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Ashcroft, Sansonetti Hail Recovery Of More Than $203 Million From Violators

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Attorney General John Ashcroft and Assistant Attorney General Tom Sansonetti of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, reported today that Fiscal Year 2003 was a record breaking year for the recovery of civil penalties in environmental cases. Court awards and consent decrees achieved by the Department and United States Attorney’s Offices resulted in more than $203 million in penalties for civil violations of the nation’s environmental laws. In contrast during the three previous years, awards averaged approximately $75 million.

“The record-setting $203 million in civil penalties that were obtained this year sends a powerful message to polluters and would-be polluters: we will prosecute and punish those who break the law and endanger the lives and land of our citizens,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft.

“The assessment of civil penalties in Fiscal Year 2003 is strong evidence of the Division’s commitment to ‘leveling the playing field’ for those who do business in America while complying with the law,” said Assistant Attorney General Tom Sansonetti. “The Division will continue to move aggressively against individuals, partnerships and companies that seek to avoid the cost of environmental compliance and thereby gain an economic advantage over their competitors that do comply. We shall seek penalties that force the non-complier both to revert the economic benefit reaped by non-compliance and to pay a stiff penalty to serve as a deterrent to others.”

The Environment Division also obtained the largest civil penalty in history against a single company for violations of an environmental statute when it settled its Clean Water Act enforcement action against the Colonial Pipeline Company for a $34 million penalty and a comprehensive repair and maintenance program for its 5,500 mile pipeline. The case resolved charges that Colonial violated the Clean Water Act on seven occasions by spilling 1.45 million gallons of oil from its pipeline in five states.

Of the $203 million in civil penalties recovered, $144.6 million were assessed for violations of the Clean Air Act, $53 million for violations of the Clean Water Act or Oil Pollution Act, $4.3 million for violations of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, and $920,000 for violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The record breaking recovery figure also includes payment of $128 million in nonconformance penalties by Caterpillar, Inc. under the terms of a consent decree. The decree with Caterpillar was one of seven decrees negotiated with manufacturers of heavy duty diesel engines and resolved allegations that the manufacturers used devices to defeat their engines’ emissions control systems in violation of the Clean Air Act. Under six of the decrees, the manufacturers were obligated to meet specified emission standards beginning October 1, 2002 or pay per-engine nonconformance penalties. While other companies met their obligations under the decrees, Caterpillar did not. Caterpillar’s payment of non-conformance penalties serves to level the playing field with those manufacturers who are complying with the terms of the decrees and reinforces the message the Attorney General sent in March to the regulated community that “leveling the playing field” is one of his three top civil environmental priorities.

The $203 million total includes a $5.25 million civil penalty assessed against Earthgrains Baking Companies, Inc. in resolution of the first enforcement action brought under a new initiative against industrial bakeries for violations of the ozone protection provisions of the Clean Air Act. Earthgrains had failed to properly control leaks of chlorofluorocarbons, an ozone depleting substance, from its industrial refrigeration units, thereby contributing to the depletion of the earth’s ozone layer in recent years.

Other settlements which resulted in the imposition of significant penalties include those with Olympic Pipe Line Company and Shell Pipeline Company LP for environmental violations leading to a 1999 fatal pipeline rupture in Bellingham, Washington. The settlements require Olympic and Shell to pay the United States and State of Washington a total of $15 million in civil penalties. And, in a landmark settlement with grain industry giant Archer Daniels Midland Company, the company has agreed to pay a $4.6 million penalty for excess emissions of regulated air pollutants. The company will also spend an estimated $328 million on environmental improvements at 52 plants in 15 states which is expected to reduce harmful emissions by at least 63,000 tons per year.