The Environmental Protection Agency has fined BKK Corp. $21,000 for filing an inadequate plan to control toxic waste at the dump and for a series of other alleged violations of federal law.
The other major violations include charges that BKK failed to submit a plan for monitoring hazardous material over the next 30 years and that the firm refused to provide audited statements of its assets and a financial guarantee that it could pay for long-term safety precautions at the landfill.
'We Were Offended'
BKK attorney Ron Gastelum called the fine unfair, and said that the EPA request for financial information was an invasion of privacy. He said BKK would appeal the fines.
"It was a rather blanket request to look at our books," Gastelum said. "Frankly, we were offended by that."
Under federal law, a landfill that stops receiving hazardous waste has 30 days in which to file a plan that details how the toxic material will be covered and what measures will be taken to safeguard the dump for 30 years. BKK stopped accepting hazardous waste Nov. 30 amid public controversy over toxic gas leaks which forced the evacuation last July of 21 families from nearby residential neighborhoods. The last of the families returned to their homes in January.
The 583-acre landfill, which still accepts non-hazardous waste, submitted a draft closure plan Dec. 7. After more than three months of review by the EPA and eight other state, regional and local regulatory agencies monitoring the dump, the plan was rejected. Regulatory officials said it was too general and did not contain long-term safety precautions. They gave BKK until April 29 to file a revised version and listed several reasons why the plan was considered inadequate.
Among those problems were failure to provide cost estimates for the closure plan, an inadequate description of how the hazardous waste would be covered and controlled, a proposal to cover only 16 of the estimated 92 acres that contain toxic materials, and failure to provide seismic data on how the landfill's underground system for collecting gases and contaminated liquids would hold up in an earthquake.
'Just Not Enough Time'
BKK had asked for additional time to prepare the revision, Gastelum said, because "it was just not enough time in view of the kinds of questions they were asking and it certainly was not fair given the amount of time they took to get back to us."
The EPA rejected that request late last month, saying that most of the problems with the plan were issues that should have been resolved before the plan was first filed. On May 23, the regulatory agency issued an administrative order fining the company $3,000 for each of seven violations stemming from the unaccepted closure plan.
Karen Schwinn, director of projects for the EPA in San Francisco, said the extension was denied because BKK failed to provide "adequate justification" for its request. But she added that under EPA policy, extensions are usually not given unless both sides sign a consent agreement, which is entered into only after a firm has been charged with a violation of federal law.
Although a company may appeal its charges before an administrative law judge, "more often than not the company ends up paying some kind of a fine," Schwinn said.
When asked why a firm cannot, in effect, be granted an extension until after it has been charged, Schwinn replied, "there are things that are more important than the (fine)" in getting companies to correct violations of laws regulating the closure of hazardous waste dumps.
Admittedly, Schwinn added, the law is not very specific. "It says the closure has to be done in such a way that minimizes the future emissions from the site," she said. "That's pretty general. But a landfill owner should know how to do that. It's a question of the level of effort."