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Justice Department Continues its Work with States to Protect the Environment and Public Health

November 3, 2016

Cooperative federalism is fundamental to the structure and effectiveness of our nation’s environmental laws and the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) vigorously pursues opportunities to partner with our state and local counterparts in environmental enforcement. These partnerships leverage limited resources and produce more comprehensive results for both sovereigns and, ultimately, the American people.

The third quarter of this year heralded several successes with joint state-federal enforcement actions that benefit air quality across the country.  For example, ENRD partnered with local air pollution control authorities in Knox County, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky, to hold Cemex Inc. accountable for alleged Clean Air Act violations in four states.  Under the agreement, Cemex will invest approximately $10 million to cut emissions of harmful air pollution at five of its cement manufacturing plants in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas.  The company also will pay a $1.69 million civil penalty, conduct energy audits at five plants and spend $150,000 on energy efficiency projects to mitigate the effects of past excess emissions from its facilities.  Nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, two key pollutants emitted from cement plants, have numerous adverse effects on human health and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog and haze.  The pollutants are converted in the air into fine particles of particulate matter that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts and premature death.  Reducing these harmful air pollutants will benefit the communities located near the Cemex plants, particularly communities disproportionately impacted by environmental risks and vulnerable populations, including children.

I also had the privilege of announcing a multi-state enforcement action in Seattle, Washington, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator and U.S. Attorney, in which ENRD joined the states of Alaska and Hawaii and the Northwest Clean Air Agency to achieve a significant Clean Air Act settlement with subsidiaries of Tesoro Corporation and Par Hawaii Refining that covers six petroleum refineries in six different states.  The penalty was the largest ever for the type of case and the consent decree requires compliance measures that will significantly reduce all forms of air pollution in the future, including greenhouse gases and pollutants that exacerbate respiratory illnesses.  Of the $10.45 million civil penalty that Tesoro will pay, the United States will receive $8.05 million and co-plaintiffs will share $2.4 million.

Our enforcement efforts with state partners also protect the nation’s waters.  For example, we partnered with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to address thousands of alleged water pollution discharge permit violations by PBS Coals and its affiliated companies at a number of its permitted mines in Pennsylvania; the United States and Pennsylvania will evenly split the agreed-upon $6.5 million penalty.  In another joint case with Pennsylvania, Consol Energy Inc. and affiliated companies agreed to implement extensive water management and monitoring activities to rectify Clean Water Act violations resulting in contaminated discharges of mining wastewater from the Bailey Mine Complex into the Ohio River and its tributaries.  Such discharges can increase the salinity of the water, harming aquatic life and impacting drinking water quality.  Consol, the largest producer of coal from underground mines in the United States, also will pay a $3 million civil penalty.

In addition to these cases, ENRD joined with four Appalachian states to require Southern Coal Corporation and 26 affiliated mining companies to make comprehensive upgrades to their mining and processing operations to prevent discharges of polluted wastewater from their mines in the region.  The estimated cost of these measures is $5 million.  The settlement further requires the company to set aside money that will guarantee sufficient funding for and a mechanism to accomplish, compliance with the Clean Water Act and the work the companies have agreed to perform under the settlement should the companies fail to do so.  Lastly, the companies will pay a $900,000 civil penalty, divided among the federal government and the four state co-plaintiffs, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

ENRD enforcement actions also arise under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, commonly known as Superfund, which protects human health and the environment while safeguarding taxpayer dollars by holding parties that contributed to contamination responsible for cleaning it up.  In one notable case this quarter, ENRD worked with the state of New Mexico to negotiate a settlement with Chevron Mining Inc. that requires $143 million in cleanup work at the Chevron Questa Mine Superfund site near Questa, New Mexico.  As part of the settlement, the company will perform a pilot project to cover about 275 acres of the tailing facility where mine waste or “tailings” are stored, operate a water treatment plant and install groundwater extraction systems.  The company also will pay over $5.2 million to reimburse past costs for overseeing cleanup work at the site.  This latest settlement is merely the next phase in an ongoing cleanup of the former mine site; it follows a 2015 agreement in which the company paid more than $4.2 million to restore, replace, or acquire natural resources damaged by mine activities.

In another Superfund case, we joined the state of Ohio in negotiating a settlement with Rutgers Organics Corporation to complete the cleanup of the Nease Chemical Superfund Site near Salem, Ohio, at an estimated cost of $18.75 million.  Under the agreement, the company also will restore injured natural resources at the site and nearby areas, at a cost of approximately $500,000 and reimburse federal and state agencies for past response and assessment costs of about $1 million.  The cleanup will make the area safer for the citizens of Salem and protect and restore valuable natural resources in the region, including the Little Beaver Creek watershed.

Finally, in September ENRD and the state of Montana announced a proposed settlement with ExxonMobil Pipeline Company to resolve claims stemming from the July 2011 spill of approximately 63,000 gallons (about 1,500 barrels) of crude oil into the Yellowstone River and floodplain.  After receiving and responding to public comments, the parties must seek court approval of the settlement.  If approved as proposed, the ExxonMobil Pipeline Company will pay $12 million in natural resource damages to the federal government and the state of Montana as trustees for the natural resources injured by the spill.  The state and federal governments also issued for public comment a draft restoration plan that sets forth proposed actions to restore the river and wildlife habitat and improve public lands and recreational resources.

These are just some examples of cooperative federalism in action during the third quarter of 2016; but environmental enforcement is not where ENRD’s work with state and local partners ends.  We also are working with our counterparts at the state and local level in a relatively new area of responsibility for the division – civil and criminal enforcement of federal laws that provide for humane treatment of captive, farmed and companion animals across the United States.  This past summer, ENRD and the Office of Justice Programs co-hosted a roundtable discussion on Animal Welfare Enforcement.  We were joined by more than 100 leaders in the area, including representatives of federal agencies, states and local governments, as well as researchers, scientists and others in the animal welfare field.  The roundtable allowed us to focus collectively on information sharing, organizational strategies and cooperation in animal welfare enforcement.  More information on federal, state and local cooperation in animal welfare enforcement is available at https://www.justice.gov/opa/blog/federal-state-local-cooperation-animal-welfare-enforcement.

Each joint effort with ENRD’s state partners leverages our respective resources to help achieve our mission in service of the American people.  I look forward to continuing and building upon this work in the coming months.

Topic(s): 
Environment

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Updated March 3, 2017