Connecticut’s Attorney General this week blamed Wal-Mart for showing “a pattern of national disregard” for environmental laws, and said the company’s environmental lawbreaking was a “failure of corporate culture.” The retailer agreed to pay a $1.15 million fine, and correct a host of environmental violations at 22 of its stores across the state. The violations included pollution into storm drains on Wal-Mart properties during construction work, improperly stored or handled fertilizer, pesticides, waste oils and other potentially hazardous products. State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said that there was no proven environmental damage from Wal-Mart’s violations, but that “there was a high potential for harm.” Last year, Wal-Mart paid a $3.1 million fine to settle a federal lawsuit concerning storm-drain pollution from the company’s construction sites in Tennessee, Utah and several other states. “Today’s settlement sends, we hope, a very strong message,” a state Environmental Protection official said. “The message is that it doesn’t matter how big you are, you can’t break the law.” Wal-Mart told the New Haven Register, “We wanted … to get this thing behind us and move forward. We are pledging our compliance at every level.” The state counted violations at 22 of the company’s 33 Connecticut stores, including two Sam’s Club stores. “As big as it was, Wal-Mart failed to get it right,” said Blumenthal. “Its failure was one of corporate culture, going to the upper levels of this corporation… The violations were widespread, systematic, repeated. No corporation, no one, no matter how powerful or big, is above the law. Wal-Mart’s competitors have a right to know that Wal-Mart is not above the law.” The state has been pursuing these actions against Wal-Mart for the past six years, and officials said the retailer “refused to take it seriously.” Wal-Mart sold fertilizer and pesticides that were washed into storm drains by rain and snow melt. Several Wal-Marts also sold a root killer that has been banned by the federal government. The $1.15 million settlement will result in a direct payment to the state of $600,000, while $500,000 will go to various municipalities to help them with local compliance with state stormwater regulations. The settlement will also require Wal-Mart to submit plans for managing stormwater on its properties. The company will also have to hire a consultant to conduct seven bi-annual audits to make sure that its stores are complying with all environmental regulations. The company also will be required to hire a consultant on stormwater management for all its Connecticut construction sites for the next five years.
In how many other states is Wal-Mart engaging in the same harmful environmental practices, and getting away with it? Connecticut spent six years dogging Wal-Mart over these violations, but the company didn’t “take it seriously.” All local community groups should point to Connecticut’s story, and require Wal-Mart stormwater management proposals to be reviewed by an independent engineering firm, hired by the city or town, but paid for by Wal-Mart. No proposal should be allowed to proceed without such an independent peer review. These violations occurred at two-thirds of Wal-Mart’s stores in Connecticut, so it is no random occurrence. For related stories of the federal EPA fines of Wal-Mart for polluting rivers and streams, search Newsflash by “environmental.”