Quick Cases: Environmental Prosecutions

May 30, 2013

By: Sara Kropf

This is one of this blog’s recurring posts that offer quick summaries of similar cases. Think of them as the Kay and Peele version of my blog posts, though not nearly as funny and always safe for work.

According to the EPA’s website, the agency has:

  • 200 fully authorized federal law enforcement agents
  • 70 forensic scientists and technicians
  • 45 attorneys who specialize in environmental crimes enforcement
  • 700-800 ongoing investigations

And, wait for it…a “90% conviction rate average.”

As Jay-Z and T.I. once opined, “No one on the corner have swagga like us/Swagga like us, swagga swagga like us.” I love it when a federal agency actually brags about its conviction rate. I mean, that’s totally legit; it’s not as though the EPA can just drop a difficult case if it wants to.

Oh, wait.

Let’s see if the EPA can put some recent convictions where its swagga is.

United States v. Wal-Mart (CA and MO). This case is not about a corporate executive but it was too interesting to resist. Wal-Mart pleaded guilty in late May 2013 in several criminal environmental cases in California and Missouri. Its combined fine (for the criminal cases and a related civil case) is $81.6 million. Wal-Mart illegally handled and disposed of hazardous materials in violation of the Clean Water Act. In a nutshell, customers would return hazardous materials (such as pesticides, detergents, paint and cleaners) to Wal-Mart stores. However, the company did not train its employees in proper methods to dispose of these hazardous materials. Instead, the employees would sometimes dump the materials into public sewer systems or municipal trash bins. Wal-Mart not only agreed to pay the substantial fine but also to implement a company-wide compliance program to prevent future violations.

United States v. White (S.D. Miss.). Tennie White, the owner of Mississippi Environmental Analytical Laboratories, was convicted by a jury for making false statements and obstruction of justice. White’s lab was hired to perform laboratory testing of water samples from a manufacturer. The results of those tests were to be used by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to test emissions from the manufacturer. White, however, reported results when he had not actually performed the tests and then lied about it to government agents. He was convicted after an 8-day trial. Sentencing is set for August 2013.

United States v. Pullyblank and Clements (N.D.N.Y.). Mark Pullyblank and William Clements were indicted, along with their employer Crane-Hogan Structural Systems, Inc., for violations of the Clean Water Act. Crane-Hogan is a hydro-demolition company which uses high-pressure water to remove concrete from buildings before they are resurfaced. The waste water from this work has a very high pH content so must be properly handled as a “pollutant” under the Clean Water Act. Pullyblank and Clements were project managers for two projects involving parking garages. The two men, plus the company, were indicted for allegedly discharging the untreated waste water from these sites into the Susquehanna River without a proper Clean Water Act permit.

United States v. Bieri (S.D. Ill.). Franklin Bieri pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act based on work his company did demolishing certain buildings that contained asbestos. Even though Bieri knew the buildings contained asbestos, he undertook the demolition and salvage work at the former Emerson Electric Facility without training his workers on the proper handling and removal of asbestos. He did not take any steps to limit airborne emissions of the asbestos, to label the asbestos after it was removed, or to ensure that once the asbestos was removed, it would be taken to the designated section of the landfill. Finally, White did not provide the right notice to the Illinois EPA before he began the work. He  was sentenced to five months in prison, three months home confinement, plus a fine of $3,000.

United States v. Simpson (W.D. Wash.).  Bret Simpson was the owner of Principle Metals, LLC [ed. note: do you think he meant to call it “Principal” Metals?] which was a company that bought scrap metal to resell valuable parts, such as copper. Principle Metals was dismantling the M/V Davy Crockett—a former Navy ship that had been converted to a flat deck barge—when it began leaking oil into the Columbia River in Washington State. Simpson knew that the ship had fuel oil and diesel oil on board before his company began the work but nonetheless starting tearing the ship apart. When the oil started leaking, Simpson did not inform the authorities about it. The oil spill resulted in an 8-month, $22 million clean-up effort by the U.S. Coast Guard and state authorities. Simpson pleaded guilty in early 2012 to criminal violations of the Clean Water Act; failing to report a discharge of oil and unlawfully discharging oil into the river.  He was sentenced in March 2013 to 4 months in prison, 8 months home detention, 100 hours of community service and 3 years of supervised release.

Published by Kropf Moseley

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