Justice Department Provides Environmental Crimes Training for Officials from Southeast Asian Nations
The General Electric Company (GE) has agreed to pay a $2.25 million civil penalty to resolve a complaint alleging violations of federal and state environmental laws in connection with GE’s use of an incinerator at a manufacturing facility that it once owned and operated in Waterford, New York, announced the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and , the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the New York State Attorney General’s Office and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Both the complaint and the settlement agreement were filed today in U.S. District Court in Albany.
According to allegations in the complaint, GE owned the Waterford facility from 1947 through 2006 and continued to operate it through early 2007. GE manufactured various products at the facility, including sealants made of silicone. The silicone manufacturing process generated hazardous waste. GE sought and received permits from DEC to dispose of the hazardous waste onsite, subject to compliance with the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
GE disposed of hazardous waste in a rotary kiln incinerator that included an automatic waste feed cut-off system designed to shut down the incinerator if GE deviated from operating parameters designed to ensure compliance with the CAA and RCRA. Unbeknownst to federal and state authorities, GE used a computer program to override the incinerator’s automatic waste feed cut-off system, allowing GE to continue to burn hazardous waste in the incinerator in violation of its CAA and RCRA permits. On at least 1,859 occasions during the period of September 2006 until February 2007, GE employees manually overrode the automatic waste feed cut-off system, thereby potentially exposing the public and the environment to harmful hazardous air pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, dioxins and furans. Though its employees were violating federal and state law, GE submitted routine compliance reports to the United States and the state of New York falsely attesting to compliance with RCRA, the CAA and permits issued pursuant to those statutes.
“GE violated the nation’s and New York’s bedrock environmental laws that were put in place to protect the American public and the environment from harmful air pollution and hazardous materials,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement penalizes GE for these violations of law, and represents the combined efforts of the federal government and the state of New York to uphold the law and protect public health.”
“By operating a system to bypass safety controls, GE put the public and the environment in harm’s way,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Grant C. Jaquith for the Northern District of New York “This office will continue to pursue vigorously companies that thwart laws designed to protect public health, safety, and our environment.”
“GE overrode a system designed to deal with dangerous air pollutants from a hazardous waste incinerator,” said Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck for EPA. “By overriding the system, GE allowed the hazardous waste to continue to be fed into the incinerator, leading to levels of carbon monoxide that exceeded the permit limits.”
“Violations of New York State’s environmental laws and regulations are serious offenses, which carry serious consequences,” said Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos for DEC. “This fine is the result of the collaborative efforts of state and federal partners working together to accomplish a shared mission to protect our citizens and communities and should send a strong message that New York State has zero tolerance for those who shirk environmental policies and procedures put in place as protections. I commend DEC’s Law Enforcement Officers for their determined vigilance in this investigation. This is a great example of the important work they perform in the course of their sworn duty to protect the citizens of New York and the environment.”
This case was investigated by EPA and DEC, and is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Spina Jr. and Adam J. Katz and Assistant Attorneys General Maureen F. Leary and James C. Woods.