Enforcement News

News Item 1: Mercedes-Benz Pays $1.2 Million for CAA Violation

Mercedes-Benz will pay $1.2 million in civil penalties to resolve its failure to promptly notify EPA about air pollution control defects on numerous 1998 to 2006 model vehicles, the agency announced on Dec. 21, 2006. Mercedes also must improve its emissions defect investigation and reporting system to ensure future compliance, at an estimated cost of approximately $1 million per year.

After EPA initiated its investigation of this matter, Mercedes commenced voluntary recalls for two of the defects and notified owners that it would extend the warranty coverage to address a third defect. Mercedes will incur an estimated cost of $59 million to implement the recalls and the extended warranty.

"These defect reporting requirements are a critical part of EPA's program to reduce air pollution by ensuring that vehicles on the road comply with the Clean Air Act's emissions standards," said Catherine R. McCabe, principal deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

"Reliable and effective automobile pollution control systems are essential to protect human health and the environment from harmful automobile emissions," said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department's (DOJ) Environment and Natural Resources Division. "Mercedes' failure to alert EPA to a number of defects in emission-related components over a multi-year period is a serious violation because it deprived EPA of the opportunity to promptly determine whether emission standards would be exceeded and whether to order a recall of any of these vehicles."

The Clean Air Act requires auto manufacturers to file a defect information report with EPA not more than 15 working days after an emission-related defect is found to affect 25 or more vehicles, so that EPA may consider whether the defect will cause emission standards to be exceeded and whether a recall is necessary.

The vehicles subject to the voluntary recalls and extended warranties may have defective catalytic converters or defective air pumps. The voluntary recalls and extended warranty will reduce the emissions of harmful pollutants caused by the defects by more than 500 tons cumulatively. These pollutants include nonmethane hydrocarbons (NMHC), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO). NMHC and NOx are key ingredients in the production of ozone, a major contributor to cancer-causing smog, according to a statement by EPA. CO impairs breathing and is especially harmful to children, people with asthma and the elderly.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final approval by the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

More information about the Mercedes-Benz settlement can be accessed at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/caa/mercedes.html.

News Item 2: Syngenta Corn Fined $1.5 Million For Distributing Seed Corn That Contained Unregistered Genetically Engineered Pesticide

Syngenta Seeds Inc. of Golden Valley, Minn., agreed to pay a $1.5 million penalty to EPA for selling and distributing seed corn that contained an unregistered genetically engineered pesticide called Bt 10.

While the federal government has concluded that there are no human health or environmental concerns with Bt 10 corn, it is still illegal to distribute any pesticide not registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

"This action shows that when a company violates the law by distributing unapproved pesticides, EPA vigorously enforces the law," said Granta Y. Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

Late in 2004, Syngenta disclosed to EPA that it may have distributed the seed corn to the United States, Europe and South America. Immediately following the disclosure, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and EPA began an investigation and evaluation that confirmed the distribution of unregistered seed corn on more than 1,000 occasions. A penalty was assessed by USDA, and the company destroyed all the affected seed under USDA supervision.

EPA filed the Dec. 21, 2006, settlement with its Environmental Appeals Board (EAB). The EAB is the final EPA decision maker on permit, enforcement and other administrative appeals under all major environmental statutes that the agency administers. If approved by the Board, Syngenta will pay a penalty of $1.5 million.

More information about the Syngenta consent agreement can be accessed at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/fifra/syngenta.html.

News Item 3: CEMEX To Pay $1.5 Million For Violations Of Air Quality Permit

The Air Pollution Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has resolved an air quality enforcement matter with CEMEX Inc. for $1.5 million. The penalty stems from permit violations at the CEMEX portland cement manufacturing plant in Lyons, Colo., officials announced on Dec. 22, 2006.

The order cites CEMEX for failing to comply with numerous air quality permit conditions throughout 2004-2006. These include conditions relating to dust and opacity, as well as operating temperatures at the facility which can affect air emissions.

"The state takes these permit conditions very seriously" said Margie Perkins, outgoing director of the Air Pollution Control Division. "These permit conditions are very important and are intended to ensure the facility does not generate dust and particles that can have a real effect on the community. The permit also requires the facility to operate at temperatures that ensure emissions are safe and protective of human health and the environment."

Of the total settlement, $950,000 will be dedicated towards supplemental environmental projects to improve environmental performance at the facility or to otherwise benefit the community.

The settlement also requires that a cash penalty be paid, that ambient air quality monitors be installed at the facility and imposes a moratorium on the burning of tires as a fuel source for the facility through 2007.

"This is one of the largest enforcement matters the Air Pollution Control Division has ever completed and reflects the significant nature of CEMEX's violations," said Paul Tourangeau, incoming director of the Air Pollution Control Division.

"The state takes very seriously instances where facility operators are not vigilant, or are cavalier, about consistently adhering to the specific terms and conditions ascribed to the safe operation of their facility," Tourangeau added. "We have every hope that the magnitude of this enforcement matter is a catalyst for change in the way CEMEX has operated its Lyons facility and serves to benefit the community that lives in and around the CEMEX facility."

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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