Supervisors At Seafood Processing Facility Sentenced To Jail For Clean Air Act Crime
Anchorage, Alaska – U.S. Attorney Karen L. Loeffler announced today that James Hampton, 45, the former Assistant Chief Engineer for Westward Seafoods, Inc. (Westward), and Raul Morales, 53, the former Powerhouse Supervisor, were each sentenced today in U.S. District Court, in Anchorage, by Chief U.S. District Court Judge Ralph R. Beistline, to serve time in jail for falsifying data to cover up the fact that they intentionally failed to operate air pollution controls required under the Clean Air Act at the Westward seafood processing facility in Dutch Harbor.
James Hampton was sentenced to just over two months in prison (70 days), and Raul Morales was sentenced to one and one-half months in prison (45 days). Both defendants were ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and serve a one-year term of supervision upon release from prison. Judge Beistline noted that both defendants knew what they were doing was against the law, but they did it anyway, and that the sentences imposed should deter others from committing similar crimes. According to Karla Perrin, EPA Regional Criminal Enforcement Counsel, who prosecuted the case in conjunction with the United States Attorney’s Office, both defendants were allowed to return to their homes out-of-state pending being designated to a prison facility by the Bureau of Prisons.
Westward has operated a sizeable seafood processing facility in Dutch Harbor since 1999, processing approximately 250 million pounds of seafood per year. Westward is a wholly owned subsidiary of Maruha-Nichiro Holdings, Inc., a Japanese-based company, and maintains its headquarters in Seattle, Washington. The Dutch Harbor facility generates its own electricity with three diesel-fueled generators contained in its powerhouse building. Air emissions from these generators are vented through a single combined smokestack, and these emissions are regulated by a Title V Permit under the Clean Air Act. The permit was issued by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC), under delegated authority from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Under the terms of its permit, Westward was required to install and use pollution control equipment to decrease the amount of nitrogen dioxide (NOx) being emitted from the powerhouse smokestack. To meet this requirement, Westward installed a Combustion Air Saturation System (CASS) for each generator unit, which uses water to saturate the air and reduce emissions from each generator. The permit also required Westward to operate each generator with a “dedicated fuel and water flow meter” and to record the fuel and water consumption “at a consistent time once per day.”
Beginning in 2009, and continuing until August 2011, Westward failed to operate the CASS pollution control equipment. Raul Morales discussed with James Hampton that he and the powerhouse staff had stopped operating the CASS. Thereafter, Hampton not only allowed this permit violation to continue, but he used his position to actively participate in a cover-up designed to make it appear that the CASS was in fact being used as required by law. Morales, along with Bryan Beigh, a powerhouse operator, falsified data collection forms called “Engine Round” forms on a daily basis when it came to recording information about the operation of the CASS. The false information not only included indicating that the CASS was operating “OK” when it was off, but also included generating false water meter flow readings. Because the CASS was not being operated, no water was flowing through the system and therefore the actual water flow meter readings would have revealed no water use. Morales maintained a running calculation of what the flow meters should have indicated if the CASS had been properly operated, and Beigh went so far as to develop a system of removing the water flow meters and manually spinning them using a drill and a magnet to make it appear that water had been flowing through the system.
The false information from the Engine Rounds was then included in the End of Day (EOD) reports and the Environmental Report Sheets (ERS) maintained by Westward. This false information was in turn reported to ADEC and EPA. On several occasions, Westward’s environmental compliance manager noticed a discrepancy and had questions about the water usage data recorded for the CASS and contacted Hampton for answers. In response, Hampton either changed the numbers or requested that Morales provide new numbers, knowing that both the previous numbers and the new numbers he provided were false. Hampton then submitted the new, but still false, water usage numbers to the environmental compliance manager.
Additionally, in April 2011, Hampton escorted an EPA inspector through the powerhouse at Westward during an inspection. Westward had advance notice of the inspection and the powerhouse supervisor and operators began operating the CASS in preparation for the inspection to make it appear that they were in fact operating the CASS routinely as required by the permit. During the inspection, Hampton guided the EPA inspector around the powerhouse and to view the daily logs which indicated that the CASS had been regularly operating, when Hampton knew that it was not being operated and the logs were false.
In 2010, Westward entered into a civil consent decree with the United States and agreed to pay a civil penalty following prior allegations that the company had, among other things, violated emissions limits under the Clean Air Act. The consent decree, filed in United States v. Westward, 3:10-cv-00073-JWS, required Westward to reduce its NOx emissions by properly operating pollution prevention equipment. Hampton and Morales were aware of the consent decree.
While the EPA did not receive any reports of harm to human beings as a result of the emissions at Westward during this period of time, NOx can cause airway inflammation in otherwise healthy people and can cause or worsen symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory diseases.
Bryan Beigh previously pled guilty to charges that he tampered with the meters used to monitor the operation of the CASS pollution control equipment, and he will be sentenced by Chief Judge Beistline on November 25th.
“All citizens are victims when pollution control laws are violated. Westward has been operating under a Clean Air Act permit since 2003 requiring it to reduce its NOx emissions, and it was put on further notice of the need to operate pollution control equipment when it paid penalties and entered into a consent decree in 2010,” said Karen Loeffler, U.S. Attorney. “Mr. Hampton and Mr. Morales violated the law and undermined the integrity of the self-reporting system that we all rely upon to protect human health and the environment. These two defendants were not only directly responsible for the decision not to operate the required pollution control equipment, which it appears they did largely for their own convenience, but also for the active steps they took to falsify data and cover up what they knew was wrong.”
“By failing to operate required controls, falsifying documents to cover their tracks and then misleading an EPA inspector at the facility, these defendants ‘went the extra mile’ to break the law,” said Tyler Amon, Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA Criminal Investigation Division in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. “When they turned off the pollution controls for two years, emissions from this major pollution source increased, potentially putting workers or anyone nearby at risk for increased breathing problems.”This case was investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division.