California Fiberglass Plant Sued for Clean Air Act Violations

Plaintiffs Association of Irritated Residents, San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, Central Valley Safe Environment Network, and Protect Our Water filed a civil complaint on Friday against CertainTeed, LLC for declaratory and injunctive relief and penalties under the Clean Air Act (CAA). The Eastern District of California case, brought pursuant to the CAA’s citizen suit enforcement provision, seeks to hold CertainTeed accountable for alleged violations of Title V, which governs the federal operating permits program of the CAA, and California’s EPA-approved State Implementation Plan (SIP).

CertainTeed owns and operates a fiberglass manufacturing plant in Chowchilla, Calif. The facility has a single glass melting furnace that is a “major source” of certain air pollutants within the meaning of Title V and the state’s SIP. The plaintiffs are four environmental non-profit organizations, who claim that their members have been “directly injured by Defendant’s violations at the Chowchilla Plant.” According to the complaint, “[m]embers reside, visit, work, and recreate near the Chowchilla Plant and are exposed to the Chowchilla Plant’s emissions.”

The nine-count complaint targeted the fiberglass manufacturing plant’s excessive pollutant discharges and the company’s failure to maintain and operate a pollution control device and adequate monitoring systems. In their first claim for relief, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant failed to obey opacity emissions limits set forth in its Title V permit. Under the CAA, opacity is “a measure of the amount of soot and/or particulate matter emitted in a smokestack’s gas stream over a specified time period.” According to the complaint, CertainTeed’s glass melting furnace exceeded the opacity emission standard by over 8,700 times.

The plaintiffs also contended that the defendant did not meet pollution control requirements, citing CertainTeed’s alleged failure to meet operational mandates for its dry electrostatic precipitator (DESP), intended to “function[] as [an] air pollution abatement device[] whenever the glass melting furnace is in operation.” CertainTeed’s Title V permit dictates that it maintain “‘[t]he hourly average total power input into the DESP . . . at or above 6.8 kW,’” but the plaintiffs claim it did not do so on at least 11 separate occasions.

Further, the plaintiffs challenged CertainTeed’s operation and maintenance of its continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMS). They averred that it did not “measure stack gas NOx concentrations and stack gas volumetric flow rates, including data acquisition systems over 20 times,” and did not, “measure opacity of stack emissions at least 20 times.”

As for the emissions themselves, the plaintiffs argued that CertainTeed exceeded the maximum allowance for NOx discharge for at least four calendar quarters, equating to at least 163 violations. They also asserted that it failed to obey the emissions limit for Particulate matter (PM), defined as a potentially harmful combination of tiny particles including ash, metals, and organic compounds.

The plaintiffs charged the defendant with both failing to operate its CEMS properly and failing to report findings from its CEMs in violation of its Title V permit. They alleged that the defendant should have reported “excess emissions each calendar quarter, such as opacity exceedances and summaries of emissions exceedances, and CEMS downtime and summaries of periods of CEMS downtime at least 48 times,” but did not.

Additionally, the plaintiffs contended that Title V requires the defendant to maintain a Continuous Parametric Monitoring Systems (CPMS) properly. Under the law, the CPMS must comply with three mandates: continuously measuring and recording “the furnace oxygen/fuel ratio” and “the secondary current and secondary voltage across each field of the DESP,” at least once per hour, and continuously measuring and recording “the caustic soda injection system’s liquid flow rate and liquid specific gravity.” Without specifying the exact nature of the defendant’s supposed error, the plaintiffs asserted that it failed to “maintain and operate,” its CPMS on at least five occasions.

The plaintiffs are represented by Aqua Terra Aeris Law Group.