Clean Harbors Penalty Baffles Braintree Officials
Clean Harbors, a hazardous waste disposal company with a facility in Braintree, recently agreed to an Environmental Protection Agency violation settlement of $1.7 million.
A $1.7 million settlement between Clean Harbors and the Environmental Protection Agency has drawn strong criticism from Braintree officials, who say that restitution, in the form of tree plantings heading to Boston, should instead be directed toward the town where authorities discovered hazardous waste storage violations.
"It makes absolutely no sense that a company can have a violation in a community and the federal government awards penalties to a community where it didn't happen," Rep. Mark Cusack, D-Braintree, said on Tuesday. "We're planning a full response. It's absolutely ridiculous."
On Monday, the EPA announced that Clean Harbors agreed to "settle a complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of EPA, regarding numerous violations of hazardous waste management and emergency planning laws at the company’s Braintree, Mass. facility," according to an agency press release.
Clean Harbors, located off Quincy Avenue, will pay a $650,000 penalty under the settlement and spend $1,062,500 planting trees in "low-income and historically-disadvantaged environmental justice areas" in Boston over the next two years.
Four years ago, EPA inspectors found 30 violations at Clean Harbor’s Braintree storage site, including inadequate containment, improper storage and failure to properly maintain hazardous-waste tanks.
Because the violations were found in Braintree, officials say the $1 million should go to the town.
Mayor Joseph Sullivan said that the settlement is "incredibly unfair" and that the EPA acted without providing Braintree the opportunity to weigh in on the negotiations, even after the town had been working on an agreement with Clean Harbors to provide a hazardous materials fire truck.
The mayor sent a letter to senators Scott Brown and John Kerry and Rep. Stephen Lynch on June 1, requesting their help in dealing with the EPA and Department of Justice. Sullivan said that the $900,000 truck would enhance public safety responsiveness for Braintree and possibly other nearby communities, but that the agency was waffling on covering the entire cost from a potential Clean Harbors penalty.
Then on July 13, in a letter responding to the mayor's request, EPA Regional Administrator H. Curtis Spalding wrote to Sen. Kerry that he appreciated the lawmaker's interest in the issue but that the agency "does not disclose information that may interfere with an investigation, settlement negotiation, or litigation."
The next time Sullivan said he heard of the issue was this past Monday, when the EPA announced the Clean Harbors settlement. The mayor said that Town Solicitor Carolyn Murray filed a petition in federal court on Tuesday contesting the decision and that the town will work over the next 30-day comment period with its federal and local representatives to bring the best possible resolution for the residents of Braintree.
"We're not going to give up on this," he said. "We obviously feel we've been neglected in these negotiations."
EPA spokesman David Deegan said on Tuesday that the agency tried several different ways to include Braintree, and that the preference is always that a settlement benefits the local community. He declined to be more specific about the attempts, saying that settlement negotiations were private and took place between the EPA, Department of Justice and Clean Harbors.
"We understand the concern of the mayor and other folks in Braintree," Deegan said.
An executive with Clean Harbors told the Patriot Ledger that the company disagreed with the penalties in general because it had complied with the EPA soon after the violations were found, but agreeed to pay to resolve the "lingering issue."
Deegan said that responses to violations are often required immediately by the federal government, but that penalties may kick in at a later date because of the longer settlement process.
Councilor-At-Large Leland Dingee began his political career in Braintree 30 years ago, inspired by a fight with Clean Harbors over what he called its questionable practices.
"And here we are in 2011 with a $1 million fine," Dingee said. "It shows who they are."
Dingee said he was caught off guard by the news and is curious to find out more about how the settlement was arranged.
"There's something wrong there," he said. "My initial reaction was one of shock. Why Boston? That facility affects Braintree a lot."