After releasing potentially unsafe levels of air pollution and then trying to cover it up, General Electric Co. will pay a $2.25 million fine.
As reported by ABC News, the U.S. Justice Department levied the multi-million dollar penalty against GE for air pollution violations that occurred at a New York silicone plant.
Between September 2006 and February 2007, employees at the facility manually overrode an automatic waste feed cutoff system 1,859 times. The system was designed to control and limit the amount of hazardous waste released into the air.
However, by superseding control of the system, the environment, as well as the public, were exposed to an unusually high amount of noxious pollutants like carbon monoxide, dioxins, and furans.
The Albany Times Union reports that releasing these extra toxins was a direct violation of General Electric’s air pollution permits. To hide the wrongdoings, the company submitted fabricated pollution control documents to federal and state agencies in charge of monitoring factory emissions.
Judith Enck, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator, described the severity of the violation.
“GE overrode a system designed to deal with dangerous air pollutants from a hazardous waste incinerator. By overriding the system, GE allowed the hazardous waste to continue to be fed into the incinerator, leading to levels of carbon monoxide that exceeded the permit limits.”
The fine shows how seriously state and federal governments take environmental pollution. However, some wonder if regulators take it too far.
In a related Inquisitr report, the Supreme Court examined a case where the EPA was accused of overstepping its bounds and not correctly interpreting the agency’s role when enforcing the Clean Air Act. The court ultimately ruled that the agency did, in fact, take its power beyond the scope of the Act.
General Electric has a history of pollution violations at the factory in Waterford, New York.
In 2003, GE was ordered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to build an automated pollution sampling station so spills could be accurately tracked. However, the company failed to complete it per the timeline required by the DEC.
Three years later, General Electric was ordered to pay $250,000 in state fines for spilled chemicals that leaked into the nearby Hudson River and for delaying the sampling station project.
All in all, GE paid over $1.4 million in fines stemming from various water and air pollution violations between 2001 and 2006.
In the early morning hours of June 30, 2009, U.S. and New York state authorities showed up at the plant and remained there for most of the day. Even though the plant was not owned by GE at this time, it would appear pollution violations were still happening.
Momentive Performance Materials, the world’s second-largest maker of silicones and related products, took over operation of the plant in 2007.
Earlier this year, Momentive met with DEC officials to dispute proposed additional restrictions on the current pollution permit. The changes put tighter controls on two hazardous waste incinerators that are meant to reduce air pollution.
Additionally, the DEC wants Momentive to pay a full-time administrator to confirm environmental standards are complied with. The new permit would also require Momentive to increase their pollution cleanup fund from $18.8 million to $26 million.
The DEC says these additional mandates are necessary based on the plant’s already clouded history of violations. Momentive has a different opinion, so an agreement has not yet been reached.
Meanwhile, GE will be paying $2.25 million for air pollution violations from when it operated the facility prior to Momentive.
Acting DEC Commissioner, Basil Seggos, thinks the GE fine says a lot about the agency’s commitment to a clean and safe environment.
“This fine is the result of the collaborative efforts of state and federal partners working together to accomplish a shared mission to protect our citizens and communities and should send a strong message that New York State has zero tolerance for those who shirk environmental policies and procedures put in place as protections.”
A spokesman for General Electric called the air pollution penalty “reasonable.” GE Senior Environmental, Health, and Safety Counsel Bruce Adler signed both the complaint and settlement that were filed with the United States District Court.
Is the $2.25 million fine large enough to make any sort of impact on a company the size of General Electric?
[Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images]