This post was guest authored by Stoel Rives summer associate Olivier Jamin.
Last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that D.G. Yuengling and Son, Inc., a Pennsylvania brewery, settled Clean Water Act (CWA) violations involving wastewater discharge into public treatment facilities for $2.8 million and a commitment to spend over $7 million to reduce environmental impacts of its brewery operations.
Breweries generally need to obtain a permit to discharge industrial waste into municipal treatment facilities. Breweries’ wastewater is considered industrial waste because the water discharged usually contains high concentrations of nutrients which, although they are not toxic, lead to more costly treatment. In many cases, a permit has limits on the discharge and requires pretreatment of waste before it is discharged. Although Yuengling obtained had the permit required by Section 402 (b)(8) of the CWA for both of its Pottsville breweries, they violated the terms and conditions of the pretreatment program. The Greater Pottsville Area Sewer Authority (GPASA) referred the case to EPA, and the United States identified 141 instances between 2008 and 2015 where Yuengling violated pretreatment permit requirements, and discharged biological oxygen demand (BOD), phosphorus, and zinc to the GPASA treatment plant in quantities exceeding their permit limits. The resulting fine was hefty, resulting not only in a cash penalty but Yuengling agreeing to make significant facility upgrades and operational changes. Such measures include having to design and implement an environmental management system for its breweries, conduct environmental audits, or optimize and improve operation and maintenance of the pretreatment system.
Breweries use, on average, 7 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of beer, which means wastewater discharges can quickly become problematic if not properly monitored pre-discharge. Although it is uncertain whether EPA will start investigating breweries for CWA violations more regularly, this case reinforces the importance of breweries double checking their compliance plans and operational protocols to make sure they are staying in compliance with their discharge limits and that pretreatment systems are adequate to reduce the risk of potential violations.