Emmpak Foods Reaches Pollution Settlement
MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin Emmpak Foods Inc. has installed equipment to prevent grease, oil and animal parts from clogging local sewers and has agreed to donate $30,000 to two community groups as part of a settlement of a federal lawsuit brought by two environmental groups.
The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District had been monitoring the company's discharge for nearly five years after discovering a mass of livestock bones, nose rings and stomach magnets just downstream of Emmpak's Menomonee Valley plant. The company paid for cleaning the sewer, but violations continued with effluent sometimes containing more than 60 times the allowable amount of oil and grease.
Thomas Crawford, a lawyer for the sewerage district, said his agency had been attempting to bring the company into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act for nearly five years. He acknowledged that compliance wasn't achieved until after the environmentalists, the Sierra Club and Midwest Environmental Advocates, filed their lawsuit. The federal law permits citizens to bring lawsuits.
Jodi Habush Sinykin, a Midwest Environmental Advocates lawyer, said Emmpak worked around the clock to install equipment to correct the problem and were in compliance with the federal standards within 60 days of the suit's filing. That presented a problem for the environmentalists: A section of the law allows for the dismissal of citizen lawsuits if a violator comes into compliance within 60 days. Technically, that would have meant that the company would not have had to negotiate the settlement.
Crawford said he wrote to Emmpak and told them that if the company did not negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement with the environmentalists, his agency was prepared to go to court to seek penalties for the past violations. Crawford explained his action this way: "It was akin to, 'You can let a sleeping dog lie, but once you kick it, it's not over until the dog says it's over." "
The sewerage district has not always been on the same page with environmentalists -- currently, the agency is fighting another Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by other environmentalists who are suing because of the dumping of untreated sewage over several years.
"Some governmental agencies bristle when a citizen suit is filed, and we've been on both sides of those lawsuits," Crawford said. "The district was supportive of the citizens. It's an example of a citizen group being much more successful and achieving compliance."
Rosemary Wehnes, of the Sierra Club, said her group got involved in the lawsuit because of the state public trust doctrine that says the waters of the state belong to all the people.
"Emmpak was essentially making money from polluting the waters that belong to all of us," Wehnes said.
Wehnes said the $30,000 from the settlement will go to three community groups. The Urban Ecology Center will use the money to conduct a feasibility study for the creation of a satellite environmental education center in the Menomonee Valley. The parent-teacher association of Jefferson Elementary School in Wauwatosa and the Hawley Environmental School in Milwaukee will use their share of the money to create rain gardens and conduct environmental education programs.
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