PITTSBURGH, PA (STL.News) A copper-processing company headquartered in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania, was charged in federal court with three counts of violations under the Clean Water Act for discharging excess pollutants, including oil and copper, into the Ohio River over a five-year period, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced today. The guilty plea and sentencing hearing has been scheduled for December 15, 2020, at 10:30 a.m., before United States District Judge William S. Stickman, IV.
Libertas Copper, LLC d/b/a Hussey Copper (“Hussey”), was charged by criminal Information on November 30, 2020, with one count each of: (1) submitting a false discharge monitoring report, (2) discharging a quantity of oil that may be harmful to the environment, and (3) failing to make immediate, required notification of such discharge of oil.
“Protecting western Pennsylvania’s precious natural resources is a serious responsibility and a priority of this office,” said U.S. Attorney Brady. “As the filing of this Criminal Information makes clear, polluting western Pennsylvania’s waterways and lying about it are crimes that will not be tolerated. If you pollute and try to cover it up, you will be investigated and prosecuted.”
“In order to safeguard the environment, it is essential that the government receives accurate, honest and timely information,” said Jennifer Lynn, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Program in Pennsylvania. “Today’s charges demonstrate that we will hold violators responsible for breaking our environmental laws.”
According to the Information, Hussey operated a manufacturing facility on the Ohio River that produced flat-rolled copper products for the electrical distribution, industrial, and residential construction markets. Hussey managed wastewater generated as a result of its copper processing via a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). The WWTP discharged wastewater via designated internal and external outfalls, including outfalls on the Ohio River. At all relevant times, Hussey operated pursuant to the terms of a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), as authorized by the federal Clean Water Act.
As alleged, Hussey’s NPDES permit set specific discharge limits for copper and oil, among other parameters. In addition, Hussey’s NPDES permit required the company to submit discharge monitoring reports (DMRs) on a monthly basis to PADEP, documenting the quantity and quality of the discharges authorized by its NPDES permit during the preceding month. Each DMR was required to be signed and certified as to its accuracy by a responsible corporate officer on behalf of Hussey. According to the Information, between at least June 2012 and continuing through at least
May 2017, Hussey knowingly submitted numerous falsified DMRs to PADEP, indicating that various discharges from its outfalls were within applicable permit limits, when in truth and in fact Hussey’s own internal sampling data showed that such discharges had exceeded the relevant limits. The Information further alleges that during this time, Hussey reported false values in monthly DMR submissions to PADEP as to at least 140 parameters subject to discharge limits, including a substantial number of copper discharges. The false parameter values reported to PADEP allegedly concealed permit exceedances on at least 21 monthly DMRs.
Separate from the alleged DMR falsifications, the Information also alleges that Hussey engaged in a years-long pattern of discharging oil in a quantity sufficient to generate oil sheens on the Ohio River, in violation of the Clean Water Act. Between at least January 2012 and continuing until at least 2018, Hussey allegedly documented in internal logs hundreds of observed oil sheens at two of the company’s outfalls on the Ohio River. Notwithstanding these documented observations, Hussey failed to report any of the observed oil sheens to EPA or PADEP, as required by the Clean Water Act. After PADEP issued a notice of violation to Hussey in June 2015, following a citizen complaint of an oil sheen at the company’s outfall, a responsible corporate officer allegedly responded to the state agency that Hussey would report any future oil sheens.
Later, in July 2016, a responsible corporate officer communicated to PADEP that there had been no observed oil sheens at Hussey’s outfalls for the prior thirteen months, when, in fact, as alleged, Hussey’s internal logs reflected dozens of sheen observations during that time. The Information further alleges that Hussey did not make an affirmative, required report to PADEP of the presence of oil sheens at its outfalls until June 2018—and even then its reporting was incomplete. According to the Information, Hussey’s oil-sheen reporting in June 2018 referenced sheens observed on three specific days, despite the fact that Hussey’s own internal logs documented observed sheens on fifteen additional days during the relevant month, including multiple sheens during the same week.
The maximum fine for submitting a false DMR (Count One) and failing to make immediate notification of the discharge of a quantity of oil that may be harmful (Count Three) is $500,000. The maximum fine for discharging a quantity of oil that may be harmful (Count Two) is (i) not less than $5,000 per day and not more than $50,000 per day of violation, or (ii) $500,000, whichever is greater. Each count carries a maximum term of probation of at least one year but not more than five years. The actual sentence imposed would be based upon the Court’s consideration of the Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory sentencing factors.
Assistant United States Attorney Eric G. Olshan is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government, with assistance from Martin Harrell, Associate Regional Criminal Enforcement Counsel of the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation of Hussey Copper.
A criminal Information is an accusation.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. The filing of an Information generally indicates that the defendant intends to enter a guilty plea.