Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim Delivers Remarks at the ALI-CLE Environmental Law Conference in Washington, D.C.
Today, the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement with Heritage-Crystal Clean LLC (HCC) to resolve pending claims of the United States on behalf of the EPA, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and the State of Indiana for violations of requirements governing management of hazardous waste, as well as a violation of used oil management requirements, at current or former HCC facilities located in Indianapolis; Shreveport, Louisiana; Atlanta; Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania and Denver. Under the settlement, HCC commits to pay civil penalties totaling $1,162,500 and to implement various measures to ensure that HCC facilities will not treat, store or dispose of parts-washing solvents that qualify as hazardous waste unless and until HCC receives a hazardous waste permit authorizing it to manage hazardous waste. Plaintiffs estimate that the compliance measures required under the settlement will cost at least $1,628,502.
“While federal law encourages responsible recycling of hazardous waste, recyclers must still comply with legal requirements designed to ensure the health and safety of our communities,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). “This settlement reflects our commitment to ensuring that hazardous waste recycling operations are conducted in accordance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and its regulations.”
“Companies that manage hazardous wastes for other companies are required to ensure that those wastes are handled properly, which Heritage Crystal Clean repeatedly failed to do,” said Assistant Administrator David M. Uhlmann of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “EPA is committed to fair and robust enforcement of our hazardous waste laws to ensure that our communities and the environment are protected from mismanaged hazardous wastes.”
In January 2022, a 21-count complaint was filed against HCC in federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and applicable state law. The complaint states that in the course of providing parts-washing services to customers throughout the United States, HCC accepted some used solvent that qualified as hazardous waste, but HCC did not transport and manage those solvents in accordance with applicable hazardous waste management requirements. In particular, the complaint states that HCC (1) transported hazardous waste without required hazardous waste manifests, (2) stored hazardous waste at various HCC facilities without required permits, (3) failed to make required hazardous waste determinations after mixing used solvents from different parts-washing customers, (4) failed to comply with certain requirements for reducing air emissions from certain hazardous waste tanks and equipment, and (5) failed to maintain adequate secondary containment for certain hazardous waste tanks. The complaint alleges that some used solvents managed by HCC were hazardous waste because HCC needed to subject the material to systematic gravity separation to make the used material suitable for resale. Plaintiffs contend HCC evaded hazardous waste requirements by improperly claiming that the unusable solvents were products instead of wastes.
As part of the settlement, HCC must perform compliance measures at multiple HCC facilities to achieve and maintain compliance with RCRA. As one element of the compliance program, the proposed settlement requires HCC to implement measures to ensure one type of used solvent referred to by HCC as “106 solvent” is acceptable for re-use without prior reclamation and that it is legitimately reused. The settlement will also prohibit gravity separation (removing water and solids while recovering the valuable solvent component) of used 106 solvent in order to meet re-use solvent customer product specifications or to otherwise render the material suitable for reuse. Used solvents that are legitimately reused for their solvent properties without prior reclamation are not subject to regulation as hazardous waste.
Another central element of the proposed settlement is a sampling program to determine whether another type of parts-washing solvent – referred to by HCC as “142 solvent” – exhibits hazardous waste characteristics. HCC must promptly remove from its facilities any 142 solvent drums and consolidation containers that exhibit hazardous waste characteristics, and HCC must thereafter manage such characteristic wastes in accordance with applicable hazardous waste management requirements.
The proposed settlement also requires HCC to apply for a RCRA permit at its Indianapolis facility. Pending issuance of the permit and construction of certain hazardous waste management units, the settlement requires HCC to implement specified interim measures at the Indianapolis facility, including frequent inspections of tanks and containers, as well as elimination of open venting of tanks containing used 142 solvent.
Finally, the proposed settlement includes numerous other provisions, including provisions that require HCC to distribute educational materials to parts-washing customers in specified circumstances, and provisions for HCC to retain a third party to conduct audits at designated HCC facilities to ensure future compliance.
The five HCC facilities included in this settlement are recognized by EPA to be located within communities with potential environmental justice concerns. Nearby communities will benefit from the improved controls and new work practices that will be implemented at HCC facilities as required by the consent decree. These new controls and practices will reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and reduce risk of exposure to hazardous wastes managed at these facilities.
The proposed consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, is subject to a 30-day federal public comment period and approval by the federal court. The consent decree can be viewed on the Justice Department's website at www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.
For more information about this settlement, please visit Heritage-Crystal Clean LLC Settlement Information Sheet on EPA’s web page.
EPA is investigating the case.
Attorneys from ENRD’s Environmental Enforcement Section are prosecuting the case.