Clean water advocate says cases, like Yuengling's, take too long

By Taryn Phaneuf | Jun 30, 2016

HARRISBURG – In handing down an “above average” penalty against D.G. Yuengling and Son Inc. over allegations that it violated the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached a welcome result but not in a timely manner, an environmental advocate says.

“I give EPA some credit for giving out a significant penalty,” Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director of Clean Water Action, told the Pennsylvania Record

“That said, these agreements take way too long, so I don't think companies feel that there's much threat of immediate reprisal for violating the Clean Water Act because they can put off a government agency for three, five, eight years. 

"I've seen longer cases than this. So it's definitely a problem how slow prosecution of these violations occurs.”

In total, EPA cited 141 violations that occurred between 2008 and 2015. Yuengling — a brewery founded in 1829 — was accused of violating permits by failing to pretreat industrial wastewater discharge. 

Wastewater from its two breweries is sent to a sewage plant operated by the Greater Pottsville Area Sanitary Authority. According to the EPA, Yuengling didn’t submit monitoring reports or comply with monitoring and reporting requirements. 

EPA also says Yuengling didn’t fully respond to orders from the sewage authority and the federal agency to correct problems.

On June 23, EPA announced that Yuengling agreed to settle the case by spending about $7 million to improve environmental measures at two large-scale breweries near Pottsville. The company also will pay a $2.8 million penalty and implement an environmental management system to comply with the law. 

An outside group will consult on implementation of the new system to make sure it’s done properly.

“Yuengling is responsible for serious violations of its Clean Water Act pretreatment discharge limits, posing a potential risk to the Schuylkill River which provides drinking water to 1.5 million people,” EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin said in a statement. “

Because Yuengling’s wastewater isn’t discharged directly into the river, the biggest concern is its effect on water treatment equipment. Wastewater pollutants impact the process of cleaning water and damage sewer infrastructure, like pumps. If the plant can’t properly treat the water, it affects the health of the river.

“Ultimately, this is about protecting the river and making sure sewage treatment is as good as it can be,” Arnowitt said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is the primary enforcer of the CWA in the state, though the EPA is in charge when violations involve a sewage plant, Arnowitt said. 

Overall, he thinks enforcement of the CWA is “very poor,” likely as a result of poor funding. Because its enforcers don't have the resources to put up a strong fight in federal court, cases are usually settled.

“Often violations go on for a very long time before starting enforcement actions,” he said, adding that enforcement actions focus on corrections, which is important, but result in minor penalties. “The incentive for companies for wanting to do a really good job on compliance is not there.”

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