MDEQ cracks down with criminal prosecutions for UST violations

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) recently announced a new enforcement initiative, to be launched in the very near future, that will use criminal sanctions for underground storage tank (UST) violations.

In 1988, federal and state laws affecting USTs were amended, requiring changes in the performance standards for USTs. These new standards were to be phased in over a 10-year period and essentially required the implementation of anti-leak equipment. Specifically, UST owners/operators were required to install corrosion protection, leak detection, spill prevention and overfill protective equipment prior to December 1998. Despite the 10-year period for phasing in of compliance, some owners/operators were surprised when federal and state authorities began shutting down gas stations that did not comply with the law.

Now, over one year later, it has become apparent to the state that there are literally hundreds of facilities which have either not upgraded or documented compliance with the upgrade requirements.

The MDEQ has decided that in order to exhibit its seriousness in enforcing these new standards, criminal prosecutions will become necessary.

Accordingly, the MDEQ has approximately 600 cases which it will refer to the MDEQ Office of Criminal Investigations and then to local prosecutors. It’s anticipated that these referrals will result in at least 300 convictions for a myriad of storage tank violations, from failing to properly upgrade and/or remove USTs to failing to respond to contamination emanating from current and former tank sites.

The MDEQ has indicated that once a site has been referred for prosecution, it will not negotiate an administrative or civil resolution of the matter. Instead, it intends to continue with the criminal enforcement and allow local prosecutors to determine proper resolution. Conviction for a violation would be a misdemeanor resulting in up to 90 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. A court could also assess administrative penalties up to $25,000 per day as part of a sentence.

It’s anticipated that this enforcement initiative will begin this month and more than likely will continue throughout the year. Questions regarding this enforcement initiative may be addressed to the MDEQ Storage Tank Division, or you can contact experienced environmental counsel.

Joseph Quandt is a partner with the Traverse City law offices of Menmuir, Zimmerman, Kuhn, Taylor and Quandt. His practice focuses on environmental and business matters. He is also a professor of environmental law at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing.

This article is intended to address information of general interest. It does not provide, nor is it intended to provide, any legal advice regarding any particular situation or subject. BIZNEWS