EPA Scores Major Enforcement Victories

Published July 1, 2003

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced several landmark enforcement actions, putting industry on notice that the agency is as vigilant as ever.

Alcoa, ADM Settle Clean Air Charges

On April 9, EPA announced agricultural leader Archer Daniels Midland agreed to cut thousands of tons of emissions from 52 plants nationwide to settle EPA pollution claims. The emission reductions are expected to cost the company $340 million.

Additionally, ADM will spend $6.3 million to retrofit school bus diesel engines and will pay EPA a $4.6 million civil penalty.

EPA had asserted ADM failed to accurately estimate emissions from some of its facilities and failed to comply with Clean Air Act mandates to install advanced pollution-control technology when upgrading its plants.

While plants in several states will be affected, Illinois will see the most change, with eight plants subject to the new emission reductions. In Illinois alone, ADM plans to spend $88 million to upgrade emission controls in accordance with the settlement.

“Obviously it’s going to have a positive impact on air pollution in Illinois,” said Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health for the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago. “People will be breathing easier.”

“With this agreement, ADM is receiving a clean slate from the government,” reported ADM spokeswoman Karla Miller.

Also on April 9, EPA announced that Pittsburgh-based Alcoa Inc. will spend $330 million to install state-of-the-art pollution control technology at its aluminum production facility in Rockdale, Texas. The Rockdale plant contains the largest industrial boiler in the U.S. and, according to EPA, is the nation’s largest non-utility source of NOx and SO2 emissions.

In addition to the $330 million for pollution abatement, Alcoa agreed to spend $2.5 million on conservation easements around the Rockdale facility and to pay a $1.5 million civil fine.

“These cases are a significant indication that enforcement continues aggressively at the agency,” said EPA spokesman Joe Martyak.

The cases “demonstrate how much can be achieved when environmental laws are enforced as they are written,” said the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Integrity Project in a joint press release.

“Let no one think that we won’t enforce the law,” added outgoing EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.

Virginia Electric Agrees to Record Settlement

Less than two weeks later, on April 21, EPA announced the largest-ever settlement under the Clean Air Act. Under the terms of the agreement, Virginia Electric Power Company will spend $1.2 billion to slash pollution by 70 percent at eight coal-fired facilities.

EPA had alleged emissions at the facilities polluted the air downwind in New York City and several Northeastern states.

“These massive reductions in pollution will benefit not only the citizens of Virginia and West Virginia, but also the states in the Northeast to which windblown emissions of these pollutants are transported,” said Tom Sansonnetti, the assistant attorney general who oversees environmental issues.

“As a result of this agreement, our citizens will be able to breathe easier, our forests and waterways will face less stress as acid rain is diminished, and we will all be able to see farther and more clearly in our national parks as soot and other particulate matter is removed from the air,” Whitman said.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].