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EPA Enforcement Actions in Puerto Rico Lead to Environmental Improvements

Release Date: 11/15/2007
Contact Information: Rich Cahill (212) 637-3666, Cahill.Richard@EPA.gov or Brenda Reyes (787) 977-5869, Reyes.Brenda@EPA.gov

En Español

(New York, N.Y.) Using a full range of compliance and enforcement strategies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continued to bring more and more facilities in Puerto Rico into and beyond compliance with federal laws that protect public health and the environment in fiscal year 2007, which runs from October 1, 2006 to September 30, 2007. In that period, EPA enforcement actions resulted in investments of nearly $1.8 billion in pollution control and cleanups, as well as more than $4 million for environmentally beneficial projects. In addition, EPA issued 87 administrative orders to correct violations of agency regulations in Puerto Rico.

Among the highlights of these actions, which together will help reduce pollution in the air, water and land in Puerto Rico by 51 million pounds, is the settlement with the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) for Clean Water Act violations. PRASA will spend an estimated $1.7 billion over the next 15 years on improvements at all of its 61 wastewater treatment plants and related collection systems. The estimated cost of the work required by this agreement is the third highest in EPA’s history. EPA also took action to close four municipal landfills at which continued operations endanger the environment and, in some instances, could pose a potential threat to public health.

“The people of Puerto Rico can count on our continued vigilance in enforcing EPA regulations when action is needed,” EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg said. “Complying with environmental law isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the backbone of our mission to protect people’s health and the environment.”

EPA Region 2, which covers New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, exceeded the enforcement program accomplishments of the previous year in a number of key categories. For example, the amount of money spent by the regulated community to build pollution abatement facilities and conduct environmental improvement measures increased over 1300%, from $285.9 million to over $4 billion. The volume of pollution reduced through enforcement actions rose by 95%, from 35.7 million pounds to 69.7 million pounds. The amount of civil penalties collected from non-complying facilities increased by 102%, from $5.6 million to $11.3 million, and the number of projects undertaken by the regulated community was up by 62%, from 21 to 34.

On a national scale, in fiscal year 2007, EPA’s civil and criminal enforcement actions resulted in pollutant reductions of 890 million pounds. Over 65 percent of these reductions were achieved by addressing high-priority air and water pollution challenges. Air priority efforts achieved commitments to reduce 426.8 million pounds of pollutants, while water priority efforts achieved commitments to reduce 178 million pounds.

Over the last five years, EPA’s enforcement program has sustained a steady track record of pollution reductions and commitments from industry to install pollution controls. Since 2003, EPA’s enforcement activities have required companies to invest over $33 billion in pollution control equipment to achieve pollution reductions of nearly 4.5 billion pounds.

SUMMARIES OF NOTABLE CASES IN PUERTO RICO

PRASA Wastewater Treatment Plant Consent Decree

A Consent Decree between EPA and PRASA, resolved a case filed against the authority for violations at 61 of its wastewater treatment plants. To comply with the settlement, PRASA will complete remedial measures that are estimated to cost $1.7 billion involving 145 short and mid-term capital improvement projects and 63 long-term improvement projects. PRASA is also required to pay a cash penalty of $1 million and complete a supplemental environmental project valued at $3 million, through which PRASA will identify one or more communities not currently connected to a PRASA wastewater treatment system and connect them to one of PRASA’s treatment facilities.

CRIMINAL CASE – PRASA

On April 19, 2007, PRASA was sentenced in accordance with a plea agreement reached in July 2006. PRASA pleaded guilty to a 15-count indictment charging Clean Water Act violations based upon a 25-year history of inadequately maintaining and operating the island’s wastewater and water treatment systems. PRASA was specifically charged with nine counts of discharges in violation of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit at the nine largest sewage treatment plants on the island; five counts of illegal discharges from the five water treatment plants that supply drinking water to the largest portion of the local population; and one count charging a direct discharge from the PRASA system to the Martin Pena Creek.

The authority was sentenced to serve a five-year term of probation, pay a $9 million criminal fine, pay an additional $109 million to make repairs and upgrades at the nine sewage treatment plants named in the indictment, pay $10 million for repairs and upgrades to the Martin Pena sewer system, and fund a study of the five water treatment plants identified in the indictment to determine appropriate remedies.

Puerto Rico Municipal Landfills

EPA and the municipalities of Aguadilla, Santa Isabel, Toa Baja and Vega Baja reached agreements to permanently close operations at their municipal landfills, which are considered open dumps. In addition to not taking waste at the landfills, the municipalities have agreed to put protective measures in place to control pollution, such as systems to collect and treat liquid seepage and to control stormwater. The municipalities also agreed to monitor and maintain the landfills after final closures are completed in the spring of 2010. The Commonwealth has made a commitment to embrace recycling, waste reduction and waste-to energy plants to manage solid waste in the future to protect people’s health and preserve the quality of the island’s drinking water, coasts and land.

Department of the Navy in Puerto Rico

EPA and the Navy signed an agreement to complete the cleanup of the former Roosevelt Roads Naval base, which is now closed. The Navy has announced that it intends to transfer or sell the entire facility in various parcels to “third parties”, including other federal agencies, local municipal governments, agencies of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and/or commercial entities. These “third parties” would be required to assume responsibility for completing the cleanup on any parcels they acquire. The Navy would remain liable, however, for completing any remaining work should the third party fail to complete it.

United States Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center

EPA ordered the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs San Juan Medical Center in Puerto Rico to correct violations of requirements for the proper management of hazardous waste and used oil. The department agreed to pay a cash penalty of $26,259 and spend a minimum of $281,500 to develop, design, fund and implement an automated hazardous material and waste management program to enhance the existing hazardous materials management system, and increase waste reduction and pollution prevention opportunities throughout the Veterans Affairs Caribbean healthcare system.

More information on EPA’s enforcement and compliance programs, its accomplishments and the Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) research tool can be found at http://www.epa.gov/echo. More information about EPA Region 2 enforcement and compliance programs is available at http://www.epa.gov/region2/capp. Additional details on Region 2's enforcement and compliance results for 2007 can be found at http://www.epa.gov/region2/capp/results.htm.

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