Boston-based conservation org. sues Schnitzer Puerto Rico Inc. over pollution
Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation has filed a complaint at the US District Court for Puerto Rico that could result in a fine as high as $46 million against Schnitzer Puerto Rico Inc. for multiple violations to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act at its local operations.
The Conservation Law Foundation is seeking a penalty which would be paid to the US Treasury, as under the Clean Water Act, citizen plaintiffs like itself are not able to obtain compensatory damages through the court.
“Based on the number of violations and the length of time this pollution has been occurring, we estimate that payment to be $46 million,” said Jake O’Neill, press secretary for the Conservation Law Foundation.
In the 69-page complaint, the nonprofit asks the court for declaratory and injunctive relief and civil penalties against Schnitzer Puerto Rico, which has operations in Bayamón, Caguas, Canóvanas and Ponce since at least 2016.
The nonprofit claims Schnitzer is discharging pollutants including heavy metals from these four facilities into receiving waters that include the Río Hondo, the Río Bairoa, an unnamed creek adjacent to the Río Grande de Loiza Estuary, and the Caribbean Sea.
“Schnitzer has discharged, and continues to discharge, stormwater associated with its industrial activities into waters of the United States in violation of the Multi-Sector General Permits for Stormwater Discharges act by: (1) failing to take required corrective actions; (2) failing to follow required procedures for minimizing pollutant discharges; (3) contributing to the receiving waters’ failure to meet water quality standards and their impairments; and (4) failing to comply with monitoring and reporting requirements,” the lawsuit states.
On Dec. 20, 2021, the Conservation Law Foundation notified Schnitzer and its agents of its intention to file suit for violations of the Clean Water Act. However, more than 60 days have passed since the notice was mailed and neither the US Environmental Protection Agency nor the local government have taken action to address the violations alleged in the complaint., the lawsuit states.
“As the Conservation Law Foundation noted in our notice letter, we are willing to negotiate with Schnitzer Steel to avoid the necessity of further litigation,” said O’Neill.
“In past enforcement cases of this type, CLF has often negotiated a consent decree with the polluter rather than continuing to seek a penalty award from the court through litigation,” he said.
“Consent decrees can be preferable to court-ordered penalties because they allow settlement money to be paid into ‘supplemental environmental projects,’ or projects that remediate the environmental harm caused by the polluter’s violations,” said O’Neill, on behalf of the regional environmental advocacy organization.
The nonprofit has a long history of protecting water quality and addressing sources of industrial stormwater pollution. It has more than 6,300 members, who “use and enjoy the rivers and waters of Puerto Rico for drinking water and recreational and aesthetic purposes,” according to its self-description in the complaint.
“Schnitzer’s stormwater discharges impair the recreational and aesthetic uses of these waters by harming fish and other aquatic life, contributing to unpleasant scum, foam, and/or odor, increasing toxic pollution, and reducing the enjoyment of CLF’s members,” the entity told the court.