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United States and State of New York Announce Settlement of Civil Environmental Case Involving Hundreds of Underground Storage Tanks in the New York City Area

Release Date: 02/19/2003
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ROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, JANE M. KENNY, Regional Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ELIOT SPITZER, Attorney General of New York State, and ERIN CROTTY, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), today announced the settlement of a civil environmental case filed in 1998 against CARY WOLF and ten of his New York-based corporations. The case alleged that the defendants violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) at thirty-one gas stations, with more than two hundred underground storage tanks, located in the New York City area. The State of New York intervened in the litigation in 2001, asserting that the defendants had violated the State’s Petroleum Bulk Storage (PBS) regulations at several of the stations.

The underground storage tanks at issue stored gasoline and used motor oil. According to the pleadings and other documents in court, the defendants violated RCRA’s underground storage tank laws and regulations and the State’s PBS regulations in several ways. For example, they failed to follow laws requiring release detection for underground storage tanks; failed to perform site assessments before closing underground storage tanks; and failed to properly maintain and produce records relating to release detection and site assessments. The United States and New York alleged that these failures created health and safety risks, including a risk of groundwater and soil contamination.

According to EPA, there are hundreds of thousands of underground storage tanks in the United States, and thousands in New York City alone, and they are the number one source of groundwater contamination. Leaking underground storage tanks not only contaminate the ground immediately surrounding the tanks, they also threaten the groundwater supply that flows beneath the tanks, which many people rely upon for drinking water. A spill of one gallon of petroleum can render one million gallons of water undrinkable. Although relatively few residents of New York City use groundwater as their drinking water source, the contamination of groundwater and seepage of petroleum fumes into residential basements remains a concern because residents utilizing basement areas may be exposed to these toxic fumes. Moreover, petroleum spills can travel with the groundwater to open bodies of water, potentially causing contamination in the rivers and bays surrounding New York City. These risks are significantly lowered when underground storage tank owners and operators perform regular leak detection tests and site assessments, as required under RCRA and New York law.

The Consent Decree with the United States, which is subject to court approval, provides for the following: 1) a civil penalty payment of $310,000.00; 2) an injunction to comply with federal law governing underground storage tanks for four years; and 3) stipulated penalties for future noncompliance with federal laws governing underground storage tanks. In a separate settlement, defendants agreed to pay a civil penalty of $75,000 to the State of New York to resolve violations of the State’s PBS regulations.

In announcing the settlement, United States Attorney ROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF stated, “The defendants failed to take all the necessary steps to prevent or detect releases from their underground storage tanks in violation of federal environmental laws. These failures put the people and environment in and around New York City at an unacceptable risk. Today’s settlement, including the substantial civil penalties, should serve to deter such actions in the future by these defendants and other owners and operators of underground storage tanks.”

EPA Regional Administrator JANE M. KENNY stated, “New Yorkers and the environment win with this settlement because it means that the underground storage tanks involved in this case will now be managed properly. Proper operation of underground tanks helps avoid the harm that releases of petroleum products can have on human health, soil, air and ground water. It is essential that gas stations have and properly use the required release detection equipment so they know if a leak occurs.”

New York State Attorney General ELIOT SPITZER stated, “Leaking underground storage tanks are a serious environmental problem in New York City and throughout the state. This case sends a clear message that the owners and operators of underground storage tanks must comply with New York's environmental law or risk strong enforcement action by the state.”

ERIN CROTTY, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, stated, “The actions taken in this case demonstrate our commitment to addressing problems associated with underground storage tanks. We will continue to work with our partners at the federal, state and local levels to protect public health and our environment by strictly enforcing laws and regulations pertaining to underground storage tanks.”

The government’s case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Philip J. Miller and Stanley N. Alpert. EPA was represented by Assistant Regional Counsel Rudolph Perez. New York State was represented by Assistant Attorneys General Rachel Zaffrann and Lisa Feiner and by Gail Hintz, Assistant Regional Counsel, New York State DEC.