OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today, along with five district attorneys, announced an $8 million settlement with Safeway resolving allegations that the company violated state environmental laws while operating underground storage tank systems at its 71 gas stations across California.
An investigation into Safeway’s gas stations – branded as Safeway and Vons fuel stations – found a recurring failure to install, implement, and operate various spill prevention and safety measures since at least March 2015. Today’s settlement includes robust injunctive terms to improve operational safety and compliance with state laws to avoid potential contamination to soil and groundwater.
“California has strong regulations in place to prevent oil and gas from seeping into the ground and contaminating our drinking water,” said Attorney General Bonta. “The reality is: Accidents happen. Without proper safety measures in place, an avoidable crisis can become an environmental catastrophe. Today’s settlement addresses environmental violations at 71 Safeway gas stations across the state. Safeway will pay $8 million in penalties and investigative costs and go above and beyond to ensure that its operations do not threaten public health and the safety of our communities.”
“The protection of our environment is of paramount importance,” said Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton. “That’s why my office is committed to the prevention of environmental hazards like fuel spills and holding companies accountable to laws regulating such things as underground storage tanks. The collaborative effort between the AG’s office and my fellow District Attorneys – along with Safeway’s cooperation – resulted in this comprehensive environmental compliance settlement.”
“The improper storage of environmentally hazardous materials created a health and safety risk to the citizens of Sacramento County and the state,” said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. “I am proud of our prosecutors in the Consumer Environmental Protection Unit who remain aggressive in pursuing businesses that violate the state’s environmental laws. This settlement should serve as a strong message to all businesses that the laws and regulations enacted to protect our citizens and environment should not be ignored.”
“It is imperative we hold violators accountable for hazardous environmental crime,” said San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar. “Underground hazardous spills have detrimental impacts on the safety and wellbeing of our communities. Thank you to my Office’s Quality of Life Division and the San Joaquin County Environmental Health Department for their investigative work, as well as my colleagues in partnering counties and Attorney General Bonta for prioritizing environmental law compliance.”
Underground storage tank systems are subject to strict regulations in California because of the potential for even a small tank leak, if undetected, to cause substantial contamination to soil and groundwater. California requires that all underground storage tank systems be designed and constructed with primary and secondary levels of containment, continuous monitoring systems, constant vacuum pressure, equipment to prevent spills and leaks, and automatic leak detectors.
Beginning in 2015, Safeway is alleged to have violated state laws regulating the operation of underground storage tanks and the handling of hazardous waste. Specifically, the Attorney General and district attorneys found evidence of recurring violations at Safeway gas stations, including failure to:
- Install and/or maintain automatic line leak detectors;
- Construct, operate, and maintain secondary containment systems;
- Maintain a monitoring system capable of detecting a leak at the earliest possible opportunity;
- Continuously monitor and conduct required testing of underground storage tank systems; and
- Properly notify local agencies of the release of a hazardous substance.
Today’s settlement resolves these allegations. As part of the settlement, Safeway will pay $7.5 million in civil penalties, including $600,000 to fund several supplemental environmental projects, and an additional $500,000 for investigative costs. Safeway will also be required to take immediate steps to improve spill and alarm monitoring, employee training, hazardous waste management and emergency response at its gasoline stations. For example, Safeway will employ an environmental compliance manager to ensure compliance with the applicable state laws, document any unauthorized release of hazardous waste, and submit annual reports to the California Department of Justice, among other responsibilities.
Attorney General Bonta is joined by the district attorneys of Contra Costa, Placer, Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Solano counties in announcing the settlement.
A copy of the settlement agreement is available here.