Fertilizer Factory with Government for Violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

A settlement was reached in a suit between plaintiffs the United States of America (acting at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency) and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) on Thursday. The initial suit against defendant PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer, L.P. was filed in the Middle District of Louisiana. The civil complaint was brought under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and pursuant to the Louisiana Environmental Quality Act (EQA) and the Louisiana Administrative Code and alleged several Environmental violations at PCS Nitrogen’s fertilizer manufacturing facility.

The RCRA aims to regulate hazardous waste. Further, the act allows its administrator to “authorize a state to administer its own hazardous waste program in lieu of the federal program when the Administrator deems the state program to be equivalent to and consistent with the federal program.”

The State of Louisiana received final authorization for its program, the Hazardous Waste Management Program, on January 24, 1985. Since the authorization, the EPA has made numerous revisions to the program. Most recently, new regulations were issued by plaintiff LDEQ in July of 2020.

The defendant’s facility is located near Geismar, Louisiana. The defendant has owned and operated their 1050 acre-facility since 1967. The facility is run as a sulfuric acid production plant, a phosphoric acid plant, and a nitrogen products plant. Both phosphoric and sulfuric acid production ceased within the last 7 years. However, the complaint alleged that spills and leaks of phosphoric acid occurred at the defendant’s facility, and the hazardous substances “have migrated beyond the perimeter ditches and the facility footprint.”

The plaintiffs explained that though the RCRA includes the Bevill exclusion, which excludes certain wastes generated from phosphoric acid mineral processing operations from being classified as hazardous waste, the wastewaters generated at the facility do not fall under the exclusion. The defendant’s Bevill-excluded processes are associated with chlorosulfonic acid production, railcar cleaning wastes, process equipment and maintenance wastes, and more. Further, the defendant failed to properly identify and manage the waste streams resulting from these processes.

Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim explained that the settlement will protect the wetlands surrounding the facility as well as the Mississippi River, and that the defendant “will secure the full cost of closure with $84 million in financial assurance.”

Per the terms of the settlement, PCS Nitrogen will “treat over one billion pounds of acidic hazardous process wastewater over the next several years.” PCS Nitrogen will also be subject to long term regulations and closures and will be forced to comply with RCRA requirements.