Wal-Mart to Pay $81 Million Settlement for What EPA Calls ‘Environmental Crimes’

Elizabeth Harrington | May 29, 2013 | 1:44pm EDT
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In this Feb. 20, 2012, file photo, customers walk into and out of a Wal-Mart store in Methuen, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

(CNSNews.com) – Wal-Mart has agreed to pay $81.6 million for violating what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls “environmental crimes,” concluding a decades-long investigation by the agency and the FBI.

Wal-Mart settled with the EPA and the Justice Department in three criminal cases on Tuesday, for improperly disposing of hazardous waste and pesticides. The settlement is a result of cases brought by the DOJ in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Missouri, and a civil case filed by the EPA.

One federal prosecutor said she hopes the settlement will “send a message” to employers that they will be held accountable to the environment.

Wal-Mart said it is “pleased” the issue is finally resolved.

The multi-billion dollar company, which is the largest retailer in the world, described the charges as “misdemeanor violations of certain environmental laws” that took place “years ago.”

“The incidents on which the charges are based occurred years ago and involved the transportation and disposal of common consumer products,” Wal-Mart said in a statement following the settlement. “No specific environmental impact has been alleged and since then, Wal-Mart designed and implemented comprehensive environmental programs that remain in place today.”

“Wal-Mart has a comprehensive and industry-leading hazardous waste program,” said Phyllis Harris, senior vice president and chief compliance officer for Wal-Mart. “The program was built around training, policies and procedures on how to safely handle consumer products that become hazardous waste, and we continue to run the same program in every store and club that was deployed years ago.”

“We are pleased that this resolves all of these issues raised by the government,” she said.

The agreement consists of a total of $81.6 million in fines and community service payments for six misdemeanor violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA), and other violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

“Today’s criminal fine should send a message to companies of all sizes that they will be held accountable to follow federal environmental laws,” said Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri.

“This tough financial penalty holds Wal-Mart accountable for its reckless and illegal business practices that threatened both the public and the environment,” Dickinson said. The case alleged that Wal-Mart mishandled more than 2 million pounds of pesticides.

Wal-Mart will end up paying more than $110 million, according to the EPA, adding in previous payments to settle violations in California and Missouri.

“The case against Wal-Mart is designed to ensure compliance with our nation’s environmental laws now and in the future,” said André Birotte Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California.

The settlement on Tuesday ends a years-long investigation and criminal cases beginning in 2003. Wal-Mart conceded to not training its employees on how to properly dispose of “hazardous waste.” Pesticides, solvents, detergents, paints, aerosols and cleaners are considered hazardous under federal law once they are thrown away.

The suit accused Wal-Mart of disposing these products in municipal trash bins, pouring liquids into local sewer systems and transporting waste without “proper safety documentation.”

The company, which owns more than 4,000 stores in the U.S. and employs over 2 million people, said it has reduced hazardous waste by more than 30 percent since 2010.

“While it was announced today that Wal-Mart has finally resolved a government investigation into our environmental compliance dating back to 2003, we have already implemented a series of measures to properly manage consumer products that become hazardous waste in a program that, in many respects, goes beyond compliance with environmental laws,” the company said on its “Green Room” blog.

Wal-Mart now has 50 “environmental compliance” managers, and has implemented compliance protocols for its stores and training for its employees.

“As we work to lead in sustainability and set an example as a good corporate citizen, we believe it’s important to take responsibility and reduce our environmental impact,” the company said.  “It’s part of who we are as a company and we owe it to our customers, our communities and the environment.”

“We will continue to cooperate and comply with regulators and hold ourselves to the highest standards,” they said.

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