Seth D. DuCharme, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Peter D. Lopez, Regional Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Region 2, announced today that the United States has filed a Consent Judgment resolving its claims against the County of Nassau (Nassau) for violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The settlement addresses Nassau’s failure to comply with federal underground storage tank (UST) regulations and with an EPA administrative order at 48 of Nassau’s facilities. The Consent Judgment requires Nassau to install equipment to assure adequate leak detection across all county facilities. The settlement also requires Nassau to pay a civil penalty of $427,500.
The lawsuit and Consent Judgment were filed in United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, in Central Islip, New York. Following a 30-day public comment period, the United States will review any comments and, if appropriate, request the District Court to enter and approve the Consent Judgment.
“The United States is pleased to announce this settlement with Nassau County that will help protect the health and safety of county residents and our groundwater, which may be jeopardized when underground storage tanks are not properly monitored,” stated Acting United States Attorney DuCharme. “The settlement enforces RCRA’s underground storage tank regulations at Nassau’s facilities, which are critical to mitigate the risk of spills and leaks. This Office will vigorously enforce RCRA against parties who illegally operate underground storage tanks and compromise the safety of our community.”
“Nassau County and EPA have worked out an agreement that will help ensure that underground storage tanks (USTs) will be properly monitored and regulated to protect human health and the environment,” said EPA Regional Administrator Lopez. “The judicial settlement requires the county to take multiple steps including implementing a centralized monitoring system. This judicial action settles the County’s non-compliance with a prior administrative settlement. Nassau County has cooperated with EPA and is now taking action to protect the integrity of the aquifer that provides drinking water to the county’s residents.”
Congress enacted RCRA in 1976 to address problems associated with municipal and industrial waste. One of RCRA’s primary goals is to protect the health and safety of the community and the environment from the potential hazards of waste disposal. The UST program was created under RCRA to help achieve RCRA’s goals by regulating USTs that contain hazardous substances and petroleum products. When USTs are properly operated and monitored, they are a safe and effective way to store petroleum products. However, when tanks are not properly safeguarded, they can endanger the health of the public and the environment by leaking petroleum or hazardous substances into the groundwater, contaminating soil and potentially triggering fires or explosions.
Prior to the present lawsuit, the EPA filed an administrative complaint against Nassau alleging that the county repeatedly failed to comply with UST safety requirements at 33 facilities between 2008 and 2010. The EPA and Nassau reached a settlement of these claims in a September 2012 administrative Consent Agreement and Final Order (CA/FO). However, Nassau failed to complete the injunctive work requirements in the CA/FO, leading to this judicial action.
Further, after entering into the CA/FO, from 2012 to 2017, Nassau continued to violate the UST regulations. Specifically, it did not: (i) conduct pipe tightness testing at 12 facilities, (ii) upgrade or close a steel UST at one facility, (iii) add secondary containment (or permanently close) the hazardous substance USTs at two facilities, (iv) install release detection equipment for the USTs at 17 facilities, (v) install release detection equipment for the USTs at 11 emergency generator facilities, (vi) install overfill prevention equipment for the USTs at 12 facilities and (vii) permanently close a UST that had been temporarily closed.
The Consent Judgment requires Nassau to fully comply with RCRA’s UST regulations. Specifically, the settlement requires Nassau to install and operate release detection equipment and overfill and spill prevention equipment, upgrade certain USTs and close certain USTs. The settlement also requires Nassau to install and operate a centralized monitoring system, which will enable Nassau to centrally monitor its USTs so that it can promptly detect and respond to any leaks or spills across its facilities.
The case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Diane C. Leonardo and Matthew Silverman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, working with Bruce Aber and William Sawyer of the Office of Regional Counsel, U.S. EPA Region 2, Claudia Gutierrez, UST Compliance Team Leader, Paul Sacker, Senior Enforcement Officer and Leonard Voo, RCRA Compliance Branch Chief, of the Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division, U.S. EPA Region 2.