August 07, 2023
The U.S. Department of Labor today announced that its Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a heat hazard alert to remind employers of their obligation to protect workers against heat illness or injury in outdoor and indoor workplaces.
The department also announced that OSHA will intensify its enforcement where workers are exposed to heat hazards, with increased inspections in high-risk industries like construction and agriculture. These actions will fully implement the agency’s National Emphasis Program on heat, announced in April 2022, to focus enforcement efforts in geographic areas and industries with the most vulnerable workers.
The action comes as President Biden announced new actions today to protect workers from extreme heat and new investments to protect communities, as historically high temperatures break records and expose millions of people to the serious dangers of heat in the workplace.
"Historically high temperatures impact everyone and put our nation’s workers at high risk," said Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su. "A workplace heat standard has long been a top priority for the Department of Labor, but rulemaking takes time and working people need help now. Today, at the President's request, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a heat hazard alert to make sure employers follow current standards and that workers across the country know their rights. This action, combined with OSHA's increased heat-safety enforcement efforts, shows that we are determined to protect the safety and health of millions of people whose jobs become more hazardous in harsh weather."
Since 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 436 people have died due to workplace heat exposure, with an annual average of 38 deaths between 2011 to 2019. In addition, an average of 2,700 cases involving heat illnesses lead to days lost at work, putting an additional economic burden on workers and employers. Statistics show that people who work in conditions without adequate climate-control face higher risks of hazardous heat exposure and that these situations disproportionately expose people of color to hazardous heat.
In October 2021, OSHA began the rulemaking process to consider a heat-specific workplace standard by publishing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings in the Federal Register.
"As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration works toward proposing a rule to protect workers from heat illness, we are taking several measures today to better protect workers in extreme heat," said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. "Employers have a duty to protect workers by reducing and eliminating hazards that expose workers to heat illness or injury."
OSHA uses hazard alerts to provide specific information on safety and health hazards to employers, workers and other stakeholders. An alert describes the hazard and offers recommendations on how hazardous exposures can be eliminated or reduced and what actions employers should take to protect employees. The alert issued today does the following:
- Highlights what employers can and should be doing now to protect employees.
- Ensures employees are aware of their rights, including protections against retaliation.
- Highlights steps OSHA is currently taking to protect workers.
- Directs employers, employees and the public to crucial OSHA resources, including guidance and fact sheets on heat.
"State laws that attempt to limit workers' access to basic heat-illness prevention measures send a dangerous message that employers are not responsible for providing employees with a safe work environment. In fact, that is simply not the case. Regardless of their job or where in the nation they work, workers have the right to a safe and healthy workplace. OSHA will use every tool and mechanism at our disposal to enforce those rights and make sure that every employee ends their workday safe and healthy," Parker added.
As the rulemaking process for a proposed heat-specific workplace standard continues, OSHA has moved to protect workers from excess heat in the workplace by taking the following actions:
- Developing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards.
- Launching of a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections.
- Creating the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health's Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to understand challenges and share best practices to protect workers.
- Launching a Heat Illness Prevention campaign to educate employers and workers on the dangers of working in the heat.
EPA Penalizes Alaska Homebuilder $107,000 for Violations of Clean Water Act
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that Robert Yundt Homes, LLC and Mr. Robert Yundt, based in Wasilla, Alaska, were penalized $107,000 for violations of the Clean Water Act.
From 2019 through 2021, Robert Yundt Homes, LLC and Mr. Yundt are accused of using heavy earthmoving equipment to relocate and discharge material into Wasilla Lake and Cottonwood Lake, resulting in environmental impacts along the shorelines and adjacent wetlands.
In response, EPA issued multiple administrative compliance orders on consent requiring Robert Yundt Homes, LLC to perform certain restoration and mitigation activities to remedy the harms to the environment. Robert Yundt Homes, LLC also agreed to pay $29,500 in penalties.
After Robert Yundt Homes, LLC failed to comply with the administrative compliance orders on consent, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska against Robert Yundt Homes, LLC and Mr. Yundt. To resolve the violations of the administrative compliance orders and the underlying Clean Water Act violations, Robert Yundt Homes, LLC, Mr. Yundt, EPA, and the U.S. Department of Justice have agreed to a Consent Decree that requires the Defendants to conduct fill removal and habitat restoration activities along the shoreline of Wasilla Lake, restore and preserve wetlands adjacent to Cottonwood Lake in perpetuity through an environmental covenant, and pay an additional $77,500 in penalties.
