October 2, 2012    After a joint multi-year investigation, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) found evidence of more than 4,300 federal Clean Water Act violations at 15 mobile home parks in Pennsylvania where the defendants treat waste water, and more than 900 federal Safe Drinking Water Act violations at 30 mobile home parks also in Pennsylvania.  The settlement is believed to be one of the largest of its kind.  Typically violations are found at individual mobile home parks with lower amounts of assessed penalties.

The owners of 73 mobile home park communities, held under related corporate entities, which house thousands of residents, have agreed to pay a $1,339,000 civil penalty to resolve allegations that they violated federal and state environmental laws and regulations concerning the treatment of sewage and drinking water.  The settlement agreement was filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania federal court on Friday, September 28, 2012.  For information about the case please visit: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/398e28818076042785257a8a0064178f?OpenDocument

The federal Clean Water Act violations involved allegations of illegal discharges of partially treated or untreated sewage into nearby streams and failure to properly operate and maintain treatment facilities.  The federal Safe Drinking Water Act alleged violations generally involved the defendants’ exceedances of federal drinking water standards for certain pollutants and their failure to notify residents about drinking water problems.

EPA and PADEP identified the violations by conducting inspections, sharing technical and legal expertise, and requiring the defendants to provide documentation concerning sampling, operation and maintenance, and other regulated activities. In addition to the penalty, the consent decree requires the defendants to take numerous steps to protect public health and the environment and achieve compliance with environmental regulations at all 73 of its mobile home parks located in Pennsylvania.

The case is noteworthy because it highlights the partnerships between federal and state environmental authorities in enforcing environmental laws.  When federal and state enforcement authorities launch a coordinated investigation they may allege violations of federal and state law and then choose to enforce the law that they believe contains the strongest penalties and sanctions.  Here, in addition to the penalties, EPA and PADEP also insisted on a rigorous set of corrective actions so that compliance can be monitored into the future.  The costs associated with meeting these enhanced requirements – hiring a consultant, conducting tests and making need corrections to water systems – is not stated and many not be known, but it is likely to be substantial.  Given this result, owners and operators of mobile home parks should as a preventative measure consider checks on the compliance status of their parks to their facilities.

According to the EPA press release, the defendants cooperated with the investigation.  As part of the settlement, the defendants did not admit liability for the alleged violations.  The consent decree is subject to a 30 day public comment period.

About the Author:  Environmental law attorney Joseph Maternowski’s past experience, initially in the public sector with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office where he represented that Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and now in private practice, allows him to assist clients in managing issues related to environmental liability and compliance.  Joe regularly assists clients on permitting and enforcement matters involving state regulators, such as the MPCA, and with the EPA.   For information on Joe’s background and practice, please visit his You Tube site and watch two videos at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1Ybc9Acm8k and  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJTDvveG0jY.

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