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Department of Justice Rules in Favor of EPA to Issue Penalties Against Federal Facilities

Release Date: 12/14/2000
Contact Information: For more information contact the Office of External Affairs at (214) 665-2200.

     The Department of Justice has ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can issue penalties against federal facilities for violations of underground storage tank (UST) regulations. A recently settled administrative proceeding against the U.S. Air Force at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was resolved based on this decision.

     "The Department of Justice's ruling will help EPA ensure consistent, fair and effective enforcement of storage tank regulations for all owners and operators whether in the public or private sector. By making sure these rules are followed, we help protect our drinking water sources from leaking tanks -- the leading cause of ground water contamination," EPA Regional Administrator Gregg Cooke said.

     EPA regularly inspects federal facilities and issues penalties when violations are found. The Air Force challenged EPA's authority to issue penalties to it for UST violations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The Environmental Appeals Board relied on the Department of Justice's opinion that the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act clearly grants EPA the authority to assess penalties against federal facilities for UST violations.

     As a result of the settlement, Tinker has agreed to pay a penalty of $51,500 and correct all alleged UST violations.  The violations were found during routine UST compliance inspections in 1997.  

     In general, the violations at Tinker Air Force Base were for failure to conduct leak detection in accordance with the Federal and state UST regulations.  Standards require that all UST systems be monitored at least monthly in accordance with specific regulatory procedures.  

     Although no leaks were detected during these inspections, these alleged violations provide a variety of opportunities for leaks to occur and for leaks to go unnoticed, creating a threat to public health. For example, methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), an additive in gasoline to reduce air pollution, has been detected in drinking water supplies in some parts of the country. Just one gallon of gasoline can contaminate 5 million gallons of drinking water.