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Who must pay for hazardous waste cleanup in RCRA litigation?

Valero, a California refining company, has reached a settlement with officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to a recent EPA release, Valero will pay a $157,800 fine to settle allegations of improper hazardous waste handling.

Valero is a big player in California’s oil refining. It supplies around one-quarter of the gasoline used in California’s Bay Area, and about 10 percent of the gasoline used statewide. The refinery sits on about 900 acres of land and employs approximately 400 workers. It also has a wastewater treatment plan, as well as storm water retention ponds.

The lawsuit alleged that Valero had dumped benzene into an unlined storm water retention pond over a two-year period. Benzene is a carcinogenic chemical found in plastic, rubber and pesticides. An EPA inspection discovered the high levels of benzene about one year after the alleged dumping. The pond is adjacent to the Suisun Bay, raising concerns that the benzene would contaminate nearby groundwater and surface water.

Environmental enforcement often implicates federal laws. In this case, the EPA inspections were performed pursuant to a federal law called the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The RCRA requires ponds to be lined. In addition, only treated water should be released into an unlined pond.

RCRA lawsuits typically focus on the responsibility of the company that generated, stored or transported the hazardous waste at issue, especially when precautions were not taken to avoid contamination of groundwater aquifers or topsoil erosion. If a company is found liable under the RCRA, it might be required to pay for the removal of the dangerous chemicals. In this case, the fine paid by Valero may go to cleanup efforts. The settlement also requires Valero to improve its piping system.

Source: The Pioneer, “Valero reaches hazardous waste settlement,” Kali Persall, Oct. 19, 2016

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