NELC Attorneys File Second Suit Over Landfill Pollution, This Time in New Hampshire

Residents gather on the Riverwalk covered bridge in Bethlehem, N.H., in support of NELC’s Clean Water Act notice to Casella Waste Systems.

BETHLEHEM, N.H.—On March 8, NELC attorneys mailed a notice to Casella Waste Systems and its subsidiary , North Country Environmental Services, alleging that the companies are regularly violating the federal Clean Water Act at their solid waste landfill on the banks of New Hampshire’s Ammonoosuc River. The notice, sent on behalf of Toxics Action Center and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), alleges that the companies currently employ a drainage channel to collect pollutants from the landfill and discharge them into the river, but have never obtained a Clean Water Act permit authorizing these discharges.

Casella is one of the largest waste collection and landfilling companies in the Northeast.

NELC is currently litigating a separate case against Casella for pollutant discharges from a landfill in Southbridge, Mass. “This is not the first time we’ve seen a Casella landfill release contaminants into the environment, nor is it the first time Casella has failed to protect New England’s water resources,” said Woody Little of Toxics Action Center. “I am proud to stand with concerned residents who wish to protect public health and the environment.”

The landfill’s discharge to the Ammonoosuc River includes leachate (water that has passed through landfill waste and contains soluble and suspended waste materials), contaminated groundwater, iron, manganese and 1,4-dioxane (a suspected carcinogen often found in and around landfill sites).

Residents who swim and fish in the river have long feared the impacts from these pollutants. “For years, we’ve seen pictures of discolored sludge running into the river, and heard about high levels of pollutants,” said Toxics Action member Kristina Zontini of Bethlehem. “We don’t swim or fish downriver from the landfill anymore.”

Under the Clean Water Act, citizen plaintiffs may sue violators 60 days after providing formal notice to the violators and to state and federal environmental agencies. If the companies do not put a permanent end to unlawful pollutant discharges to the Ammonoosuc by the end of the 60-day period, NELC attorneys will file suit in U.S District Court in Concord.

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Clean Air Settlement with World’s Largest Steel Company Will Benefit Western Pennsylvania Communities

ArcelorMittal’s coke plant in Monessen, Pa.

PITTSBURGH, Pa.—On February 2, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy approved a consent decree negotiated by NELC attorneys with Swiss steel giant ArcelorMittal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The decree requires ArcelorMittal to make wide-ranging upgrades to bring its problem-riddled coal processing plant in Monessen, Pa., (south of Pittsburgh) into compliance with the federal Clean Air Act, and to pay what is believed to be the largest civil penalty in Pennsylvania history for a citizen-initiated Clean Air Act enforcement case.

NELC attorneys filed the Clean Air Act lawsuit on behalf of PennEnvironment and its members in 2015, alleging that hundreds of air pollution violations at the Monessen Coke Plant had showered residents in the municipalities of Monessen, Donora, and Monongahela with soot, acidic gases and noxious odors from the day the decades- old facility was re-started in April 2014.

Every day, the Monessen plant produces nearly 1,000 tons of coke, a key ingredient in the steel making process, by heating coal to extremely high temperatures in 56 large “coke ovens” that run 24 hours per day.

The violations at the Monessen Coke Plant included operating without a key air pollution control device for days and weeks at a time; and hundreds of unlawful emissions of hydrogen sulfide (a toxic gas with a foul odor), sulfur dioxide (a respiratory irritant and contributor to acid rain), and particulate matter (which can get lodged in the lungs and exacerbate respiratory problems) at levels sometimes reaching eight times the legally allowable limits.

After the PennEnvironment suit was initiated, state and federal regulators eventually joined the enforcement effort and participated with NELC in negotiating the consent decree with ArcelorMittal.

Terms of the settlement include:

• A $1.5 million civil penalty, paid to the government, and an additional payment of $300,000 to start a local clean vehicles project administered by The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County;

• Significant stipulated (automatic) penalties for any future emission violations or failures to implement far-reaching environmental upgrades at the plant;

• Enhanced monitoring of emissions;

• A full-scale test of innovative technology to control sulfur dioxide emissions; and

• Mandatory odor investigations and responses to citizen complaints.

