When advice regarding how to address a NOV or NOE was not taken, and how it affects the company.
When I was an inspector for the TCEQ-predecessor agency (TNRCC), I was involved in a three-branched inspection. A company had three facilities located in different parts of the region all doing the same type of business. A fellow inspector went to the first facility (which I will refer to as Facility A) and found significant violations. Upon return to the office, management made the decision to inspect the remaining two local branches the following day.
I was one of the inspectors dispatched (which I will refer to as Facility C). The other inspector went to the remaining site (Facility B). As all three facilities were handling hazardous waste in significantly non-compliant methods, all three were issued Notices of Enforcement (NOEs). To make the case easier for the company owners, the three independent cases were rolled into one large case. Immediately, the company engaged a large law firm from Pennsylvania, handled by three lawyers, to attend all conference calls from the three inspectors. No site level staff were included, as a decision by the company.
For weeks (time usually granted by the agency to allow the sites time to correct violations and implement process changes), the company instead decided to use the time to fight the inspectors, hoping we would retract all of the violations. None were retracted. After several months, the automatic time period to re-visit the sites arrived. All three sites were re-inspected. All original violations were re-issued, as none had been addressed, and several more, new violations were added. A second layer of Enforcement Action was added to the first and all fines rose exponentially. As resources were always scarce in regional offices, I was chosen to take the lead on the combined three-facility case and be the inspector-representative for the conference calls. For six more months, conference calls were held, not only with the three attorneys in Pennsylvania, but the company decided to add two more from a firm in New York. Again, their strategy was to argue for retraction of violations, while the actual violations remained unresolved. After the next time frame for automatic re-visitation of the sites triggered, I again re-investigated the sites. A new environmental manager (technical staff) had been hired in the interim. He expressed tearful concern that he would lose his job if more violations were issued from my inspection. I explained that there would be more coming as the original violations were still active and collecting fines.
He finally asked the correct question, “What can I do to make this stop?” The answer was to address the violations and implement measures of process change. I remember his words to this day, “That’s all?!” My answer, “That’s all.”
Immediately, as we sat in his office, he went violation by violation and described his thoughts for permanent solutions for compliance. I advised him to put it in writing, then into action, and submit it to my office. Within the month, all violations were resolved and the case was closed. He later revealed to me that over six million dollars had been spent on legal invoices and fines, but that correcting the issues had cost him less than $500. This facility had handled the case in exactly the wrong way, yet I saw this pattern repeated throughout my government career and later in my private industry career. Remember, the TCEQ and EPA are much more interested in having the violations corrected and process changes implemented with management endorsement, than in collecting fines.
~Jill C. Burris, Owner of Burris Environmental Solutions