ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS RE A & M COMPOSTING, 1997
EHB SUSPENDS ORDER TO CUT SLUDGE INTAKE AT A&M COMPOSTING
. . . . . . . . December 5, 1997
MASCARO GRANTED TEMPORARY RELIEF FROM DEP ORDER . . . . . . . . November 14, 1997
LEGISLATORS GO TO BAT FOR TRASH HAULER
EFFORTS TO INTERVENE WITH THE DEP FAILED TO HELP THE POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR
By Ken Dilanian
November 9, 1997
HARRISBURG -- When state regulators were contemplating tough enforcement against affiliates of J.P. Mascaro & Sons Inc. for alleged environmental violations, the company turned to its friends in the legislature.
The stakes were high for the Harleysville, Montgomery County, waste company, because the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was threatening action that would jeopardize Mascaro's chances for a $95.6 million contract to process New York City sludge into compost.
In short order, six legislators -- all but one of them recipients of Mascaro-connected contributions -- had contacted DEP officials with questions. One demanded and received a meeting with regulators, at which Mascaro officials complained bitterly that their firm had been singled out for severe treatment. Four legislators sat in on the meeting at the company's request.
The legislators say the Mascaro donations had nothing to do with their actions. Company officials say they were simply asking for help from their elected representatives.
In the end, that help was unavailing. Weeks after hearing from the legislators, DEP ordered Mascaro to ratchet back its operations at a sludge-processing facility in Lancaster County -- a move that could jeopardize the deal with New York. The agency also fined Mascaro nearly $400,000 for its Berks County operation, including the largest penalty against a permitted landfill in state history.
The episode offers a behind-the-scenes example of how state-regulated businesses try to pressure government regulators contemplating actions that may be unfavorable to them.
"I hear stories like this a half-dozen times a year, where a company gets in trouble with an enforcement agency and brings in heavyweight lawmakers to try to change the result," said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania. "It demonstrates the return on investment that some campaign contributors expect."
It is routine for legislators to intervene for corporate constituents who receive unfavorable rulings from state agencies. To some, that is troubling; to others, it is the essence of representative government.
"I think what we're seeing here is democracy at work," said House Appropriations Chairman John Barley (R., Lancaster). Barley helped arrange a Sept. 24 meeting at DEP's Harrisburg regional office with three other House Republicans, top agency regulators, and Mascaro's lawyers.
Neither of the two waste facilities at issue -- a Berks County landfill and a Lancaster County sludge plant -- is in Barley's district. But that's not relevant, said Barley, who received a $1,000 contribution from Mascaro earlier this year.
"Whenever a business person has a concern about any entity of state government . . . my door is always open," he said.
Joining Barley at the September meeting were Montgomery County Reps. Raymond Bunt, John Lawless and John Fichter.
The four House members received a total of $4,550 in political contributions since 1995 from Pasquale Mascaro or his partnership, MB Investments. Pasquale Mascaro is the CEO of J.P. Mascaro and the sole shareholder of the two companies facing the DEP enforcement actions.
Bunt received $2,600 in 1995 and 1996; Lawless received $700 during those same years; and Fichter received $250 last year. Mascaro also hosted a Bunt fund-raising event, a company lawyer said.
Pasquale Mascaro said he had contributed to various Republican committees and candidates for years. He donated $5,000 to Gov. Ridge's campaign fund in 1994.
All four legislators said the contributions had nothing to do with their decisions to attend the meeting. They simply wanted to ensure that Mascaro was being treated fairly, each said.
Bunt, whose district includes various Mascaro facilities, said Mascaro's lawyer asked him to intervene. Bunt said he then asked for Barley's help. Bunt said he wanted "to make sure DEP didn't treat this company differently. I was not there to run roughshod over somebody."
On July 25, when regional DEP officials balked at meeting with him on the Mascaro matter, Bunt sent a letter to DEP Secretary James Seif. An unwillingness by DEP regulators to meet with state legislators, Bunt wrote, "cannot, and simply will not, be tolerated."
That letter led to the meeting, DEP officials said. Lawless said Mascaro had made a good case to him before the meeting that the company was being singled out by DEP.
By contrast, Fichter said he came away convinced that Mascaro had been treated equitably. Barley said he also supported DEP's actions.
Two senators also called DEP regulators at Mascaro's request. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery) said he called the DEP after the firm gave him letters from people who live around Mascaro's sludge-composting plant in northern Lancaster County. These letters said, contrary to regulators' findings, that there was no odor problem.
"I asked them to look into it," said Greenleaf, who said the Mascaro firm hosted a fund-raising event for him this year and had done so in the past.