The clean vehicles project is meant to further improve the air quality in the communities immediately surrounding the ArcelorMittal facility by financing the replacement of high-pollution municipal vehicles with low-emission, hybrid or electric ones.

“People and children in this area have not been able to enjoy their yards, outdoor sports, or just the beauty of our area because the air outside has been unsafe to breathe,” noted Donna Binley, a Donora resident and PennEnvironment member.

“This consent decree should send a message loud and clear that it doesn’t pay to pollute,” said NELC senior attorney Josh Kratka. “Citizens are ready and able to enforce the law on their own when companies put their health and environment at risk by breaking the law while government regulators stand on the sidelines.”

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Gulf Coast Refinery Agrees to Reduce Emissions, Pay Penalty

Pasadena Refining System’s aging oil refinery outside of Houston, in Pasadena, Texas.

HOUSTON, TEXAS—On the heels of the $19.95 million Clean Air Act penalty imposed by a federal judge in NELC’s long-running legal battle with ExxonMobil Corporation, another Texas Gulf Coast oil refinery has agreed to a court-enforced settlement that will dramatically reduce emissions of harmful pollutants and require a substantial penalty payment.

Pasadena Refining System Inc. (PRSI), a subsidiary of the giant Brazilian energy company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras), is charged with committing thousands of violations of the federal Clean Air Act at its Pasadena, Texas, oil refinery east of Houston. NELC attorneys filed suit against the company on behalf of Environment Texas and the Sierra Club in March 2017.

Just a year later, NELC attorneys filed a proposed consent decree in the U.S. District

Court in Houston for review and approval by federal Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt. The settlement would require PRSI to pay a penalty in the amount of $3,525,000 for its repeated and ongoing violations of numerous hourly and annual limits on emissions of fine particulate matter (or soot), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and other air pollutants over the previous six years, and would automatically assess additional penalties for future excess emissions above PRSI’s permitted limits.

The settlement also imposes specific measures to address the most significant public health threat posed by the refinery. According to research by Environment Texas, PRSI released 70,129 pounds of unauthorized particulate matter in 2016 alone, making it the worst in the entire state of Texas for this type of illegal pollution.

Under the terms of the settlement, PRSI must end its practice of releasing particulate matter and other pollutants directly into the atmosphere every time breakdowns occur at one of the refinery’s major processing units. Instead, a pollution control device must be used to capture pollutants in those situations, to the maximum extent consistent with worker safety.

“The people living near the refinery will benefit from the company’s decision to negotiate a resolution of this case rather than drag out the litigation in court,” explained NELC Senior Attorney Josh Krakta.” “More than $3 million of PRSI’s penalty payment will be used to further improve air quality in the most heavily impacted communities of Pasadena and Galena Park by funding a zero-emission vehicle program for municipal buses and other vehicles.”

Particulate matter is a mix of microscopic particles and liquid droplets, including acids, organic compounds, and metals, that the U.S. EP A has linked to a range of serious health problems, increased emergency room and hospital visits, decreased life expectancy, and aggravated asthma. At least 75,000 people live within a three-mile radius of the refinery, an area that includes approximately eight schools, one Head Start program, and several daycares.

The lawsuit is the fourth case filed by NELC attorneys since 2008 to confront illegal air emissions arising from oil refineries and petrochemical facilities along the Houston Ship Channel.

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Partners in Cracking Down on Polluters

NELC Attorney Kevin Budris (right), with co-counsel Tom Irwin of Conservation Law Foundation, on the Riverwalk covered bridge in Bethlehem, N.H., announce their intent to sue Casella Waste Systems.

On every case, NELC attorneys work closely with local citizen groups, and they sometimes partner with other environmental litigation teams. For example, on our case against Casella Waste Systems in New Hampshire (see page 1), we’re partnering with Toxics Action Center and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF).

“The Casella landfill in Bethlehem is dumping dangerous pollutants into one of New Hampshire’s treasured and iconic waterways,” said Tom Irwin, director of CLF New Hampshire. The Conserva- tion Law Foundation protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people, working to preserve our natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy.

“I’ve lived in this area for almost 40 years,” said Dean Knapton, a member of Toxics Action Center, a group that helps people tackle environmental health problems in their communities. “It’s about time Casella cleaned up their mess, so my grandkids can enjoy the river like I have without putting their health in danger.”

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