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Untied States v. Delek Logistics Operating LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division

November 8, 2019



          Susan O. Hickey, Chief United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff United States of America's Motion to Enter Consent Decree. (ECF No. 28). The Court is informed that the motion is unopposed. The Court finds the matter ripe for consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 31, 2018, Plaintiffs[1] filed an amended complaint in this action, seeking civil penalties and injunctive relief pursuant to Sections 301, 309, and 311 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq.; the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act; and the Arkansas Hazardous Waste Management Act. The alleged violations arise from an oil spill at Defendants' pump station and tank facility in Magnolia, Arkansas, resulting from a pipe rupture and subsequent equipment failure. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Delek spilled harmful quantities of oil into navigable waters of the United States and harmed wildlife, habitat, and the environment. Plaintiffs also allege that the oil spill exceeded water pollution standards set by the State of Arkansas and that Delek generated, transported, and failed to properly dispose of hazardous waste.

         On August 30, 2019, the United States filed a notice of consent decree, stating that all parties to this case have entered into a proposed consent decree. The United States also lodged the consent decree itself in the record. (ECF Nos. 25, 25-1). Although a detailed reproduction of the proposed consent decree is unnecessary, the Court will provide a brief overview of the consent decree's main provisions.

         The proposed consent decree requires Defendants to pay to the United States a civil penalty of $1, 705, 460, plus interest accruing from January 25, 2019. Defendants must also pay to the State of Arkansas a civil penalty of $550, 000. The consent decree also calls for Defendants to undertake extensive injunctive measures. Defendants must perform confirmatory sampling at specific sites. Defendants must then design and implement a monitoring or remedial plan for any sampled site that exhibits a possibly unacceptable human health or ecological risk. Defendants must provide annual spill-response training to all employees working at the Magnolia plant, in addition to providing supplemental training to designated first responders and conducting training and/or planning exercises with state and local emergency response agencies. Defendants must assemble and place spill-response caches of materials and equipment at their facilities. Defendants must also provide semi-annual reports to Plaintiffs, detailing all efforts taken in the previous semiannual period relevant to the consent decree, along with a description of any non-compliance with the consent decree and an explanation of the likely cause and what remedial steps have or will be taken to remedy the issue. The consent decree also contemplates stipulated penalties for violations of the consent decree.

         On September 6, 2019, the United States published notice of the proposed consent decree in the Federal Register for a period of thirty days for public comment, pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 50.7. On September 16, 2019, Mahony Corporation, a non-party to this case that owns land impacted by the Magnolia oil spill, filed a response to the parties' proposed consent decree. (ECF No. 26).

         On October 30, 2019, the United States filed the instant unopposed motion, requesting that the Court approve the parties' proposed consent decree as fair, adequate, reasonable, and consistent with the CWA. The United States argues that Mahony's comment presents no reason to disapprove of the parties' consent decree. Consequently, the United States asks the Court to execute and enter the proposed decree as a final judgment in this case.


         “Before entering a consent decree, this Court must find that the settlement is procedurally fair, substantively fair, reasonable, and consistent with [the governing statute].” United States v. Union Elec. Co., 934 F.Supp. 324, 327 (E.D. Mo. 1996) aff'd, 132 F.3d 422 (8th Cir. 1997). “Consent decrees should[] spring from-and serve to resolve-a dispute within the court's subject-matter jurisdiction; come within the general scope of the case from the pleadings; and further the objectives of the law on which the complaint was based.” EEOC v. Prod. Fabricators, Inc., 666 F.3d 1170, 1172 (8th Cir. 2012). The Court enjoys considerable discretion in deciding whether to approve the parties' proposed consent decree. United States v. BP Amoco Oil PLC, 277 F.3d 1012, 1019 (8th Cir. 2002).

         Although the law strongly favors settlement, courts must not abdicate their duty to adjudicate controversies before them in accordance with the law merely because the parties have proposed a consent decree. See Angela R. by Hesselbein v. Clinton, 999 F.2d 320, 324 (8th Cir. 1993). Accordingly, a court may not merely “rubber stamp” a consent decree, but must instead “carefully consider[] the underlying facts and legal arguments.” BP Amoco Oil, 277 F.3d at 1019. “Nevertheless, where the United States is a party to the consent decree, the court will give due deference to the Environmental Protection Agency's . . . inherent expertise in environmental matters in determining whether to approve the consent decree.” United States v. City of Waterloo, No. 15-cv-2087-LRR, 2016 WL 254725, at *3 (N.D. Iowa Jan. 20, 2016); see also United States v. Cannons Eng'g Corp., 899 F.2d 79, 84 (1st Cir. 1990) (“Th[e] policy [in favor of settlements] has particular force where, as here, a government actor committed to the protection of the public interest has pulled the laboring oar in constructing the proposed settlement.”).

         The United States asks the Court to approve the proposed consent decree as fair, adequate, reasonable, and consistent with the goals of the CWA. The United States also argues that the comment received from Mahony Corporation during the public comment period does not provide adequate reason to deny the instant motion. The Court will address these arguments separately before answering the ultimate question of whether to approve the proposed consent decree.

         A. Consistency with the Goals of the CWA

         The purpose of the CWA is to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters.” Gwaltney of Smithfield, Ltd. v. Chesapeake Bay Found., Inc., 484 U.S. 49, 52 (1987). The United States points out that, under the consent decree, Defendants will be required to pay civil penalties totaling $2, 255, 460. The United States argues that these civil penalties will serve as a punishment and will help deter Defendants and others from future violations of the CWA. The United States also asserts that the consent decree requires Defendants to: (1) take steps to hasten environmental protections at its facility; (2) monitor downstream water quality in the impacted area; and (3) improve the safety of its pipeline operation and ...

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