Our Client’s Challenge
Our client operates a large highly regulated, closely monitored chemical manufacturing facility in St. Helens, Oregon. The facility manufactures urea and several gaseous products, including anhydrous ammonia. As a result of releases of ammonia in both 2010 and 2015, the client faced potential significant civil penalties sought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as a criminal prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In addition, the client faces allegations from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regarding legacy groundwater contamination and management issues that relate to activities that predate the client’s acquisition of the facility.
We successfully concluded consent decree negotiations with the EPA regarding the potential civil liability for the 2015 release of ammonia, as well as a plea agreement as to the potential criminal liability to the company with the USA for the 2010 release. The resolution of the civil and criminal claims with both the EPA and USA included the payment of a monetary penalty as well as injunctive relief. Under the civil settlement, a portion of the monetary penalty was waived by the implementation of a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) through which the client purchased needed protective gear for local area first responders. A portion of the injunctive component of the criminal settlement overlapped with some of the injunctive requirements of the civil settlement, and we were able to successfully get the U.S. Attorney’s Office to agree as part of the plea agreement that the EPA’s determination of compliance with the overlapping injunctive components would be satisfactory under both settlements.
As to the legacy groundwater contamination, we were able to successfully reach an interim agreement with the DEQ pursuant to which the DEQ will hold in abeyance any enforcement action to allow the client to implement a groundwater monitoring and modeling program which the client believes will demonstrate, along with other lines of evidence, that the facility cannot be the source for nitrate contamination currently present in a groundwater supply located almost a mile away from the facility.