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Cash Rich WAPA Agrees To Pay $1.3 Million in Penalties for Polluting St. Thomas-St. John

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V.I. Water and Power Authority polluting the air

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) has bowed to the real power of two federal agencies by agreeing in writing to slash the amount of air pollution from its plants on two islands.

The settlement agreement was announced today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The federal government says the agreement resolves numerous violations of the Clean Air Act by WAPA at its Krum Bay plant on St. Thomas and its Cruz Bay facility on St. John.

The DOJ and the EPA said WAPA will spend about $12.2 million to comply with the pact and will also pay $1.3 million in penalties.

The settlement resolves numerous violations of the Clean Air Act, including WAPA’s failure to properly operate pollution control equipment to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter that can cause serious respiratory illness.

These pollutants are linked to health problems, including asthma, lung and heart disease. WAPA will spend approximately $12.2 million to comply with the agreement’s requirements. WAPA will also pay a $1.3 million penalty.

Separate from the settlement, WAPA has been in the process of converting several of its oil-fired turbines at the St. Thomas facility to be capable of burning liquefied petroleum gas or liquefied natural gas.

The settlement requires that at least 85 percent of the power WAPA generates from the converted units be from burning liquefied petroleum gas or liquefied natural gas at the converted units and renewable sources.

The agreement will result in a reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions by approximately 1,300 tons per year and particulate matter emissions by approximately 185 tons per year.

In addition, the conversion to liquefied petroleum gas or liquefied natural gas will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the St. Thomas facility by approximately 66,000 tons per year and sulfur dioxide by approximately 200 tons per year.

“Today’s settlement marks another milestone in our ongoing efforts to enforce the Clean Air Act and reduce air pollution from power plants,” said Assistant Attorney General John Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement will eliminate thousands of tons of harmful air pollution each year, significantly improving air quality in the Virgin Islands.”

Under the Clean Air Act, large industrial facilities that make modifications that increase air pollution emissions must install best available control technology. WAPA operates with a permit that requires it to use the best available control technology to control emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

The complaint, which this settlement resolves, alleged numerous violations, including that VIWAPA had not properly operated nor maintained its water injection pollution control system during various times from October 2005 through December 2013.

The complaint also alleged that the St. Thomas facility failed to meet the opacity (smoke) emission limits during normal operations and failed to conduct continuous monitoring to ensure compliance with its limits, and to keep proper records.

“This settlement will drastically reduce the amount of air pollution in the Virgin Islands and bring the St. Thomas power plant, one of the most significant sources of air pollution in the U.S. Virgin Islands, into compliance with the Clean Air Act,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck.

Under the agreement, at the St. Thomas facility, WAPA agrees to:

  • Properly operate and maintain the water injection pollution control system;
  • Properly operate and maintain the continuous monitoring equipment;
  • Develop and maintain an inventory of spare parts for the St. Thomas facility’s water injection pollution control system and emission monitoring equipment;
  • Arrange for third-party audits and self-audits to ensure compliance with the water injection pollution control system requirements and emission monitoring requirements;
  • Install a pollution control device to reduce visible emissions from one unit; and
  • Install a video camera system to monitor visible emissions from the stacks and conduct visible emission monitoring when visible emissions are observed.

Under the agreement, at the St. John facility, VIWAPA will:

  • Use cleaner fuel; and
  • Submit a request to the Virgin Islands government to modify the permit to designate the unit as an emergency unit.

The EPA has worked with WAPA over the past several years to address its violations and operations at the St. Thomas facility and the St. John facility.

As a result of that work, WAPA has already repaired and replaced pollution controls and monitoring equipment at the St. Thomas facility. It replaced its data acquisition system and installed an improved water system, which it now uses in its water injection pollution control system.

On St. Croix, studies indicated that people who lived in the former Ralph de Chabert housing community and the Estate Richmond area near the WAPA plant had a 65-80 percent higher incidence of emphysema, asthma, lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses.

WAPA entered into a consent decree agreement with the EPA related to the Clean Air Act violations on St. Croix in April 2014. At that time, the government-run authority agreed to pay a $700,000 penalty for pollution-related violations.

When a complaint was filed by the EPA in 2013 about St. Croix, the federal government sought civil penalties of up to $32,500 per day for each violation on or between March 15, 2004, and Jan. 11, 2009, as well as $37,500 for each violation thereafter.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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