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Clean Harbors Makes Changes to California Facility Following EPA Clean Water Act Settlement

Clean Harbors Environmental Services Inc., the parent company of Safety-Kleen Inc., has taken steps to fix the alleged Clean Water Act violations recently leveled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Safety-Kleen’s vegetable oil terminal and packaging facility in Newark, Calif.

In hopes of shoring up Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) plans at California oil companies, the EPA leveled nearly $145,000 in Clean Water Act fines against six companies, including Safety-Kleen’s Newark facility.

“All companies who store oil must comply with federal standards. Facilities are required to prevent spills and be prepared to respond to a worst case oil discharge emergency," said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest.

The goal of the EPA’s SPCC regulation is to prevent oil from reaching navigable waters and adjoining shorelines, and to contain and respond to discharges of oil. The regulation requires onshore oil storage facilities to develop and implement SPCC plans and establishes procedures, methods, and equipment requirements to prevent spills, and to respond properly if a spill occurs.

According to the EPA, an SPCC Plan is a detailed, facility-specific, written description of how a facility’s operations comply with the prevention guidelines in the Oil Pollution Prevention regulation. These guidelines include measures such as secondary containment, facility drainage, dikes or barriers, sump and collection systems, retention ponds, curbing, tank corrosion protection systems, and liquid devices. A registered professional engineer must certify each SPCC plan, unless the owner/operator is able to, and chooses to, self-certify the plan.

Unlike oil spill contingency plans that typically address cleanup measures after a spill has occurred, SPCC plans are meant to ensure that facilities put in place containment and other countermeasures that would prevent oil spills that could reach navigable waters. Under the regulation, facilities must detail and implement spill prevention and control measures in their SPCC plans. A spill contingency plan is required as part of the SPCC plan if a facility is unable to provide secondary containment. 

“Preventing spills and protecting our waterways from oil spills is essential,” Blumenfeld said.

In accordance with the settlement, Safety-Kleen will pay a $90,000 penalty to resolve alleged violations. In the consent agreement, the EPA alleges that a January 2014 inspection showed the company failed to provide secondary containment around an oil storage area; failed to secure and control access to oil handling, processing and storage areas; failed to use safe containers and good engineering practices, including liquid level alarms, to avoid discharges; and failed to develop a complete facility response plan.

Although the company does not necessarily concur with the findings, says Phillip Retallick, Clean Harbors senior vice president of compliance and regulatory affairs, it is company policy to take all steps necessary to comply with the order and to take corrective measures to ensure the facility is in full compliance with federal and state operating permits.

According to Retallick, on Jan. 27, 2014 the EPA did conduct an inspection at the Newark facility, which Safety-Kleen had acquired from Evergreen Oil in September 2013. Following the acquisition, Safety-Kleen completed a due diligence audit and was in the process of bringing the facility into compliance upon the EPA visit, Retallick says.

“EPA noted that there were some issues that still needed to be addressed even though we were in the process of completing them," he says. "If you go back and look, you’ll also see in the record that U.S. EPA conducted an SPCC inspection of the Evergreen facility in 2013 and none of the alleged violations were noted back in that inspection, but it appeared, based on our due diligence that they did exist back then.”

All of the agreed to items were under way when the complaint was filed and are already completed. The site is in full compliance with the SPCC program and Oil Pollution Prevention and Compliance inspection and spill prevention aspects of the SPCC program.

“Even though these deficiencies were historically an Evergreen matter, we did acquire the facility and as such, when we acquire a facility and take custody and control of it, we’ll do everything in our power to bring that facility back into compliance," Retallick says."But we’re not going to go back to EPA attempt to compel them to go after another party.”

The company is taking responsibility, he adds.

Also among those companies fined as part of the settlement for CWA violations is Cargill Corp., which operates a vegetable oil terminal and packaging facility in Fullerton, Calif.

According to a consent agreement, Cargill Corp., allegedly violated EPA’s oil pollution prevention regulations by failing to amend and recertify its SPCC plan for its Fullerton facility following a change to the facility as required; failing to provide adequate oil containment and drainage controls; failing to ensure that the secondary containment walls of the East Tank Farm could contain spilled oil; and failing to remove accumulations of oil outside tanks and piping, transfer areas and process area collection trenches.

EPA’s proposed CWA settlements for both Cargill and Safety-Kleen are subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the Regional Judicial Officer.

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