Potomac Electric Power Co. has agreed to pay nearly $1 million in fines to make amends for violations of environmental law at an ash storage site in Southern Maryland.
As a result of the civil penalty of $975,000, PEPCO executives will not face criminal charges for the illegal discharge of fly ash material runoff into wetlands at the Charles County site, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane F. Barrett said yesterday.
The agreement was unusual in that the company made the first move by notifying authorities about the dumping, Ms. Barrett said. "They have done everything in terms of correcting the violation," she said. "They were totally cooperative. Fortunately there was no long-term damage to the environment."
The dumping came to light after a 1993 investigation by the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI of a kickback scheme between a PEPCO employee and subcontractors at the site. The investigation ended when a supervisor pleaded guilty last year to one count of mail fraud and one count of violating the Clean Water Act and received a 15-month prison sentence. Two subcontractors were convicted in the bribery scheme.
The PEPCO employee and his supervisor were fired, along with several contractors. During the investigation, PEPCO learned that the supervisor and others he directed had been bypassing the company's wastewater treatment system and dumping the contents of some holding ponds into Zekiah Swamp, a tributary of the Wicomico River. The pumping usually was done overnight or on weekends between 1990 and 1993, Ms. Barrett said.
Had PEPCO not come forward, the company could have been liable for fines of $25,000 for every day of illegal dumping, Ms. Barrett said.
"We would like to see more companies holding themselves accountable in such a forthright manner," Lynne A. Battaglia, U.S. attorney for Maryland, said yesterday.
PEPCO President John M. Derrick Jr. said the company has changed its site management policies as a result of the violations it discovered "to prevent such occurrences in the future."