Washington, DC - Wednesday, the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed settlement with the North Slope Borough of Alaska to resolve federal hazardous waste and oil spill violations. The settlement requires the Borough to take comprehensive actions and make infrastructure investments to comply with solid and hazardous waste management rules and oil spill prevention rules. The Borough will also hire an independent third-party auditor to ensure that the compliance requirements in the settlement are successfully implemented and pay a civil penalty of $6.5 million.
A multi-year environmental investigation of the Borough uncovered violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which regulates solid and hazardous waste, and the Clean Water Act (CWA) at numerous facilities owned and operated by the Borough in Utqiagvik, Anaktuvuk Pass, Atqasuk, Kaktovik, Nuiqsut, Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainwright, Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay. Many of the violations resulted from the Borough’s failure to properly manage and store thousands of drums of oil and hazardous waste in these communities, some of which led to oil spills.
“Today’s settlement will ensure that the Borough completely upgrades its waste and oil management practices to protect its residents and future generations from exposure to hazardous waste and to prevent spills to the surrounding environment,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The work to be performed under this settlement will protect the vital tundra wetlands and waterways that surround many of the Borough’s communities.”
“When improperly managed, hazardous wastes and oil can damage the environment and pose a health risk to those who come into contact,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This settlement will help protect the health of the communities and the sensitive ecosystems in the North Slope Borough.”
The alleged RCRA violations include the Borough’s unpermitted storage of hazardous waste; failure to identify and characterize hazardous waste; unauthorized transport of hazardous waste; shipment of hazardous waste without proper manifesting and land disposal restriction notices; non-compliant management of universal wastes; and failure to properly label used oil containers. Numerous drums of solid and hazardous waste were improperly stored outdoors, accessible to Borough residents and exposed to the environment. Some drums contained corrosive, ignitable, or toxic waste and were not properly labeled as hazardous.
In addition, the Borough failed to safely store and manage oil in accordance with the CWA’s Oil Pollution Prevention regulations, intended to prevent oil spills, at 70 of its facilities. The violations contributed to at least two oil spills into wetlands near the Kasegaluk Lagoon, Kaktovik Lagoon and Pipsuk Bight. Oil spills in this sensitive arctic tundra habitat can harm fish and other wildlife, as well as downstream waters which are important to Native Alaskans, including for subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering.
To resolve the alleged violations and come into compliance with federal requirements, the Borough has agreed to close all unpermitted hazardous waste storage facilities; develop a comprehensive waste management plan to minimize generation of and ensure proper tracking and management of solid and hazardous waste; build or retrofit a permitted hazardous waste storage facility; revise its CWA Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Plan; install adequate secondary containment around oil storage containers; and develop an integrity testing program for oil storage containers that complies with applicable industry standards. The Borough has also agreed to identify a full-time environmental official and will hire an independent third-party auditor to ensure that the compliance requirements in the consent decree are successfully implemented.
The Borough’s compliance actions represent a significant investment in its waste management and pollution prevention programs to help protect the residents of the North Slope and their environment from exposure to oil spills and hazardous waste. The Borough began making improvements to its hazardous waste management and oil storage programs during negotiations for the proposed settlement.
The North Slope Borough is the northernmost municipality in the United States and the largest of Alaska’s 19 organized boroughs. It includes nearly 95,000 square miles and is bordered to the west by the Chukchi Sea and to the east by the Beaufort Sea. Most of its residents live in eight communities throughout the Borough: Anaktuvuk Pass, Atqasuk, Utqiagvik, Kaktovik, Nuiqsut, Point Hope, Point Lay and Wainwright, in addition to two industrial complexes at Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay. EPA has taken two previous administrative enforcement actions against the Borough in 1998 and 2015 for RCRA hazardous waste management, storage and treatment violations.