On June 7, 2001, Newsflash reported that the Environmental Protection Agency had hit Wal-Mart with a $1 million fine for violations of the Clean Water Act in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Massachusetts. The giant retailer agreed to set up a $4.5 million environmental management plan. Fast forward three years, and the EPA is right back on Wal-Mart’s case for similar violations of federal law, only the names of the states have changed. The Associated Press reported May 13th that Wal-Mart is the recipient of a $3.1 million fine to settle a Clean Water Act violation caused by excessive storm-water runoff from its construction sites. 24 sites in nine states were listed in the complaint. The states include Texas, Colorado, California, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah. Federal regulators got Wal-Mart to agree in the settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department to improve runoff controls at 200 sites each year where the company builds stores, including Sam’s Club outlets. “Storm-water requirements have been in place for a long time,” Thomas Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources told the AP. “Developers like Wal-Mart must share responsibility with their construction contractors to ensure compliance.” Construction practices at Wal-Mart caused storm-water runoff with sediment and dirt to spill into nearby streams, killing fish, destroying habitats and blocking light that spurs the growth of beneficial plant life. The runoff can also contain pesticides, chemicals, solvents and other toxic substances, the AP said. The settlement, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Del., says that Wal-Mart failed to get required permits, did not maintain a runoff-control plan and failed to install controls to prevent discharges. Under the agreement, Wal-Mart promises to comply with these requirements and to improve training and inspections of its construction sites, and to report to the EPA. Wal-Mart also agreed to spend $250,000 to help protect sensitive wetlands or waterways in one state, not yet determined, among the nine involved in the settlement. In Colorado, a number of sites were listed in the EPA settlement, including stores in Castle Rock, Commerce City, Cortez, Parker, Pueblo, Fort Morgan, Colorado Springs, Loveland and several sites in Aurora. Utah will get $558,000 under the settlement, the federal government will get the lion’s share, $2.5 million, and Tennesse will get $62,000. In Utah, violations were found in Riverdale, West Valley City, Logan and two in West Jordan. A spokesman for Wal-Mart said the EPA settlement “sets a new industry standard for developers and their contractors who also make daily decisions which impact compliance.” The retailer said it would “begin implementing new measures at our construction sites and sincerely hope to be a trendsetter in environmental compliance moving forward.”
Wal-Mart has been a trendsetter in the environmental noncompliance field, as the 2001 and 2004 EPA violations demonstrate. What local communities need to ask is: can this company be trusted to comply with state and federal environmental laws during the critical store construction stage, and why should any town feel that local waterways will be safe in the hands of a corporation that has been fined millions of dollars by state regulators for not taking enough care of area rivers and streams? For more on Wal-Mart’s environmental problems, search this database by “environmental”.