Brown Sues Gas Station Chain for Endangering Inland Empire Groundwater Supplies

Imperial Valley News

RIVERSIDE - Fighting to safeguard groundwater supplies threatened by toxic contamination, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. has filed suit against a national gas station chain - TravelCenters of America - to force the corporation to comply with underground fuel storage laws it has "knowingly and repeatedly disregarded" for years.

"TravelCenters of America has knowingly and repeatedly disregarded California's underground fuel storage laws for years," Attorney General Brown said. "This has put the Inland Empire's scarce groundwater supplies at serious risk of contamination."

On July 10, 2008, Riverside District Attorney Rod Pacheco filed legal action seeking an injunction against TravelCenters for violating the laws governing the management and handling of underground storage tanks of hazardous materials.

TravelCenters subsequently responded to the suit, offering more than a dozen legal theories as to why the law does not apply. This includes claims that the law is unconstitutional, is pre-empted by federal law, and violates due process.

At the request of the Riverside District Attorney, Attorney General Brown joined the case to enforce California's health and safety laws, which Travelcenters has consistently violated and ignored. The suit was filed last week and made public today.

Over a number of years, the Riverside Department of Environmental Health conducted inspections at the TravelCenters facility in Riverside County, which revealed numerous, longstanding violations of California's underground storage tank law. TravelCenters has failed to correct many of the deficiencies, even after repeated warnings.

Given these violations, Brown is seeking a permanent injunction to block TavelCenter's illegal activities under Chapters 6.5, 6.7, and 6.95 of Division 20 of California's Health and Safety Code, and section 17200 of California's Business and Professions Codes, which governs unfair competition and business practices.

Brown's suit contends that TravelCenters:

- Failed to have adequate containment and detection equipment for hazardous materials storage tanks;

- Improperly raised, altered, tampered, or disabled sensors in spill boxes that detect leaks;

- Failed to identify the date the hazardous materials were received;

- Failed to manage hazardous waste containers;

- Failed to maintain documentation of employee training;

- Failed to identify an emergency coordinator;

- Failed to inspect container storage areas;

- Failed to store incompatible wastes in separate containers;

- Failed to remove accumulated liquid or debris from the secondary containment system;

- Failed to have an operational audible/visual alarm system connected for continuous monitoring;

- Failed to have emergency response plans; and

- Failed to maintain a complete hazardous materials business plan.

In addition, the lawsuit seeks up to a statutory maximum of $25,000 in civil penalties for each day of each violation. This could amount to millions of dollars in penalties.

TravelCenters of America operates 234 travel centers, including 188 owned and 46 franchisees along interstate highways of 41 US states and in the province of Ontario, Canada.

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