District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley announced this week that her Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit, as part of a statewide team of prosecutors, settled a civil action against AT&T concerning hazardous-materials violations in Santa Barbara County and across the state.
The $5.9 million settlement is the largest ever awarded statewide for this type of environmental violation.
The settlement included $5.65 million in civil penalties, of which $613,479.16 is going to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office and $110,625 will go to Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services.
In addition, $250,000 is being paid as a Supplemental Environmental Project to the CUPA Forum Environmental Protection Trust Fund.
On Monday, a Stipulated Final Judgment and Injunction was entered to resolve the case. The judgment includes the settlement details and an injunction requiring the defendants to comply with environmental laws and regulations.
The case centered around the telecommunication company’s failure to report hazardous materials (batteries) at cell-phone towers and other facilities to the California Environmental Reporting System.
Reporting the presence of hazardous materials is mandated by law as part of a business’ requirement to submit a Hazardous Materials Business Plan to CERS. The batteries in question were used to operate emergency generators at more than 3,200 sites across California.
Although the plaintiffs in the People v. AT&T Services Inc. had no evidence of damage to the environment at any of these sites, AT&T is still liable for failing to report the presence of the hazardous materials.
California businesses, which handle 55 gallons, 200 cubic feet or 500 pounds of hazardous materials, must submit a Hazardous Materials Business Plan to CERS. Under the law, the location, type, quantity and health risk of the materials must be reported.
That information is then shared with firefighters, health officials, public safety offices and regulatory agencies, which in turn is used to protect the public, first responders and the environment.
Ms. Dudley’s office said AT&T self-reported the violations and cooperated with statewide investigations, including those conducted by the Santa Barbara County Certified Unified Program Agency and the District Attorney’s Office.
“Having a complete understanding about the presence of hazardous materials is a vital aspect of public safety and emergency preparation,” Ms. Dudley said in a statement. “Whether handled by a small business or a large corporation, these materials can present great danger, and the law must be equally enforced to protect us all.”