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In what the Environmental Protection Agency describes as the largest penalty of its type in the 40-year history of the nation's clean fuels program, Tesoro Corp. has agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle claims it violated the federal Clean Air Act by failing to properly monitor the production of gasoline at refineries in Utah and three other states.
Tesoro's Salt Lake City refinery and similar facilities in Mandan, N.D.; Anacortes, Wash.; and Kenai, Alaska; failed to keep adequate gasoline production records and didn't document whether the fuel was sampled and tested to ensure it met federal standards before it was sold to the public, according to a 2010 federal court complaint the EPA filed in Washington, D.C.
All gasoline produced, imported or sold in the U.S. must meet EPA standards that if violated could lead to an increase in emissions of harmful pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds and cancer-causing air toxins.
"EPA's fuel regulations are vital safeguards that protect our nation's air quality," Cynthia Giles, spokeswoman for the agency's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in announcing the penalty.
Tesoro spokeswoman Tina Barbee said Thursday in an email that the EPA's allegations primarily related to the testing of gasoline batches and reporting of gasoline quality to the government between 2003 and 2006.
"Tesoro takes its environmental compliance obligations very seriously and worked diligently with the EPA and the Justice Department to resolve the issues raised in this matter," she said.
In addition to the fine, the settlement the EPA reached with Tesoro requires the company to adopt a compliance and auditing plan to ensure no future violations of EPA regulations.
Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Health Environment, believes Tesoro's alleged violations were more egregious than a simple failure to file the right pieces of paper with the government.
"Failing to keep the proper records may not seem like a serious violations, but ... without those records there is no way for the EPA or independent observers to act in a watchdog role and ensure that nothing improper is going on in the [gasoline] production process," he said.
Moench doubts the $1.1 million fine will have much impact.
"Spread that $1.1 million out over four refineries and amortize the expense for a couple of years and it really won't be much of a fine for Tesoro at all," he said. "It will be less than pocket change for them."