Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let the fines begin

The Environmental Protection Agency has dropped a $29,000 fine on the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation for not following the terms of a year-old Stipulated Order (pdf).

EPA warned in an Oct. 16 email (pdf) that "Our most urgent concern is for CUC to contain its oil spills, oil containers and spill response capabilities immediately before another typhoon threatens the company's facilities and operations." I guess they meant it.

According to the EPA letter, CUC had accumulated $404,000 in penalties under Stipulated Order One (pdf) as of Oct. 9 and $230,000 pursuant to Stipulated Order Two as of Oct. 16. At that time, the fine for failure to submit a Facility Response Plan was $10,000.

Different penalties accrue at different rates, so we can't assume that the $634,000 in stipulated penalties have almost tripled; we can assume they've grown. A lot.

We can look at all of that and say the glass is half-empty, but wait. Let's look at the fine as a shot across CUC's bow: EPA is signaling that it is very serious indeed about the Dec. 31 deadlines like the financial plan, and that it won't be put off like the Legislature. Still, I give the Administration and CUC a lot of credit for ending years of dithering and agreeing to the Stipulated Orders.

Here's the text of EPA's press release (Too lazy to rewrite, I'll use bold to highlight):

EPA fines CUC for failing to submit facility oil spill response plan
$29,000 penalty follows missed deadline stipulated in the March 2009 order

HONOLULU – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today fined the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. $29,000 for failing to meet the requirements of a stipulated order seeking to reform and bring into compliance CUC’s five power plants and an oil transfer pipeline.

Specifically, the penalty is for failing to submit a satisfactory facility response plan as outlined in the order.

The order required CUC to submit a facility response plan for its Lower Base power plants by July 9, 2009. The plan was submitted by CUC. However, on September 17, 2009, the EPA disapproved the initial submitted plan and provided CUC with 20 days to correct and resubmit the plan. CUC did not resubmit a corrected plan to the EPA.

“U.S. EPA expects the CUC to immediately fulfill its obligations under the stipulated order to ensure that a facility response plan is in place at its main power plant,” said Daniel Meer, the EPA’s assistant Superfund director for the Pacific Southwest region. “The potential for oil releases from their facilities and harm to environment is significant and CUC must implement steps to prevent and prepare for such discharges or face additional penalty demands."

CUC owns five power plants on the islands of Saipan and Rota. The facilities and an oil transfer pipeline on Saipan have a history of releases of oil. The EPA has found that CUC has caused discharges of harmful quantities of oil into the nearshore waters and shorelines.

In addition to past oil releases and the ongoing threats of oil releases from these facilities, CUC has failed to prepare and implement oil spill prevention plans for each of its five power plants and a facility response plan at its main power plant in Saipan, which is near Tanapag Harbor.

A facility response plan is required by the EPA for facilities which store over 1 million gallons of oil and have potential to cause significant and substantial harm to the environment. The plans must document that a facility has the necessary resources and equipment to respond to a worst case discharge at the facility, such as those that can be caused by typhoons and earthquakes. The plan also requires the facility to conduct drills, exercises and training to ensure prompt and effective response to small, medium and large oil spills.

The stipulated order is one of two that was entered by the Court on March 11, 2009. The other order covers water and wastewater issues at the CUC drinking water and wastewater facilities.


The Saipan Blogger said...

The Legislature should pass a law exempting them from paying fines. That's how they solved the crisis with the Retirement Fund.

KAP said...

I'm sure they'll pass a resolution; it will probably have as much effect on EPA as their efforts to get DHS to ignore its employment standards.

I'm a bit dizzy today: it appears I've been spun. According to Rep. Tina Sablan in today's Tribune, the Dec. 31 "deadline" is CUC's, and EPA hasn't given an extension.

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