The federal Environmental Protection Agency announced on June 7th that a “settlement” had been reached with Wal-Mart over water pollution problems due to stormwater runoff from its construction sites in four states. The world’s largest retailer agreed to pay a $1 million fine, and establish a $4.5 million Environmental Management Plan. “The Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached an environmental agreement with Wal-Mart to resolve claims the retailer violated the Clean Water Act at 17 locations in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Massachusetts. This is the first federal enforcement action against a company for multi-state violations of the Act’s storm water provisions. The settlement commits Wal-Mart to establish a $4.5 million environmental management plan, to improve the retailer’s compliance with environmental laws at each of its construction sites and minimize the impact of its building on streams and watersheds. The settlement also compels the company to pay a $1 million civil penalty. “We must be vigilant in protecting our drinking water. We must be equally protective of streams and lakes enjoyed by American families. Those responsible for construction sites must control hazardous pollutants from flowing into drinking water sources and waterways,” said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. The United States alleges that Wal-Mart and 10 of its contractors failed to comply with storm water regulations and illegally discharged pollution from several construction sites. The Clean Water Act requires the owners and operators of large construction sites to have permits, which generally require site operators to create and carry out pollution prevention plans to minimize the discharge of pollutants into storm water runoff. “We expect the retail and construction industries to comply with federal clean water requirements, ” said John Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment Division. “With this settlement, we are taking an important step to protect streams and lakes across the country.” In its 1998 National Water Quality Inventory to Congress, EPA identifies urban runoff and storm sewers as leading causes of impaired water quality in the United States. Storm water runoff from construction sites can cause silt and sediments to build up in lakes and streams and kill aquatic life. Runoff also can transport pollutants like oil and pesticides into nearby storm drains, into sewer systems, and ultimately into streams and waterways. These discharges may drastically affect the health and quality of a waterway, and untreated storm water runoff may contaminate drinking water and pollute recreational waters. The environmental management plan that Wal-Mart will establish aims to avert construction-related pollution. Wal-Mart will require its contractors to certify that all appropriate storm water control measures are in place before construction begins at new stores. The plan also requires Wal-Mart to improve its oversight of environmental compliance at its construction sites, conduct sampling at the sites to monitor the level of pollutants in storm water, and report these findings to the EPA. The settlement, filed June 7th. in federal court in Fayetteville, Ark., will undergo a 30-day period of public comment.”
Wal-Mart can endanger the environment even before they are built. The construction of these Wal-Mart supercenters can encompass many acres of significant changes to the local landscape. A 180,000 square foot Wal-Mart supercenter building sits on 4 acres alone, not counting an even larger parking lot. The EPA fine shows that damage has been done during construction to rivers and streams in 4 states. How many other companies in how many other locations have been damaged without any state or federal oversight? Once the stores are built, they continue to menace our drinking water and streams from pollutants that come from parking lot runoff and garden supplies stored outside the buildings. Companies like Wal-Mart say they are very concerned about the environment. Here’s another measure of that concern, expressed as a $5.5 million “settlement”. The public should not “settle” for anything less than full protection of our rivers, streams and lakes.