WASHINGTON – 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 today. 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.
Today’s 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 http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/open.html and on the EPA website at http://www.epa/gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/cwa/prasa060706.html.