Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Environmental Management: Criminal Investigation Sought Following Whistleblower Claims of Pollution Violations

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Environmental Management: Criminal Investigation Sought Following Whistleblower Claims of Pollution Violations

Article excerpt

A former air quality engineer for Southwestern Electric Power Co. plants in Texas has blown the whistle on what he claims are years of violations of the Clean Air Act by parent company American Electric Power (AEP).

In addition, Public Citizen's Texas office filed a notice with EPA of its intent to file suit to enforce the law if the EPA and the state of Texas fail to act.

Bill Wilson was fired in May 2004, he claims, for calling attention to the problems, and nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) is calling for a criminal investigation of the company. Testimony and supporting documents outlined by Wilson document what EIP is calling "massive violations" of the Clean Air Act at three large AEP power plants--Welsh, Pirkey and Knox-Lee--all of which are in east Texas. The charges included allegedly repeatedly and illegally burning chemical waste in utility boilers, violating emission limits for smog forming chemicals, particulate matter and carbon monoxide, and failing to satisfy the New Source Review rules adopted by the Bush Administration.

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"I was told that under the recently passed Sarbanes-Oxley law, I had to report any evidence of misconduct at the company that could be of material importance to shareholders," said Wilson. "Obviously, the prospect of civil, regulatory or even criminal action arising from Clean Air Act violations fell under that heading."

Wilson said he was just doing his job, but when he reported his concerns, which were fully documented, to the company's ethics division, he was fired. "I wasn't the party that did something wrong here. AEP was the one I saw breaking the law over and over again," Wilson claimed.

AEP says that a review of claims made by Wilson found that, in many instances, no violations had occurred and, for the remaining claims, the company responded quickly and properly reported the incident.

"Many of these same claims were made internally by Mr. Wilson earlier this year," said Michael G. Morris, AEP chairman, president and CEO. "We take our environmental compliance responsibilities very seriously, so claims like this are also taken seriously. …

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