The other senator, Majority Whip David Brightbill (R., Lebanon), said he concluded after talking to a DEP official that Mascaro "should bite the bullet and pay the fines." Brightbill took no further action. He has received no contributions from Mascaro in recent years.
Pasquale Mascaro said he did nothing improper in seeking help from lawmakers.
"We've never asked anyone to intervene on our behalf in the spirit of preferential treatment," he said. "And I would challenge anyone to produce a shred of evidence that Mascaro has ever been involved in a quid pro quo."
As for the meeting arranged by legislators, Mascaro's general counsel, William Fox, said: "It's what they're supposed to do. They're there to serve us."
On a previous occasion, Mascaro turned for help to elected officials who had received Mascaro-connected campaign contributions.
A Mascaro partnership contributed $25,000 in 1991 to the campaign committee of Mario Mele and Jon Fox, who were elected Montgomery County commissioners. In 1993, at Mascaro's request, the commissioners exempted the company from a county rule requiring all waste haulers to dump at the same landfill.
That prompted a competitor, Waste Management Inc., to sue the commissioners, alleging that they had been influenced improperly by Mascaro. The commissioners said their action was unrelated to the contribution. Waste Management later dropped its lawsuit in exchange for the county's waiving its right to audit the firm's books or bring its own legal action.
Mascaro fared less well in its dispute with the DEP.
A week after the Sept. 24 meeting with legislators, the DEP levied $376,000 in penalties on one Mascaro company for allegedly failing to comply with various regulations at its Pioneer Crossing landfill in Berks County.
Decaying trash created "a combustible gas problem that threatened a nearby trailer park," DEP spokeswoman Sandy Roderick said.
Citing odor problems, the agency also required Mascaro to cut its sludge volume in half at a Lancaster County composting plant and pay a $20,000 penalty.
Mascaro is appealing both orders to the state's Environmental Hearing Board, calling them unfair.
At an administrative hearing Thursday, Mascaro asked that the sludge order be suspended until there is a ruling on the company's appeal. Mascaro's lawyer argued that the order would prevent the company from fulfilling the terms of a contract being negotiated with New York City to process its sludge.
Another legislator attended the September meeting, but she came at the request of the DEP, not Mascaro. Republican Rep. Katie True, whose northwestern Lancaster County district includes the sludge plant, has been alerting state regulators to complaints about odor problems there for years.
True said she found the meeting "annoying."
"I had to sit for hours and listen to a bunch of whining," she said. "I felt bad for DEP, to tell you the truth. They were under fire from Mascaro."
True said she was pleased with the tough DEP order.
"I would have had a real problem if they had gotten off the hook," True said.
"But they didn't."
MASCARO APPEALS DEP ORDER TO CUT SLUDGE INTAKE
. . . . . . . . October 31, 1997
The owners of a composting plant have appealed a DEP order to cut in half the amount of sludge taken daily at their facility in Penn Township, Lancaster County. J.P. Mascaro & Sons, are appealing the order to limit the plant's average daily intake of sludge to 80 tons.
DEP sent A&M a notice of violation last December after the company delivered a load of improperly treated compost to a nearby nursery. The compost was high in fecal coliform bacteria. The notice required A&M to retrieve the material and dispose of it in a landfill.
DEP issued the order to cut sludge intake at the plant on Oct. 6 after Mascaro refused to sign a consent agreement. The order also fines Mascaro $20,000 and requires the company to improve record keeping to provide more information about the processing of the sludge it receives. (Source: Intelligencer Journal 10/9/97)
STATE SAYS COMPOST PLANT WILL CUT INTAKE, EVEN WITHOUT AGREEMENT
Intelligencer Journal Lancaster
(Copyright 1997 Lancaster Newspapers)
The state Department of Environmental Protection will announce today whether a Penn Township composting plant has agreed to cut its sludge intake by 50 percent.
But even if the plant's owners refuse to sign the agreement, the plant will be forced to make the cutback - at least initially.
J.P. Mascaro & Sons Inc. had until 5 p.m. Thursday to sign an agreement with the DEP to reduce by half the amount of sludge it processes at its A&M Composting plant.
As of 4 p.m., the agreement had not been signed, DEP spokeswoman Sandy Roderick said. If it isn't signed today, she said, DEP will impose an order forcing A&M to cut its intake.
"The bottom line would be the same for us," Roderick said Thursday. "We will do something tomorrow; either we will have a signed agreement or an order."
William Fox, a lawyer representing Mascaro & Sons, was not available to comment on the company's intentions.
The DEP issued the consent agreement last week as a result of complaints by neighbors of foul odors in the area.
