Harbor Currents: NEWS May 30, 2013

  • 05/29/2013
  • Reporters Desk

Wal-Mart Pleads Guilty to Federal Environmental Crimes

LOS ANGELES – Wal-Mart Stores Inc. pleaded guilty in a federal court in San Francisco to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act by illegally handling and disposing of hazardous materials at its retail stores across the United States, as part of a $110 million case.

The guilty pleas entered are the result of an investigation that started in Southern California.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based company also pleaded guilty in Kansas City, Mo. to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act by failing to properly handle pesticides that had been returned by customers at its stores across the country.

As a result of the three criminal cases brought by the Justice Department, as well as a related civil case filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Wal-Mart will pay about $81.6 million. Coupled with previous actions brought by the states of California and Missouri for the same conduct, Wal-Mart will pay a combined total of more than $110 million to resolve cases alleging violations of federal and state environmental laws.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court, from a date unknown until January 2006, Wal-Mart did not have a program in place and failed to train its employees on proper hazardous waste management and disposal practices at the store level. As a result, hazardous wastes were either discarded improperly at the store level – including being put into municipal trash bins or, if a liquid, poured into the local sewer system – or they were improperly transported without proper safety documentation to one of six product return centers located throughout the United States.

Wal-Mart owns more than 4,000 stores nationwide that sell thousands of products, which are flammable, corrosive, reactive, toxic or otherwise hazardous under federal law. The products that contain hazardous materials include pesticides, solvents, detergents, paints, aerosols and cleaners. Once discarded, these products are considered hazardous waste under federal law.

Wal-Mart pleaded guilty in San Francisco to six misdemeanor counts of negligently violating the Clean Water Act. The six criminal charges were filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and San Francisco (each office filed three charges), and the two cases were consolidated in the Northern District of California, where the guilty pleas were formally entered before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero. Pursuant to a plea agreement filed in California, Wal-Mart was sentenced to pay a $40 million criminal fine and an additional $20 million that will fund various community service projects, including opening a $6 million Retail Compliance Assistance Center that will help retail stores across the nation learn how to properly handle hazardous waste.

As part of the $20 million community service payment in California, Wal-Mart will pay $9 million – $4.5 million in both the Central District of California and the Northern District of California – to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. That money will be used to provide long-term funding for environmental projects, initiatives and enforcement activities designed for the benefit, preservation and restoration of the environment, watersheds and ecosystems.

In the third criminal case resolved today, Wal-Mart pleaded guilty in the Western District of Missouri to violating Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

According to a plea agreement filed in Kansas City, beginning in 2006, Wal-Mart began sending certain damaged household products, including regulated solid and liquid pesticides, from its six return centers to Greenleaf, LLC, a recycling facility located in Neosho, Mo., where the products were processed for reuse and resale. Because Wal-Mart employees failed to provide adequate oversight of the pesticides sent to Greenleaf, regulated pesticides were mixed together and offered for sale to customers without the required registration, ingredients or use information, which constitutes a violation of Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. Between July 2006 and February 2008, Wal-Mart trucked more than 2 million pounds of regulated pesticides and additional household products from its various return centers to Greenleaf. In November 2008, Greenleaf was also convicted of a Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act violation and paid a criminal penalty of $200,000 in 2009.

Pursuant to the plea agreement filed in Missouri, Wal-Mart agreed to pay a criminal fine of $11 million and to pay another $3 million to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which will go to that agency’s Hazardous Waste Program and will be used to fund further inspections and education on pesticide regulations for regulators, the regulated community and the public. In addition, Wal-Mart has already spent more than $3.4 million to properly remove and dispose of all hazardous material from Greenleaf’s facility.

In conjunction with the guilty pleas in the three criminal cases, Wal-Mart has agreed to pay a $7.628 million civil penalty that will resolve civil violations of Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. In addition to the civil penalties, Wal-Mart is required to implement a comprehensive, nationwide environmental compliance agreement to manage hazardous wastes generated at its stores. The agreement includes requirements to ensure adequate environmental personnel and training at all levels of the company, proper identification and management of hazardous wastes, and the development and implementation of Environmental Management Systems at its stores and return centers. Compliance with this agreement is a condition of probation imposed in the criminal cases.

Senate OKs Campaign-Finance Reform

SACRAMENTO – On May 30, the California Senate endorsed significant campaign-finance reforms to strengthen the California Political Reform Act through improved enforcement, increased penalties and greater accountability.

Coauthored jointly by Democrat Sens. Ted W. Lieu of Torrance and Leland Yee of San Francisco, the legislation passed with a 28-10 vote.  The measure, which enacts common sense reforms, now moves to the Assembly.

Specifically, SB 2 would:

  • Require candidates to “Stand by your Ad”, as required of candidates for federal office.
  • Give enforcement agencies more tools to conduct discretionary audits for informational purposes and strengthens penalties for failing to disclose campaign contributions – the first increase in fines and penalties in nearly 15 years.
  • Reform slate mailers by requiring disclosures of which candidate is paid to be on the mailer by an independent expenditure, and ensure that the notice to voters is in the same languages as the mailer.

A hearing in the assembly has not yet been set.




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