“In order to protect human health and the environment it is absolutely vital that building and construction companies obtain the appropriate permits and comply with EPA administrative orders” said EPA Region 10 Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Director Ed Kowalski. “As this case demonstrates, the secondary and tertiary effects of unauthorized discharges associated with construction activities can be felt by the entire community.”
“Violations of the Clean Water Act can significantly affect the lives of Alaskans, and those who partake in these unlawful actions will face consequences,” said U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker for the District of Alaska. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to support our partners across the nation to protect our communities and ecosystems from the effects of illegal environmental degradation, as in the case of Robert Yundt Homes, LLC.”
Wasilla Lake and Cottonwood Lake are catalogued by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as waters important for anadromous fish, including spawning habitat for coho and sockeye salmon.
EPA Settles with Third Largest Shipping Container Company over Clean Water Act Violations
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has settled with CMA CGM, the world’s third largest shipping container company, over claims of violations of EPA’s Vessel General Permit issued under the Clean Water Act. Under the terms of the settlements, CMA CGM will pay $165,000 in penalties for claims of violations by four of the company’s ships involving ballast water discharge, recordkeeping, inspection, monitoring, and reporting.
"The Vessel General Permit is a key element of the Clean Water Act. When companies and their ships don't comply with this permit, the quality of our nation's already-challenged waters can be seriously impacted," said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. "It's incumbent upon vessel owners and operators to properly manage what they discharge into our oceans, and to meet their monitoring and reporting requirements."
CMA CGM is a privately-owned company headquartered in Marseille, France. The company failed to:
- Treat ballast water prior to discharging it in a manner consistent with the compliance deadline at U.S. ports, including the Port of Los Angeles in California.
- Record the findings of annual comprehensive inspections.
- Conduct an annual calibration of a ballast water treatment system.
- Monitor and sample discharges from ballast water treatment systems.
- Report complete and accurate information in annual reports.
The settlement includes penalties for the following vessels of $48,277 for the CMA CGM A. Lincoln, $48,233 for the CMA CGM T. Jefferson, $52,197 for the CMA CGM Fidelio, and $16,293 for the APL Columbus.
Vessel self-inspections are required as a means of identifying, for example, potential sources of spills, broken pollution prevention equipment, or other issues that might lead to permit violations. Self-inspections empower the owner or operator to diagnose and fix problems in a timely manner to remain compliant with the permit and with U.S. law. Because the Clean Water Act relies on self-reporting of permittees, violations tied to failures or delays in inspection, monitoring, and reporting are serious and undermine the permit program.
In addition, it is important that such discharges by ships be monitored to ensure that aquatic ecosystems are protected from discharges that contain pollutants. Invasive species are a persistent problem in U.S. coastal and inland waters. Improper management of ballast water can introduce invasive species or damage local species by disrupting habitats and increasing competitive pressure. Discharges of other waste streams regulated by the Vessel General Permit (e.g., graywater, exhaust gas scrubber water, lubricants, etc.) can cause toxic impacts to local species or contain pathogenic organisms.
California Truck Parts Manufacturer Sinister Diesel Agrees To Pay $1 Million After Pleading Guilty
Diesel performance parts manufacturer Sinister Mfg. Company, Inc. – doing business as “Sinister Diesel” – pleaded guilty to criminal charges today in federal court in Sacramento, California, and agreed to pay a total of $1 million in criminal fines and civil penalties. The company also agreed to implement a compliance program and to not manufacture, sell or install any device that defeats a vehicle’s emissions controls.
Sinister Diesel pleaded guilty to a two-count Information, charging it with conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act (CAA) and defraud the United States, and with violating the CAA by tampering with the monitoring device of an emissions control system of a diesel truck. Under the plea agreement, the defendant agrees to pay a $500,000 criminal fine.
Sinister must pay an additional $500,000 under the civil consent decree which the United States filed simultaneously with its civil complaint against Sinister, alleging violations of the CAA’s prohibition against the sale or manufacture of devices that bypass, defeat or render inoperative emissions controls. The civil consent decree prohibits the company from making, selling or offering to sell defeat products, including delete tuners, and prevents Sinister Diesel from transferring intellectual property that would allow others to make such products. To ensure compliance with these requirements, Sinister Diesel will implement a robust internal training program and notify its distributors and former customers about the settlement.
“For close to ten years, Sinister Diesel sold parts designed to override or disable the emissions control systems on trucks,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “EPA testing has shown that a vehicle altered with these parts can emit more than 100 times the amount of certain harmful air pollutants, compared to a vehicle with an intact emissions control system. This case shows that we will aggressively prosecute those who manufacture and sell devices designed to defeat vehicle emissions controls.”
