $9 million -- the largest fine ever paid by a utility for violating the CWA. In addition, a comprehensive civil settlement was reached between PRASA and the United States of America resolving repeated environmental violations at 61 wastewater treatment plants throughout the Commonwealth.

In the civil settlement, PRASA will spend an estimated $1.7 billion implementing capital improvement projects (CIPs) and other remedial measures at all of its 61 wastewater treatment plants and related collection systems over the next 15 years. To comply with the settlement, PRASA will complete 145 short-, mid-, and long-term CIPs, which will include installing dechlorination equipment, installing flow proportional chlorination equipment, repairing and replacing equipment, and implementing a chemical treatment program for phosphorous removal, among other things.

"Today's criminal and civil actions are a landmark step in assisting PRASA, an offender with a pervasive history of violations, to comply with the Clean Water Act, a law that protects both the people and the environment of Puerto Rico from undue exposure to harmful pollutants," said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We are pleased that we have reached a resolution to these matters, and that PRASA has agreed to make the necessary improvements and committed funds to ensure significant improvements to its wastewater treatment plants."

"The Bush Administration is holding polluters accountable for their actions and using enforcement tools to enhance our environment and protect public health," said Granta Y. Nakayama, EPA's Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "This action is the largest criminal fine ever paid by a utility under the Clean Water Act."

This morning, the federal grand jury in San Juan returned a 15-count indictment charging PRASA with criminal violations of the Clean Water Act arising out of PRASA's role, as owner and operator, and its conduct in the operation and management of the wastewater and drinking water treatment systems in Puerto Rico. The Justice Department also filed this morning, a plea agreement with PRASA under which the utility will plead guilty to the indictment filed by the grand jury. Under the plea agreement, PRASA will pay a fine of $9 million, complete capital improvements to the nine wastewater treatment systems for nearly $109 million, spend $10 million to correct the discharges to the Martin PeZa Creek, and serve a five-year term of probation. Further, under the agreement, PRASA is required to fully comply with the terms in the civil consent decree and has agreed that the court may extend PRASA's term of probation, with all available sentencing options, to ensure that PRASA comes into substantial compliance with the conditions of probation.

"This record settlement reaffirms the Bush Administration's commitment to protecting public health and the environment," said Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator. "The proposed settlement and plea agreement address a history of noncompliance on the part of PRASA that has resulted in the discharge of millions of gallons of inadequately treated sewage and raw sewage through illegal discharges. Once actions are taken under the civil consent decree and plea agreement, the quality of the environment in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will be improved."

"The United States Attorney's Office in Puerto Rico is committed to environmental enforcement aimed at improving the quality of life in Puerto Rico especially the quality of water," said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.

This civil settlement resolves allegations that PRASA violated pollution discharge permits issued by the EPA under the CWA; failed to properly operate and maintain all 61 treatment facilities; and discharged raw sewage from seven collection systems in violation of the CWA. In addition to the nearly $1.7 billion in capital improvements and other remedial measures, PRASA will pay a $1 million civil penalty and implement a supplemental environmental project at an estimated cost of $3 million. The project requires PRASA to provide sewer service to at least one community on the Island that has not been connected to PRASA's facilities.

Senior Litigation Counsel Howard Stewart, of the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Silvia Carreño of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Puerto Rico are the criminal prosecutors in this case. Senior Attorney Patricia A. McKenna, of the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental Enforcement Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Isabel Muñoz of the U. S. Attorney's Office in Puerto Rico are the civil prosecutors in this case. At the EPA, Diane Gomes, Assistant Regional Counsel; Charles Hoffmann, Associate Regional Counsel for Criminal Enforcement; Jaime Geliga, Caribbean Environmental Protection Division; Special Agent in Charge William Lometti; and Associate Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Thalasinos were instrumental in this action.

The consent decree will be subject to a 30-day public comment period and is available on the Justice Department website at www.usdoj.gov/enrd/open.html. For additional information, please visit the EPA website at www.epa.gov/region2.

Rule proposed to control effluent from large animal feedlots -- WASHINGTON, DC, June 22, 2006) Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), such as large pig, veal and poultry, beef and dairy farms, would continue to be required to properly manage the manure they generate under a rule proposed today by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The move, in response to a 2005 court ruling, would revise the current permit system for such farms.The proposed rule revises the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting requirements and Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for CAFOs. The proposal:
-- Requires those CAFOs that discharge -- or propose to discharge -- pollutants to apply for a permit.
-- Provides for greater public participation in connection with nutrient management plans. Applicants would have to submit a nutrient management plan with their permit application. Permitting authorities would be required to provide public notice and review of the plans, and include them as enforceable elements of the permit.
-- Clarifies the selection of best conventional technology for fecal coliform bacteria.
-- Clarifies that under the exemption established by the Clean Water Act, CAFOs land applying manure, litter or processed wastewater don't need NPDES permits if the only discharge from those facilities is agricultural stormwater.

The proposed revision is in response to a ruling from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Waterkeeper Alliance, et al., vs. EPA. The proposed rule is open for a 45-day comment period.

