A South Carolina U.S. District Court Judge approved a consent settlement for alleged violations of pollution laws in an agreement with the company and the United States Attorney's office. The issues involved Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and mismanagement of hazardous wastes under the Resources Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) as well as South Carolina regulations. The company has operated at its current location since 1967 and manufactures chemicals used in the production of pesticides and pharmaceuticals. This agreement was a long time in the making and involved negotiation of changes to both the plant operating processes as well as to the physical configuration of the plant. The plant agreed to make changes to the air pollution emission equipment and the methods of handling and processing several wastes of concern.
In addition to paying a fine and making the changes mentioned, the company also has to take further steps for testing and monitoring the operations at the plant. The company will be required to perform testing on the groundwater and soils at one site and will perform testing of components of the operation to insure compliance. One wonders if the company had been more proactive in addressing these areas of concern whether there would have been a less costly outcome for the operation.
A Wave of Coal Ash Suits Starts Hitting Power Companies
Last year, after a 20+ year delay, it appeared that EPA was about to issue new regulations for the handling and disposal of coal ash. However, the coal ash regulations were shelved, and now lawsuits are starting to fill the void – including multi-million dollar claims for personal injury. The vast majority of coal ash is generated by coal-fired electric power plants, and the vast majority of those are in the southeast. Environmental groups have filed notices of intent to sue in South Carolina (1) and in North Carolina (2).
Suits alleging personal injury from coal ash have been fairly limited, but the wave is apparently building. Suits pending in Virginia allege that heavy metals leaching from coal ash have caused personal injury in addition to property damage, and recent lawsuits against Georgia Power and others allege similar damage and injury related to the Scherer Plant in Monroe County. (3, 4)
The suits involve (or will involve) extremely complicated legal issues related to the interplay of environmental regulation, tort law, and contract law, but their resolution could potentially impact every coal-fired power plant and, eventually, its customers – which are the majority of the residents of the Southeast.
(Rogers Townsend is defending some of the coal ash lawsuits.)