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FAQ - Environmental Law

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Protecting the environment is a serious matter, and the EPA and other federal and state enforcement agencies do not hesitate to prosecute individuals or companies who violate the laws and regulations that prohibit actions, which adversely affect the environment. Sometimes, it helps to be reminded of what can happen if laws are ignored by learning from those who previously violated the law. The following are summaries of actions taken by the EPA against violators of environmental laws.

Protecting the Water in Oklahoma

In April 2000, a Kansas company, its president, an Oklahoma company, and its owner were all convicted of conspiring to violate the Safe Drinking Water Act and fraud. The owner of the Oklahoma company was also convicted of violating the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

Over a 15-month period, more than 500,000 gallons of wastewater containing diesel fuel and kerosene was removed from underground storage tanks at military facilities in Kansas and Missouri. A portion of the wastewater was transported to Oklahoma, where it was illegally stored or injected into oil wells in three different counties.

Upon conviction, the president of the Kansas company was sentenced to nearly five years in prison for his participation in the scheme. The president of the Oklahoma company was sentenced to serve more than seven years in prison for his illegal acts. In addition, the individuals and companies involved were order to pay $1.27 million in cleanup costs.

Protecting the Florida Everglades

In another April 2000 action, the EPA brought charges against two Florida men for conspiring to violate the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The men were convicted on the charges and one of them was found guilty on two counts of illegally disposing of hazardous waste. A third defendant also pleaded guilty to the conspiracy.

From the 1970's until 1995, a paint manufacturing company, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, generated a variety of hazardous wastes including mercury, benzene, and methyl ethyl ketone, among others. While all three of these named substances are hazardous, benzene is particularly hazardous, as it is a known cause of cancer.

The EPA investigation of the three defendants found that they conspired to dispose of forty 55-gallon drums of these and other hazardous wastes to enable the manufacturing company and its owner to save money on cleaning up the warehouse facility before renting it to one of the other defendants. To accomplish this illegal goal, the men dumped the gallons of hazardous waste near the Everglades National Park.

In August 2000, the owner and operator of the paint manufacturing company was sentenced to two years imprisonment and ordered to pay $117,800 in fines and restitution. He was also ordered to serve three years probation after his release from prison. The other defendant was sentenced to four months in prison and three years' probation, and was ordered to pay approximately $400 in fines.

Protecting Drinking Water

In March 2000, a senior chemist at a drinking water filtration plant, located in Lawrence Massachusetts, was charged with eighteen counts of violating the Safe Drinking Water Act. The charges allege that he repeatedly falsified required drinking water quality test results. The Lawrence filtration system supplies water to more than 60,000 inhabitants of the area.

In August 2000, he pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to serve six months in home confinement as part of a two-year probation period. He was also ordered to pay $15,300 in fines and assessments.

Record Penalties in Florida Dumping Case

In August 2000, a joint venture company and three of its employees pled guilty to negligently violating the Clean Water Act. Between January 1997 and March 1999, the defendants illegally disposed of construction waste, such as concrete and bridge pilings, by dumping the waste into the Florida East Bay and Pensacola Bay during their involvement in the construction of the Garcon Point Bridge.

The plea agreement entered into by the defendants included the payment by one defendant company making up the joint venture of a $1 million fine and the payment of almost $2.5 million in restitution to the Garcon Point Restoration Trust for the purpose of cleaning up and restoring the bays. That same defendant also agreed to pay $42,000 to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Law Enforcement, $20,500 to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, $10,500 to the Florida Department of Environmental Protections' Submerged Land Section, $2,000 to the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office, and $2,000 to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's Marine Patrol.

The company also agreed to purchase and donate sixty acres of land in Santa Rosa County, Florida to the State of Florida and pay $500,000 to the Florida Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund to supplement the financing of future environmental crime investigations in Florida. All told, the amounts agreed to be paid by this defendant comprised the largest federal penalty to-date for environmental crimes in the Northern District of Florida. Three other defendants, individual employees of the joint venture, faced potential maximum sentences of one year in prison and/or fines of $25,000 per day of violation, but were each sentenced to serve three years probation and pay a $1,000 fine.

Record Jail Terms for Environmental Crimes

In December 2004, owners of an asbestos abatement company in New York State were sentenced to serve the longest federal jail sentences for environmental crimes in U.S. history. The collaborative efforts of EPA and other federal and state agencies resulted in the convictions. Father and son were convicted in the U.S. District Court in Syracuse, New York on 18 counts on which they were charged, including violations of Clean Air Act regulations governing the safe and proper removal of asbestos and conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act.

During a ten-year period, the owners of the asbestos abatement company conducted illegal asbestos abatement activities at over 1,550 facilities, including churches, hospitals, and elementary schools in New York State. The owners used illegal "rip and run" techniques to remove asbestos, which created what one former employee described as "snow storms" of asbestos. Evidence also indicated that they falsified air sampling and laboratory results to defraud clients into believing that their buildings had been "remediated" of asbestos and knowingly sent workers into "hot zones" without proper protective respiratory equipment.

The son received a 25-year prison sentence, was ordered to forfeit $2,033,457.70 in ill-gotten proceeds from RICO activities, and was ordered to pay $23,039,607 in restitution to the victims. His father was sentenced to 19½ years in prison and ordered to forfeit $1,707,156.40 and pay $22,875,575.46 in restitution. The company also forfeited more than $2 million and had to pay $22,875,567.46 in restitution.

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