Justice News

Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden Delivers Remarks on Clean Water Act Settlement with Lehigh Southwest Cement Company and Hanson Permanente, Inc
Cupertino, CA
United States
Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good morning.  I am John Cruden, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U. S. Department of Justice.  I want to thank EPA Region 9’s Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld for inviting me and to thank Bruce Wolfe, Executive Officer of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board and Brian Nelson, General Counsel to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, for joining me here today in this beautiful spot to announce today’s settlement with Lehigh and Hanson. 

I oversee the environmental litigation efforts of the Justice Department nationally.  One of our Division’s principal missions is to safeguard and enhance the American environment – water, air, land and wildlife – through rigorous enforcement of our nation’s environmental laws.    I am particularly pleased to be doing this press conference in Cupertino since I lived for many years in San Jose and know the importance of Permanente Creek to this community.

Today’s Clean Water Act settlement at Lehigh and Hanson’s quarry and cement manufacturing plant in Cupertino will remove selenium and other toxic substances from Permanente Creek, so that this beautiful area can be safer for protected aquatic species and more suitable for human enjoyment and recreation.  Permanente Creek is home to the red-legged frog and other ecologically important species and feeds into the San Francisco Bay. 

Our settlement is part of the Justice Department’s and EPA’s ongoing efforts to improve water quality and protect the fragile and life-sustaining ecosystem of the Bay.  As a former resident, I know that the natural beauty and ecological importance of this region are rare and deserve our highest preservation efforts.

Today’s settlement requires Lehigh and Hanson to pay a civil penalty of $2.55 million and to reduce its selenium discharges to levels that will be protective of this selenium-impaired creek.  The facility will also be making major technology changes, spending over $5 million to build a new treatment system for selenium and other metals.  Our consent decree provides a strict schedule for the facility to complete construction and come into full compliance by 2017, as well as interim limits and deadlines that will ensure the process remains on track.  Even before formal lodging of our settlement, the facility has already made approximately 50 percent reductions in its selenium discharges as a result of our enforcement efforts.

The biologic treatment system that Lehigh will be putting in is an innovative new technology that may have applications to other facilities and industries.  Selenium is a difficult pollutant to remove and it is fitting that here in Silicon Valley a state-of-the-art technology will help protect Permanente Creek and the Bay.

Our co-plaintiff, the state of California acting through the San Francisco Bay Region of the Regional Water Quality Control Board, has been our partner in enforcement.  The Regional Water Board has also been instrumental in designing a facility-specific Clean Water Act permit for the Cupertino plant that clearly delineates Lehigh’s responsibilities to bring this longstanding facility into compliance with modern environmental requirements.   This permit contains clear, strict numeric limits for selenium and other pollutants.

We are grateful not only to EPA and the Regional Water Board, but also to the Sierra Club for its leadership and tenacity in pursuing Clean Water Act claims at the facility and to members of the surrounding communities and local organizations for keeping the area’s environmental concerns in the public eye.  We can assure you today that they also have the attention of the Justice Department and of observers throughout the nation.

By bringing this older facility up to contemporary standards of permitting and enforcement and by pushing it to introduce cutting-edge treatment technology, the Department of Justice and our partners are helping to create a level playing field, where all industry members are held to the same high standards and no company can gain an economic advantage over its competitors by shortchanging environmental compliance.

Let me end by saying this.  Clean water is a life-giving, life-sustaining resource for all people and nowhere in our country today is that more apparent than in California, which is suffering from what some scientists say may be the worst drought in over a millennium.  The Clean Water Act was enacted more than four decades ago because Americans of all backgrounds and political beliefs realized how critically important this resource is to all of us and I am proud that we continue to use this law to protect this precious resource  today, here in California.  And we will continue to do so.

Today’s settlement will send a clear message that all our manufacturing facilities must meet high environmental standards.  Thank you all for being a part of our efforts to protect this beautiful area, which I will always remember with great fondness.

Updated May 18, 2016