California sues truck stop chain for UST violations

The state of California is suing Ohio-based TravelCenters of America, LLC, the owner and operator of several truck stops throughout the state, claiming the company will not comply with California’s underground storage tank regulations.

“TravelCenters of America has knowingly and repeatedly disregarded California’s underground fuel storage laws for years,” attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. told the Central Valley Business Times.

According to the CVBT, Riverside, California, District Attorney Rod Pacheco filed a similar suit against TravelCenters in July of last year, alleging the company violated multiple state regulations governing the possession of underground storage tanks, which almost always store fuel and other hazardous substances. Whereas the Riverside lawsuit focused on TravelCenters in that county, the latest lawsuit names TravelCenter’s facilities statewide.

Responding to the Riverside County lawsuit last year, TravelCenters called the laws unconstitutional. The company also claimed that federal laws pre-empted California’s laws, and that the state’s regulations violate due process.

According to the CVBT, the Riverside Department of Environmental Health periodically inspected USTs at the TravelCenters facility in Riverside County over a number of years. The officials found numerous violations of California’s underground storage tank laws, yet the company ignored repeated warnings to fix most of the problems.

California has some of the strictest environmental protection standards in the country, which often exceed those established by the federal government. While critics say that California’s laws are too tough on big business, the truth is that stricter regulations compel the automotive, fuel, and other industries to develop better, cleaner technology. Where regulations are too lax, manufacturers often land in court defending their products while people become harmed or killed.

Legal defeats can be extremely costly for defendants, especially if punitive damages are imposed. But money talks. Those costly penalties ultimately persuade big corporations to boost their own standards, which may involve implementing simple and inexpensive modifications or investing in developing entirely new and innovative technologies. As technology evolves and products improve,  the earth benefits. People benefit.

Instead of complying with the same state laws to which other gas stations adhere, TravelCenters now faces paying “the statutory maximum of $25,000 in civil penalties for each day of each violation, which could amount to millions of dollars in penalties,” the CVBT report says.