The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice and D. G. Yuengling and Son Inc. have settled alleged violations to the Clean Water Act (CWA) committed by the country’s largest craft brewer at its two large-scale breweries near Pottsville, Pa.
In a consent decree filed in federal court in Harrisburg, Pa., the company agreed to spend approximately $7 million to improve environmental measures at its brewery operations after it allegedly discharged pollutants into the Greater Pottsville Area Sewer Authority municipal wastewater treatment plant. Yuengling will also pay a $2.8 million penalty.
In addition, the consent decree includes a requirement to implement an environmental management system (EMS) focused on achieving CWA compliance at the facilities. Yuengling must hire a third party consultant to develop the EMS and a third party auditor to ensure proper implementation at the facility operations.
“Yuengling is responsible for serious violations of its Clean Water Act pretreatment discharge limits, posing a potential risk to the Schuylkill River which provides drinking water to 1.5 million people,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “This history of violations and failure to fully respond to orders from the Greater Pottsville Area Sewer Authority and EPA to correct the problems resulted in this enforcement action.”
The company allegedly violated Clean Water Act requirements for companies that discharge industrial waste to municipal publically-owned wastewater treatment facilities numerous times between 2008 and 2015. Companies must obtain and comply with permit limits on discharges of industrial waste that goes to public treatment facilities, which in many cases require “pretreatment” of waste before it is discharged. The case was referred to EPA by the Greater Pottsville Area Sewer Authority (GPASA). The waste in question is mainly sugar and yeast. That kind of sounds like not a huge deal, but in high concentrations, these organic materials can upset the sewer authority’s treatment process.
“It is vital that companies using municipal wastewater treatment facilities strictly follow pretreatment guidelines and permit limits for their wastewater. It is what good neighbors expect, and it is what the law requires,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement requires Yuengling to put into place an environmental management system designed to manage compliance with the Clean Water Act in a systemic, planned and documented manner to establish a top-down, prevention-focused approach. The settlement also mandates independent audits of Yuengling’s compliance with the consent decree, among other requirements.”
In a complaint filed concurrently with the settlement, the United States alleged that Yuengling violated pretreatment permit requirements, including discharge limits for biological oxygen demand (BOD), phosphorus, zinc and pH to the GPASA treatment plant, at least 141 times from 2008 to 2015.
Pretreatment helps remove or change the composition of pollutants in wastewater. Unpermitted or excessive industrial discharges may interfere with the operation of public wastewater treatment plants, which are generally designed to handle sewage and domestic waste, leading to the discharge of untreated or inadequately treated wastewater into local waters.
In addition to the monetary penalty, Yuengling has also agreed to take measures that will prevent future violations including:
- Designing and implementing an environmental management system for both breweries to ensure compliance with environmental laws;
- Conducting a series of environmental audits and inspections to ensure ongoing environmental compliance;
- Constructing a comprehensive pretreatment system at the Old Brewery;
- Optimizing and improving operation and maintenance of the pretreatment system at the New Brewery;
- Developing and implementing a communication and notification plan to quickly notify GPASA of any changes to the brewery facilites’ wastewater that may impact the public treatment facility;
- Hiring two certified wastewater treatment operators; and implementing a process to identify, investigate and respond to any future CWA violations quickly and efficiently.
About the new wastewater system
So, the $8 million state-of-the-art wastewater pretreatment system is already installed and started operations in March.
“Yuengling takes its environmental responsibilities seriously, and we are pleased to have reached an agreement with the EPA that strengthens our environmental protocols,” said Wendy Yuengling, chief administrative officer for Yuengling. “As a sixth-generation family business, we’re making these improvements as part of our commitment to the continued operation of America’s Oldest Brewery so future generations can enjoy our quality lagers, porters and ales.”
Yuengling’s new wastewater pretreatment system collects sugar, yeast and spent grains from the brewery’s wastewater and converts them into methane, a green energy biogas that will fuel a planned generator to provide electricity and heat for the system and the brewery’s museum and gift shop.
Removing these organic materials from the wastewater before it is sent to the sewer authority allows not only for the brewery to be better able to comply with its permit requirements, but also lessens the wastewater treatment efforts to be undertaken by the sewer authority.
As part of its agreement with the EPA, Yuengling will also: develop an Environmental Management System Manual for its two Pottsville area breweries; provide annual environmental compliance training to facility employees; create a communications and notification protocol for its interactions with the sewer authority; and retain third-party consultants to provide Yuengling and EPA with reports on the company’s regulatory compliance.
Plans for the Pottsville brewery wastewater pretreatment facility began in 2013. Construction was completed in February 2016 and the pretreatment system started operating in March.
Here is more information on Yuengling’s commitment to the environment.