You know that whole idea about environmental regulations being bad because all they do is hurt businesses that do a fine job of self-reporting any problems because if they didn't, they'd be out of business?
Well, that might not be very efficient, evidenced by a chemical facility in the southern part of Missouri.
According to a story by the Post-Dispatch, Coastal Energy Corp., a company in Willow Springs that sells chemicals for road maintenance and building waterproofing (including ethanol, liquid asphalt, diesel fuel), sits a mere 200 feet from the waters of the Eleven Point River. Despite the proximity to a major river, the chemical facilities didn't pose any safety threat, according to a 2009 assessment by the company's owner.
But the recent West Virginia water disaster -- a result of a chemical oil spill -- caused local environmental activists Tom Kruzen and Don Horton to call for the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year to take another look at the Coastal Energy Corp. facility. What the EPA found was as surprising as it was to be expected given the lax regulations:
Four years have passed since the company drafted its spill prevention plan, also known as an SPCC. In February, EPA inspectors arrived and tallied up a list of threats to the environment, essentially reversing Coastal Energy's claim.
The EPA found that employees at the facility haven't been properly trained to manage spills; tank inspection records lack substance; and the earthen barrier that is supposed to block chemicals from entering the river has gaps and is smaller than what the company claimed.
The company was also automatically pumping stormwater onto an adjacent field without first inspecting the water for contamination, the EPA found.
The reason Coastal Energy Corp. was allowed to operate five years without an inspection was simply because their self-report didn't indicate any problems -- and that's basically good enough for the U.S. government. According to the P-D, if a company doesn't report that it has any problems, that claim can only be reversed by an EPA inspection. However, a 2008 report says that between 2004 and 2006, only 1 percent of 571,000 SPCC-eligible facilities were inspected.
A big reason so few facilities were inspected is because the EPA doesn't really know where the SPCC facilities are because different records are spread throughout different agencies. There could be as many 640,000 today:
"If they're not aware of SPCC-eligible facilities, they can't inspect them," said Alfredo Gomez, GAO's natural resources and environment director. "And if they don't inspect them, it's difficult for them to identify potential problems."
And in Missouri, it's even more difficult to compile information about SPCC-eligible facilities because of the fragmented oversight and lack of coordination among state agencies. Above-ground tanks and equipment are handled by the Department of Agriculture (DA), and underground tanks and equipment are handled by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
"There doesn't seem to be any one jurisdiction [over SPCC-eiligible facilities]. That's what's freaking me out," Kruzen tells Daily RFT. "The DA and the DNR don't talk to each other, and the EPA doesn't talk to them. You can drive the Queen Mary through their loopholes."
In addition to the threat posed to the Eleven Point River, Kruzen says that Greer Spring, a large and geographically unique spring that was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1980, is in particular trouble due to the proximity of harmful chemicals.
"We're dealing with 2.8 million gallons of toxic liquids that's 200 feet from a stream and river that's supposed to be federally protected," he says, adding: "I'm not trying to close them down. I'm just trying to get them to move their facility. They need to move it from the river."
Daily RFT contacted Coastal Energy Corp., but nobody was available for comment. We'll update if we hear back.
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E-mail him at Ray.Downs@RiverfrontTimes.com.
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