Information on proposed rule: www.epa.gov/npdes/afo/revisedrule

EPA identifies pharmaceutical research facility as source of cyanide-related discharge to Wissahickon Creek -- PHILADELPHIA -- The EPA has identified a Merck and Co. pharmaceutical research facility in West Point, Pa. as a source of the cyanide-related discharge that killed more than 1,000 fish in the Wissahickon Creek last week. In the process of an investigation by EPA's mid-Atlantic region and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), a representative from the Merck facility notified EPA on Tuesday that about 25 gallons of potassium thiocyanate was released into the sewer system on the morning of June 13 from a vaccine research pilot plant. The representative noted this discharge was not in accordance with the company's protocols for proper waste disposal. Such discharges are also regulated by EPA's national pretreatment program. Potassium thiocyanate is a chemical compound that includes cyanide. It has a wide range of applications including use in the manufacture of industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals and pesticides...

EPA publishes final proposal on NPDES rules for cooling water intake structures at Phase III facilities -- WASHINGTON, DC, June 16, 2006 -- On November 1, 2004, the EPA published a proposal that contained several options for control of cooling water intake structures at existing Phase III facilities and at new offshore oil and gas extraction facilities. This rule establishes categorical section 316(b) requirements for intake structures at new offshore oil and gas extraction facilities, which were specifically excluded from the Phase I new facility rule, that have a design intake flow threshold of greater than 2 million gallons per day (MGD) and that withdraw at least 25% of the water exclusively for cooling purposes. New facilities with a design intake flow threshold of greater than 2 MGD are subject to requirements similar to those under the Phase I rule. For existing Phase III facilities, EPA determined that uniform national standards are not the most effective way at this time to address cooling water intake structures at these facilities. Instead, EPA believes that it is better to continue to rely upon the existing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program, which implements section 316(b) for existing facilities not covered under the Phase II rule on a case-by-case, best professional judgment basis. This final action constitutes Phase III of EPA's section 316(b) regulation development. This rule does not alter the regulatory requirements for facilities subject to the Phase I or Phase II regulations. The regulation is effective July 17. For judicial review purposes, it's promulgated as of 1 p.m. EDT on June 30. For additional industrial effluent guidelines, see: www.epa.gov/waterscience/pollcontrol/...

Stormwater discharge rule finalized to comply with Energy Policy Act -- WASHINGTON, DC, June 7, 2006 -- The EPA has finalized revisions to storm water regulations to advance the comprehensive energy policy enacted by Congress last year. This action, implementing an amendment to the Clean Water Act passed in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, modifies water permitting program regulations to clarify that uncontaminated storm water discharged from oil and gas field activities does not require a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. This rule encourages voluntary application of best-management practices for oil and gas field construction activities to minimize erosion and control sediment to protect surface water quality during storm events. It also retains the right of states to regulate these activities under other laws and authorities. EPA will work with government, citizens, and industry to promote the importance of storm water management at oil and gas sites as it implements its rulemaking activities. This rule is effective June 12. For information on permitting of storm water discharges, click here...

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Other recent EPA headlines include:
-- "EPA releases latest beach monitoring figures" (6/23/06)
-- "New funding helps ensure healthy beaches in New Hampshire" (06/23/06)
-- "Southern Company joins list of 5 Star Program partners: Pledges five-year $1.2 million commitment to education through community-based Southeast wetlands restoration projects" (06/21/06)
-- "Dredging begins at Sheboygan River site" (06/21/06)
-- "Bush Administration grants $10 million to U.S. beaches" (06/19/06)
-- "Des Moines ground water workshop on water well economics to feature EPA experts, others from 10 states" (06/16/06)
-- "New EPA program saves dollars and makes sense: WaterSense labeling program aims to raise awareness about importance of water efficiency" (06/12/06)
-- "Permit proposed to inject biosolids under Los Angeles" (06/06/06)

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In recent agency regulatory action:
-- "EPA reaches agreement with Wisconsin companies for filling in wetlands without a permit" (06/21/06)
-- "EPA cites Lanxess for air violations: Also requests information about water discharges from Ohio plant, orders it to comply with wastewater discharge permit" (6/13/06)
-- "Ocean Beauty Seafoods Inc. agrees to pay $126,000 to settle federal water permit violations" (06/12/06)
-- "Connors Drilling LLC and Kennecott Greens Creek Mining Company agree to pay $12,900 EPA penalty to settle Clean Water Act violations" (06/12/06)
-- "EPA posts results of additional samples taken at the Murphy Oil Site" (06/08/06)

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In earlier EPA Action reports:
"EPA Action: New cooling water intake rule to offer 'greater protection' to marine life" -- Also in this report (June 6, 2006): New guidance helps small drinking water systems identify affordable-treatment options; EPA announces 45-day public comment period for city of Los Angeles' biosolids injection permit; TRI Program adopts reporting by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes; EPA Administrator Johnson, Ohio Governor Taft celebrate start of Ashtabula River cleanup; $50 million project is Ohio's first under Legacy Act; EPA negotiates landmark international pollution agreement; EPA extends comment period for Chevron ground water cleanup plan...

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"EPA Action: Agency proposes new information collection initiative for manufacturers" -- Also in this report (June 1, 2006): Agency says permits not needed for water transfers; DWSRF tops $9 billion for infrastructure improvements; Tools will help small drinking water utilities monitor drinking water; EPA seeks public comment on underground storage tank draft grant guidelines; EPA to hold public hearing on proposed permit for salt water disposal well; New Hampshire conservationist awarded for career studying, protecting wetlands; EPA announces amended decision on Iowa's impaired waters list; Public meetings scheduled on New York City's filtration avoidance determination; Pacific SW drinking water systems ordered to complete vulnerability assessments; Proposed legislation seeks cleanup of abandoned mines; EPA proposes steep fines for companies that fail to curb polluted stormwater...

For the latest news releases from the EPA, click here.

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