Former Berkshire Power Manager Sentenced For Conspiring to Tamper with Air Pollution Monitors
BOSTON – The former operations and maintenance manager of Berkshire Power Plant in Agawam, Mass., was sentenced yesterday for tampering with environmental monitors in violation of the Clean Air Act.
Fred Baker, 53, of Southampton, Mass., was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Mark G. Mastroianni to 30 months of probation and ordered to pay a fine of $5,000. In May 2016, Baker pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Clean Air Act and conspiracy.
Acting United States Attorney William D. Weinreb stated, “This case demonstrates our continued commitment to protect our natural resources and to hold accountable those who subvert environmental protections for profit.”
“This defendant engaged in a scheme to defraud energy and environmental regulations for his own profit,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “We will vigorously defend laws and regulations put in place to protect the air we breathe and public health and safety.”
“Baker schemed with others to undermine a system that depends on honest data reporting -- resulting in an unfair competitive advantage over responsible companies,” said Tyler Amon, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division in Boston. “EPA will continue to pursue cases that maintain data integrity, so we can do our job to protect clean air.”
“MassDEP inspectors and enforcement personnel worked closely with our state and federal enforcement partners to detect the scheme to subvert important and mandatory air quality reporting requirements and follow up with strong action, ” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “The requirements for accurate monitoring and reporting are essential to protecting public health, and those who circumvent these important regulations will be held accountable for their actions.”
From 2008 to March 2011, Baker, at the direction of the Berkshire Power Plant’s General Manager, instructed employees at the plant to tamper with the plant’s Continuous Emissions Monitoring System (CEMS). The CEMS is an environmental monitoring system, required by federal laws and permits, which continuously samples a power plant’s emissions and measures and records the concentration of regulated pollutants to monitor compliance with pollution emission limits. The purpose of the tampering was to delay repairs and avoid reporting to federal and state regulators that the plant was, at times, releasing certain pollutants, specifically nitrogen oxides, in excess of the plant’s Clean Air Act permit limits.
Initially, the tampering involved lowering monitors by a constant rate – approximately .5 parts per million (ppm) below the known value. These constant adjustments did not trigger any alarms or warnings and were thus usually maintained in the system through approximately mid-March 2011.
In the summer of 2009 and 2010 the plant underwent an independent annual audit. Prior to the audit, Baker instructed another employee to take out the adjustments in the CEMS monitors and to re-introduce them after the audit. Berkshire Power Plant reported the results of the audit to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
By 2010, this .5 ppm adjustment was not sufficient enough to allow the plant to run at full power and comply with the facility’s Clean Air Act permit. Rather than making necessary repairs, the General Manager and Baker instructed employees to lower the CEMS readings even more to avoid reporting pollution emissions in excess of the hourly limits or hitting warning levels.
In 2015, the Berkshire Power Plant was charged jointly by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office for tampering with its air pollution monitoring equipment and falsely reporting data to environmental and energy regulators regarding its emissions levels and its availability to produce power.
In March 2017, Berkshire Power Company and Power Plant Management Services, the owners and operators of the plant, respectively, were ordered to pay $7.25 million in fines, penalties and other payments for their role in tampering with air pollution emissions equipment. The strument and Control Technician at the plant, Scott Paterson, pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 8, 2017.
Acting U.S. Attorney Weinreb, Massachusetts Attorney General Healey, EPA SAC Amon, and Massachusetts DEP Commissioner Suuberg, made the announcement today. Assistance with the investigation was provided by the Massachusetts Environmental Crimes Strike Force (an interagency investigative team dedicated to developing the most significant environmental enforcement cases) and the Massachusetts Environmental Police. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Miron Bloom of Weinreb’s Criminal Division prosecuted the federal case with the assistance of Dianne Chabot, USEPA Criminal Enforcement Counsel, and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.