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Washington County-Based Rockwater Northeast to Pay $2 Million for Clean Air Act Violations

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced recently that two companies have entered a plea agreement that calls for a combined $4.3 million in penalties for their involvement in Clean Air Act violations.

One of those firms is local: Rockwater Northeast is headquartered in Washington County. The Marcellus Shale water hauling firm agreed to plead guilty to tampering with emissions-control devices on 31 of its heavy-duty diesel vehicles and pay a $2 million fine.

According to court documents, Rockwater employees disabled emissions-control devices on 31 of its diesel trucks using aftermarket devices between Aug. 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014.

And that’s not all.

“Rockwater Northeast also is alleged to have caused the trucks to pass annual vehicle safety inspections by the Department of Transportation (DOT), despite the modified emissions systems,” prosecutors said in a press release.

Separately, Select Energy Services, Inc., a Texas-based company and the successor to Rockwater Energy Solutions, Inc., entered a three-year non-prosecution agreement resolving Clean Air Act violations for modified emissions systems on 29 additional heavy-duty diesel trucks that were owned by Rockwater Energy Solutions. The company will pay a $2.3 million fine.

Vehicle owners sometimes tamper with or disable emissions-control devices because they believe they cause their vehicle to lose horsepower and/or reduce the vehicle’s gas mileage. Whatever the reason it’s a bad idea. Tampering with a vehicle emissions control system is illegal and can negatively affect vehicle performance, void warranties, and contribute to air pollution.  

Six individuals were also prosecuted in connection with this investigation – four of whom are current or former employees of Rockwater Northeast, and two of whom are former third-party vendors of the company.  

“The defendants in this case knowingly and repeatedly installed ‘defeat devices’ to remove emissions controls in dozens of diesel trucks in violation of the Clean Air Act,” said Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Special Agent in Charge Jennifer Lynn of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Pennsylvania. “

The damage done? Tons of excess nitrous oxide and particulate matter were released into the air from those trucks during that time period. For those who might be unfamiliar: Breathing in nitrous oxide can cause a host of health impacts such as dizziness, unconsciousness, and even death. Long-term exposure can lead to infertility. Particulate matter is associated with respiratory and cardiovascular problems, cancer and even death. 

You can read more about what was alleged in U.S. District Court here. You can read the entire plea agreement here

Editor’s Note: This is one of several cases regarding diesel emissions defeat device cases over the past few years.  You can read about four such cases we’ve noticed over the past 12 months here, here, here, and here.

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