Although DEP officials detected no foul odor during on-site visits, the plant failed two odor-filtering efficiency tests. Those failures, the DEP said, constituted a violation of the terms of the plant's operating consent agreement.
Despite the new restrictions, the company will still be free to honor a $95.6 million, 15-year contract signed this year with New York City to process 162 tons per day of sewage sludge, beginning in July 1998.
A&M has a state permit to compost up to 220 tons of sludge per day. Although that amount will be cut in half initially, it could gradually increase as Mascaro brings the plant back into compliance with environmental regulations, Roderick said.
Mascaro, of Harleysville, purchased the Mountain Road plant in 1994, and neighbors credited the company with improving conditions at the site. But continuing complaints of odors prompted the DEP to test the efficiency of the plant's biofilters, which kill foul smells.
The odor problem "goes in spells," said Mark Nolt, a member of Lancaster Citizens for Quality Air.
"They've been a real nuisance as far an odor problem," he said. "It's a lot better than what it was (before Mascaro bought it)."
But as recently as this summer, Nolt said, odors were bad about four days a week.
"Our group felt it would have been nice if (DEP) closed them down," he said.
Nolt said that for years, the DEP was not monitoring the operation, and it wasn't until residents complained that the state agency checked things out.
A&M's state permit allows it to turn pretreated sludge - the solid material left after sewage has been treated at a purification plant - into Class A compost, the state's highest-quality sewage byproduct.
The plant currently composts sludge from Quarryville, Lititz, Ephrata, New Holland, Lemoyne, East Allen Township near Allentown, and Nassau County outside of New York City.
STATE ORDERS A&M TO CUT SLUDGE INTAKE IN HALF
Intelligencer Journal Lancaster
(Copyright 1997 Lancaster Newspapers)
A state ruling could severely hamper a company's plans to send hundreds of tons of sludge a day to a Penn Township composting plant.
The Department of Environmental Protection Friday ordered J.P. Mascaro & Sons Inc. to cut the daily flow of sludge to its A&M Composting plant by 50 percent.
The company has until next Thursday to agree to reduce the sludge flow and to sign a consent order requiring it to adhere to specific environmental regulations.
The ruling comes in the wake of two failed odor tests earlier this year at the Mountain Road plant, which has been the target of complaints by neighboring residents.
"This is an opportunity for the company to enter into a consent order and agreement with the department and demonstrate their ability to consistently be in compliance," Karen Bassett, DEP spokeswoman, said Friday in a news release.
"The revised operating plan will result in a final modification of the facility's operating permit."
A news release announcing the edict did not say what the DEP would do if the Harleysville-based company fails to sign the consent agreement.
Officials with J.P. Mascaro were not available for comment Friday to discuss what impact the order would have on the company's plans to process 162 tons per day of New York City sewage sludge beginning in July.
The 15-year contract is reportedly worth $95.6 million. Residents have been vocal in their opposition to the contract.
A&M has a permit from DEP to compost up to 220 tons of sludge per day, although plant officials last month said they do not take in that much. They said the flow from New York City would be about equal to what the plant now handles.
The sludge now processed at A&M would be transferred to one of Mascaro's other plants to make room for the New York waste. Sludge is the solid material that remains after sewage has been treated at a purification plant.
DEP officials ruled that, by failing its last two odor tests, the A&M plant violated the terms of its operating consent agreement.
Residents recently complained to DEP about foul odors coming from the site, but DEP officials failed to detect any such odors during on-site inspections.
At a meeting in August to discuss the New York contract, Bassett said DEP was considering shutting down the plant because of the failed odor tests.
The tests measured the efficiency of the plant's biofilters, which kill foul smells, rather than detecting actual odors.
Before making a final decision on the fate of the plant, DEP agreed to a meeting with Mascaro officials in Harrisburg. State officials later toured the A&M plant as well.
As a result of the meetings, DEP opted not to shut the plant but to order A&M to cut its daily intake in half.
A&M must also submit a revised operations plan that includes biofilter maintenance and temperature testing and administrative controls on the compost tracking. Additionally, the plant must establish ground water testing and monitoring data with assessment and abatement protocol.
"Although we have not been able to document any odor violation at this facility, we have identified operational problems," Bassett said in the news release.
"By reducing the average daily volume, we expect the company and DEP to use this opportunity to evaluate what is actually going on at the facility."
A&M currently composts sludge from Quarryville, Lititz, Ephrata, New Holland, Lemoyne, East Allen Township near Allentown and Nassau County, New York, a suburb of New York City.
Under a federal order, New York City must convert 80 to 90 percent of its sewage sludge into "beneficial use," such as composting and making pelletized fertilizer.
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compiled by Ben Oostdam on February 9, 2001