Ten corporations that agreed to a total of $56m in civil penalties for allegedly breaking environmental laws are not being required to make payments under a pause granted by the US government during the Covid-19 pandemic. They signed settlements with the government agreeing to pay fines without admitting liability but the justice department last month advised most of the companies of extensions.
One company, Virginia power provider Dominion Energy, settled and agreed to pay $1.4m for allegedly releasing 27.5m gallons of water from a coal ash impoundment that seeped into groundwater along the shore of the James River. Coal ash contains dangerous pollutants, including mercury, cadmium and arsenic, which can cause widespread environmental damage. The company said it plans to pay the settlement penalty once it is finalized.
Dominion has a number of ties to high-ranking Trump officials, including EPA’s former top enforcement official, Patrick Traylor, who had Dominion has a client. Attorney general William Barr has served on the company’s board of directors and received more than $500,000 from Dominion.
Another violator, one of the world’s largest steel companies, ArcelorMittal’schief executive was at a Trump roundtable of business leaders in India in February and also was one of about 20 executives to dine with Trump in Davos at the World Economic Forum in January. Trump’s commerce secretary Wilbur Ross was previously on the company’s board of directors.
Denver-based oil and gas company K P Kauffman allegedly violated air pollution laws, emitting volatile organic compounds that form smog in the Denver-Julesburg Basin. KP Kauffman spent $200,000 lobbying the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2019 and the beginning of 2020, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2016, the company hosted a meeting between oil industry executives and president Donald Trump. CEO Kevin P Kauffman is a major GOP donor.
Chris Saeger, director of strategic initiatives at Accountable.US, said:
“When we’re facing a public health crisis that causes respiratory problems, this is a time to be holding companies to a higher standard of air quality, not a lower one.”