Sinclair managers plead guilty to CWA charges

A correction to this article was made on Dec. 22.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 19 -- Sinclair Tulsa Refining Co. and two of its managers pleaded guilty to felony pollution charges of violating the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), the US Environmental Protection Agency said on Dec. 15.

Sinclair Tulsa, a subsidiary of privately held Sinclair Oil Corp. of Salt Lake City, agreed to pay a $5 million criminal fine and $500,000 into an environmental fund.

The managers, Harmon Connell and John Kapura, each pleaded guilty to one count of violating the CWA, and each faces a maximum penalty of 3 years in prison, up to a year of supervised release, and a penalty to be determined by the court. Sentencing is scheduled for Apr. 2, 2007.

The company and the managers admitted to knowingly manipulating the refinery processes, wastewater flows, and wastewater discharges so that wastewater samplings during mandatory testing under the CWA would not be representative, according to EPA.

EPA said the manipulated samplings were intended to influence analytical testing results reported to Oklahoma's Department of Environmental Quality as well as EPA.

"Sinclair had the capability to comply with environmental regulations, but chose to violate federal law simply to save money. The defendants viewed repeated violations as nothing more than 'doing business,'" said Granta Y. Nakayama, EPA's assistant manager for enforcement and compliance assurance.

According to the criminal information and plea agreement filed in US District Court for Northern Oklahoma, the refinery discharged an average of 1.1 million gal/day of treated wastewater into the Arkansas River between January 2000 and March 2004.

Sinclair Tulsa had a permit under the CWA to discharge treated wastewater into the river under certain conditions that included scheduled monitoring and required sampling during weekdays. But on numerous occasions during 2002-03, it directed employees to limit wastewater discharges with high oil and grease concentrations to manipulate the results of required testing, an investigation by the EPA and the Oklahoma attorney general's office found.

The investigators said Sinclair and its employees diverted more heavily contaminated wastewater to holding impoundments during monitoring periods, among other means of ensuring that they passed the tests.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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