“Businesses that manufacture and sell illegal devices to defeat a vehicle’s emissions controls foster pollution and risk decades of progress in curtailing harmful emissions from motor vehicles in this country,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The plea agreement and civil settlement show that we will take strong action to enforce the Clean Air Act and ensure that emissions control requirements for cars and trucks are being followed.”
“Sinister Diesel sold products that allowed drivers to strip the emissions controls from their trucks, causing a dramatic increase in the release of pollutants that worsen air quality and harm the quality of life,” said U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert for the Eastern District of California. “Environmental laws that control diesel pollution are especially important to protect sensitive populations such as the young, the elderly and people who suffer from respiratory conditions. My Office will continue to vigorously prosecute those who place profit above the public’s health and the environment.”
According to court documents, Sinister Diesel – from its 2010 incorporation to April 2020 – manufactured and sold parts intended to be installed on motor vehicles, particularly diesel trucks, to enable “deleting” the trucks by removing or disabling the trucks’ emissions control systems. Various products, referred to as “delete devices” or “defeat devices,” are used in the process of “deleting” a vehicle. Sinister often sold its products as part of “delete kits,” sometimes bundled with “delete tunes.” The delete tunes were software produced by another company which could alter a diesel truck’s on-board computer to allow a truck with its emissions controls “deleted” to appear to run normally.
Through its employees, Sinister Diesel reached agreements with other companies that manufactured tuners or tuning platforms to sell their products bundled together. Sinister would often advise customers on other needed parts for their deleted vehicles to run properly with Sinister’s delete kits — such as a tuner or tuning platform and delete tunes — and sell them those products, too. Sinister also counseled customers on how to evade state emissions tests.
Though Sinister sometimes labeled its delete products for “racing” and included disclaimers in marketing materials indicating that its products should be used only in off-road settings, the company knew most of its delete products were purchased by diesel truck drivers who used those products on public roads, not racetracks. At times, approximately 25% of Sinister’s gross revenue stemmed from its delete products. According to Sinister’s sales statistics, between October 30, 2015, and July 17, 2017, it sold 39,792 defeat devices, including at least 35,960 kits that disable vehicles’ exhaust gas recirculation systems.
Deleting a diesel truck causes its emissions to increase dramatically. For example, for a fully deleted truck with all emissions equipment removed, EPA testing has quantified the increased emissions as follows: Nitrogen oxides increased 310 times, non-methane hydrocarbons increased 1,400 times, carbon monoxide increased 120 times and particulate matter increased 40 times. EPA’s Air Enforcement Division released a report in November 2020 finding that more than 500,000 diesel pickup trucks in the United States – approximately 15% of U.S. diesel trucks that were originally certified with emissions controls – have been illegally deleted.
Diesel emissions contain multiple hazardous compounds and harm human health and the environment. Diesel emissions have been found to cause and worsen respiratory ailments such as asthma and lung cancer. One study found that 21,000 American deaths annually are attributable to diesel particulate matter. Additionally, exposure to polluted air in utero has been associated with a host of problems with lifelong ramifications including low birth weight, preterm birth, autism, asthma and brain and memory disorders.
The defendant is scheduled to be sentenced in the criminal case by U.S. District Court Judge John A. Mendez for the Eastern District of California on November 14, 2023. Though Sinister Diesel agreed to pay $500,000 in criminal fines under its plea agreement, the company faces – for each count – a maximum fine of $500,000 or twice the gross pecuniary gain derived from the offense. Its sentence will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of all applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
The criminal case was the product of an investigation by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Sacramento Field Office. Assistant United States Attorney Katherine T. Lydon of the Eastern District of California and Senior Counsel Krishna S. Dighe and Trial Attorney Stephen J. Foster of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) are prosecuting the criminal case. The federal civil case is being handled by Senior Attorney Eric Albert and Senior Counsel Joanna Day of the Environmental Enforcement Section of ENRD, Attorney Advisor David H. Kim of EPA’s Region 9 office, and Janice Chan of the EPA’s Region 9 office.
Stopping the manufacture, sale, and installation of illegal delete devices is a priority for EPA. To learn more, visit our National Enforcement and Compliance Initiative: Stopping Aftermarket Defeat Devices for Vehicles and Engines page. To learn more about EPA’s criminal enforcement actions on defeat devices, visit Criminal Press Releases - 2023 and Criminal Press Releases - 2022.
The consent decree for this settlement, lodged today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the court. A copy of the consent decree and information on submitting comments will be available on the Department of Justice website.
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