Walmart Fined $82 Million for Dumping Pollutants

[UPDATED] Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has pleaded guilty Tuesday to illegal disposal of hazardous waste in three criminal cases in California and Missouri, agreeing to pay nearly $82 million in fines.  A lawyer for the company showed up in federal court in San Francisco to enter a guilty plea to six counts of violation of the Clean Water Act and agreeing to $60 million in fines.  That fine,  coupled with another $14 million in criminal fines in Missouri and $7.6 million civil penalty, brought the total to $82 million.

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer with 4,000 U.S. stores, sent a company lawyer to federal court in San Francisco to quietly enter a guilty plea and receive a sentence as part of a hasty plea bargain.  The charges were filed in Los Angeles May 20 and transferred to Northern California last week.

Missouri officials said the firm mishandled truckloads of chemicals, including two million pounds of pesticides.

The company was accused of negligently dumping pollutants from hazardous household products into sewer systems in seven Southern California counties where the waste fouled treatment plants.   The illegal dumping occurred despite Walmart’s six return centers for handling wastes in Nevada, Indiana, Arkansas, Texas, South Carolina and New York.

The plea agreement states Walmart improperly disposed of flammable, corrosive and toxic household products that were damaged, destroyed, spilled or returned by customers.  The company did not have a system in place at the store level of identify and manage hazardous waste generated in the stores, according to the 91-page plea agreement.

Walmart corporate lawyer Phyllis P. Harris answered “guilty” six times when asked how she pled to charges the company did the dumping between 2003 and 2005, in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis ObispoCounties.  And in Northern California’s Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Lake, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, Sonoma and Santa Clara Counties.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero imposed the sentence of a $40 million fine and $20 million for community service payments to clean up the damage in the California case.

The company must pay the fine within a week and has two weeks to make the community service payment, under terms of the plea bargain.

The charges did not specify how much material was dumped by stores during the three year period.

“By improperly handling hazardous waste, pesticides and other materials in violation of federal laws, WalMart put the public and the environment at risk and gained an unfair economic advantage over other companies,” said Ignacia Moreno, Assistant Attorney Generalfor the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

The action is in sharp contrast to Walmart’s efforts in 2012 to show itself off as a good environmental citizen, after criticism from environmentalists.  Last year, Walmart said it kept nearly 81 percent of its waste out of landfills in 2011.

Case:  U.S. v. Walmart Stores, Inc., No. CR13-353JS