Business LawAir Emissions and Environmental Law Enforcement

June 19, 20200

Today’s blog article will look at business operations and potential environmental law enforcement. Specifically, we will look at air emissions which violate laws aimed at preventing the spread of harmful and/or bothersome materials by air. The example case below will hopefully encourage business owners to assess their operations. Also, this case may ensure that companies comply with applicable laws and regulations to avoid enforcement actions against them.

Background on the Example Violation

Previously, attorneys from the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General noted that they will be paying closer attention to the Port of Providence this year for environmental law enforcement. Sprague’s terminal at the Port of Providence stores and distributes liquid asphalt and other petroleum products. One of the issues prompting them here is the number of potentially non-compliant emissions on site. As one example, numerous complaints were lodged with the Attorney General’s office and to RIDEM concerning the terrible odor emanating from the Sprague Terminal. The complaints began in approximately 2017, when Sprague converted some of its storage tanks to storing liquid asphalt.

RIDEM took environmental law enforcement action against Sprague. The state agency fined the company $22,500 in 2019 and issued a Notice of Violation for the Odors regulations violated. This was because Sprague had still not implemented the agreed-upon plan to install air pollution control equipment. These enforcement actions against a person or company lead to fines that can add up quickly, or progress from civil to criminal penalties.

The terminal, as a source of air pollutants, is subject to the Odors regulations contained in 250-RICR-120-05-17. These regulations prohibit the emission of air contaminants into the atmosphere that create “an objectionable odor beyond the property line of said person[,]” as determined by DEM staff members’ personal observations.

In addition, the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office wrote to Sprague’s terminal in Providence, requiring more action on air pollution control equipment. The assigned Special Assistant Attorney Generals wrote that “The odors emanating from the Facility are unreasonably interfering with the health, safety, peace, comfort, and convenience of the community and the Facility is the proximate cause of these foreseeable, preventable, and ongoing injuries to the community.” This language suggests that further environmental law enforcement may go beyond notices of violation and fines.

Other Types of Air Emissions Violations

In addition to the Odors regulations, which guide environmental law enforcement against these “objectionable odors,” RIDEM enforces a variety of other laws and regulations on air emissions. The regulations within 250-RICR-120-05, more generally, contain all of the regulations aimed at Air Pollution Control. These regulations were created by the authority granted to RIDEM through R.I. General Laws § 42-17.1-2(19) and the Rhode Island Clean Air Act.

Harmful and/or hazardous substance emissions are regulated (and often prohibited) under this part of the regulations. The contents of air emissions from the Sprague Terminal were previously unknown. So, RIDEM, Sprague, and the asphalt provider Irving Oil, are analyzing it. However, liquid asphalt storage emissions likely contain volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”), which are harmful to the health of those in the nearby community. There are additional environmental law enforcement regulations for sources of pollutants such as open fires, emissions from industrial processes, sulfur emissions, dry cleaning operations emissions, and more.

Federally, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) is in charge of enforcement for the various federal laws that apply in air emissions cases. For example, the federal Clean Air Act. Following the above example with Sprague, the EPA became involved after Sprague had issues at multiple terminals. These included its terminals in Maine and Massachusetts. Thus far, Sprague has reached one proposed settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and Massachusetts.

If you are concerned that your business may be out of sync with the various air emissions laws and regulations, or other environmental laws, consult with the attorneys here. Our decades of experience with related matters can help you prevent environmental law enforcement actions against you or your business. Email or call us today at 401.477.0023.

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