Traditional Facility-by-Facility Enforcement Approach Not Workable
In the early 1990's, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suspected that a variety of industrial operations were being modified to increase production capacity, resulting in an increase in air pollution across a number of industry sectors nationwide. In particular, EPA determined that plants that produced “engineered” wood products, such as plywood and particle board, were highly-polluting facilities that were not getting permits for their expansions or installing the legally required air pollution control equipment.
The Environmental Enforcement Section (EES) realized that the traditional enforcement model would have required federal and state regulators to amass the evidence and legal support to prove Clean Air Act violations against each of the individual facilities across the country, a painstaking and resource-intensive process which would have taken years to complete. Moreover, the traditional facility-by-facility enforcement approach often resulted in duplicated effort. EES sought to find a better way to bring these heavily polluting facilities into compliance.
EES and EPA Evolve a National Team Approach
Against this backdrop, EES worked with EPA to develop an alternative approach. Beginning in 1992, EES assembled and led a national team of technical experts from a number of EPA regional offices. By pulling our resources together and comparing our information about certain facilities, EES was able to make informed assumptions about industry-wide operations.
We learned that when a company made changes to expand operations at one location, they typically made the same changes across all facilities. A prime example was the use of moisture detecting devices on plywood dryers, an innovation that spread rapidly across the industry allowing facilities to increase production. These changes, in turn, caused huge increases in harmful air emissions. With a national team approach, we were able to piece together this limited information to illustrate a much bigger picture of industry-wide violation.
Sector-wide Enforcement and Settlement
Our efforts culminated in EPA’s issuance of some of the first national Notices of Violation, or NOVs, alleging nationwide non-compliance at multiple facilities across the United States. The NOVs alleged that air emissions from dozens of plywood and particle board plants were significantly underestimated and, as a result, were largely uncontrolled.
Outcome: Through the wood products sector-wide enforcement and settlement effort, we were able to secure settlements with Georgia-Pacific, Weyerhaeuser, Willamette Industries, and Boise-Cascade. The settlements achieved the installation of state-of-the-art pollution control technology at 47 plants, reducing emissions from these facilities by a total of 187,830 tons per year. In addition, at that time, the Willamette case resulted in the largest civil penalty ever assessed against a single company for facilities under the Clean Air Act, $11.3 million.
These innovative settlements with the wood products companies demonstrated the success of an industry-wide, multiple facility model, and gave EES and EPA enforcers an alternative to the traditional, resource and time intensive approach which focused on individual facilities. This new, national model represented a significant change in environmental enforcement.