US DOJ and EPA reach settlement with JR Simplot over Idaho phosphate plant

Mark Milam

12-Jul-2023

HOUSTON (ICIS)–The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have announced a settlement with the JR Simplot Company involving their Don Plant phosphate manufacturing facility located near Pocatello, Idaho.

The agencies said the settlement resolves allegations primarily under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) at the facility, including that Simplot failed to properly identify and manage certain waste streams as hazardous wastes.

The settlement requires Simplot to implement process modifications designed to enable greater recovery and reuse of phosphate. It also requires the company to ensure that financial resources will be available when the time comes for environmentally sound closure of the facility.

Simplot will also pay a civil penalty of $1.5m.

The Don Plant facility manufactures products for agriculture and industry including phosphoric acid and phosphate fertilizer with the results generating large quantities of acidic wastewater and a solid material called phosphogypsum.

The phosphogypsum is deposited in a large pile known as a gypstack, and acidic wastewater is discharged to the gypstack, which has a capacity to hold several billion gallons of acidic wastewater.

It was fully lined in 2017 in accordance with a previous consent orders Simplot entered into with the state of Idaho and the US.

The settlement also resolves alleged violations of the Clean Air Act (CAA) that relate to fluoride emissions from the facility, and of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) that relate to reporting and notification requirements for hazardous substances and toxic chemicals.

Under the terms Simplot has agreed to implement specific waste management measures it has valued at nearly $150m.

These measures include extensive new efforts to recover and reuse the phosphate content within these wastes and avoid their disposal in the gypstack.

Simplot will also implement requirements that ensure gypstack stability and containment that will protect the environment even should climate change result in more severe weather events.

The settlement also includes a detailed plan setting the terms for the future closure and long-term care of the gypstack and requires Simplot to immediately secure and maintain approximately $108m dedicated to being available when the facility is eventually closed.

The company has further agreed to cease operation of the facility’s cooling towers no later than 27 June 2026, and replace them with one or more newly constructed cooling ponds, which will significantly reduce fluoride emissions to the air.

It will also submit revised Toxic Release Inventory forms for the years 2004-2013 that include estimates of certain metal compounds manufactured, processed or otherwise used at the facility.

Simplot is providing $200,000 in funding for environmental mitigation work that will be administered by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and address habitat degradation from excess phosphorus releases, especially from the facility’s formerly unlined gypstack.

“This is an important settlement which reduces the environmental impacts from one of the leading fertilizer manufacturers,” said Larry Starfield, acting assistant administrator of the EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

“This settlement advances EPA’s goals by creating environmentally beneficial waste management practices and ensures that the US taxpayer will not be responsible for future costs associated with closure of this facility. Additionally, this settlement ensures that any future expansion of Simplot’s operations will be conducted according to strict requirements to minimise impacts to surrounding communities, including the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.”

Simplot In 2020 had reached a similar settlement with both federal agencies over its phosphate plant operations in Wyoming and the producer said it was pleased to have reached this settlement as well with the EPA and DOJ.

“This more than 500-page settlement, which took over 15 years to achieve, provides for additional recovery of phosphate in our production process and other environmental protection measures associated with the handling of our ore processing materials and wastes. This settlement is part of our work to continue to provide important crop nutrients throughout North America to help feed a growing population,” said a Simplot spokesperson.

A consent decree formalising the settlement was lodged 11 July in the US District Court for Idaho and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.

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