, March 19, 2008 (ENS) - The U.S. EPA's Environmental Appeals Board has ordered a company that owns gas stations in the mid-Atlantic states to pay a $3.16 million penalty for violations involving 72 underground fuel storage tanks at 23 gas stations.
In a ruling announced today, the board upheld the agency's enforcement action against the owner of Lowest Price gas stations in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
In cooperation with state and DC officials, the EPA filed a complaint in September 2002 against gas station owner Euclid of Virginia, Inc. for violating regulations designed to detect and prevent fuel leaks from underground storage tanks.
A leaking underground storage tank is excavated - not at a Euclid-owned station. (Photo courtesy EPA)
In a March 11, 2007 decision, the board ruled against every issue raised in an appeal filed by Euclid of Virginia, Inc.
The company had appealed an administrative law judge's November 2006 assessment of a $3.08 million penalty for these violations - the largest penalty ever assessed by an EPA administrative law judge for violations of any federal environmental law.
Instead, the board ruled in favor of EPA's cross-appeal against Euclid, increasing this precedent-setting penalty to $3,164,555.
"With millions of gallons of gasoline, oil, and other petroleum products stored in underground tanks, leaving them unchecked can cause major soil and groundwater contamination," said Donald Welsh, regional administrator of EPA's mid-Atlantic region.
Leaking tanks are a major source of soil and groundwater contamination. EPA and EPA-authorized state regulations are designed to reduce the risk of underground leaks, and avoid the costs of major cleanups.
"This decision should send a strong message to owners of underground storage tanks that it is not only in the public's best interest but in their own, too, to comply with leak detection and prevention requirements," said Welsh.
The violations involved 14 gas stations in Maryland, two in Virginia, and seven in the District of Columbia.
The board found that the EPA had proved that Euclid failed to maintain required leak detection and control equipment, failed to perform required leak detection activities and failed to comply with corrosion-prevention standards.
The company also was found to have failed to properly install or maintain equipment to prevent releases of gasoline due to the overfilling of tanks or other spills when tanks are being filled, and failed to maintain required financial assurances.
The size of the penalty is due not only to the large number of facilities and underground storage tanks involved, but also to Euclid's repeated non-compliance with the same regulations over periods that often lasted for several years.
The administrative law judge cited the breadth of the violations, Euclid's “high degree of negligence” and its overall record of non-compliance in allowing violations to continue despite numerous warnings from the EPA and the Maryland, Virginia and District of Columbia state environmental agencies as further justification for the substantial penalty.
The state and DC agencies coordinated with the EPA to conduct numerous inspections of Euclid-owned gas stations, and inspectors from each agency served as witnesses at the trial.
Euclid has the right to appeal the board's decision again, this time in federal circuit court.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.
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