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Wal-Mart to Pay $81.6 Million in Environmental Fines

Retailer pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts of “negligently violating” the Clean Water Act.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Justice said Tuesday that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will pay an $81.6 million federal fine after pleading guilty to violating environmental laws. This resolves federal criminal charges alleging the retail giant illegally dumped hazardous waste in California and mishandled pesticides in Missouri.

This story first appeared in the May 29, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Wal-Mart entered into plea agreements with the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Northern and Central Districts of California and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri. The company also signed an administrative resolution with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The retailer pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts of “negligently violating” the Clean Water Act, DOJ said. The six criminal charges were filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the two cases were then consolidated in the Northern District of California, where the guilty pleas were formally entered before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero.

According to federal court documents, Wal-Mart did not have a program in place until January 2006 to handle and dispose of hazardous materials, and failed to train its employees in proper hazardous waste management and disposal practices at the store level.

“By improperly handling hazardous waste, pesticides and other materials in violation of federal laws, Wal-Mart put the public and the environment at risk and gained an unfair economic advantage over other companies,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment & Natural Resources Division. “Today, Wal-Mart acknowledged responsibility for violations of federal laws and will pay significant fines and penalties, which will, in part, fund important environmental projects in the communities impacted by the violations and help prevent future harm to the environment.”

Combined with previous actions brought by California and Missouri for similar conduct, Wal-Mart will wind up paying a total of $110 million to resolve federal and state cases, the Justice Department said. As part of a plea agreement filed in California, Wal-Mart will be required to pay a $40 million criminal fine and an additional $20 million that will fund various community service projects, including opening a $6 million Retail Compliance Assistance Center that will help stores across the nation learn how to properly handle hazardous waste.

Wal-Mart said the compliance issues occurred years ago and that the federal cases and settlement follow civil settlements it entered into with California in 2010 and Missouri in 2012. Settlements with the two states “addressed the same facts the federal government in this case raised and which Wal-Mart has already remedied,” the company said, adding that “no specific environmental impact has been alleged, and since then Wal-Mart designed and implemented comprehensive environmental programs that remain in place today.”

Phyllis Harris, senior vice president and chief compliance officer for Wal-Mart U.S., said: “Wal-Mart has a comprehensive industry-leading hazardous waste program. The program was built around training, policies and procedures on how to safely handle consumer products that become hazardous waste, and we continue to run the same program in every store and club that was deployed years ago. We are pleased that this resolves all of these issues raised by the government.”