On Tap For Yuengling, Clean Water Act Penalties

Wastewater disposal for large breweries, mid-sized establishments, and even small craft brewers, remains a significant environmental and economic challenge. Recently, the oldest brewery in America received an unpleasant reminder of this fact.

D.G. Yuengling and Sons, Inc. was issued a complaint from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alleging that Yuengling violated its discharge permit standards at least 141 times between 2008 and 2015. Yuengling holds an Industrial User (IU) permit that allows it to discharge wastewater to the publically owned treatment works (POTW), but only after it treats its discharge to limits set in its permit. Treatment of wastewater before discharge is known as, “pretreatment.” For brewers like Yuengling, pretreatment largely involves balancing pH levels and minimizing Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) (a measure of how easy it is for microorganism at the POTW to breakdown organic materials) and Total Suspended Solids (TSS) (a measure of how much particulate material is in wastewater). High levels of BOD and TSS make it difficult for the microorganism at the POTW to do its job of breaking down organic matter and sludge. The remnants from the brewing process such as yeast, sugars, and proteins all elevate both BOD and TSS.

In addition to violations of its pretreatment standards, Yuengling allegedly failed to sample, test, and submit monitoring reports to local and federal officials; the easiest part of the compliance process and yet, one of the most commonly violated. All said, the consent decree entered into by Yuengling, EPA, and the U.S. Department of Justice requires the brewer to pay a civil penalty of $2.8 million and spend approximately $7 million implementing an environmental management system (EMS) aimed at keeping it in compliance with water laws going forward. Undoubtedly, a significant outlay even for a brewer the size of Yuengling.

There are many takeaways from Yuengling’s violations. Perhaps the two most important are as follows: First, if you have a permit, take the requirements seriously and make sure you have trained employees who are responsible for compliance with the permit. In addition to big financial penalties, the Clean Water Act has criminal provisions that EPA and DOJ are not shy about using when violators knowingly ignore environmental standards. Next, if your process wastewater is not currently regulated (the POTW has determined no pretreatment is necessary or you have yet to contact the POTW), you should contact the POTW and consider having the discharge from your facility confidentially tested. This will provide you with a baseline so that you can begin considering whether implementing some form of pretreatment is a prudent step to take before you get a knock on your door or a letter in the mail from a local, state, or federal agency. Receiving publicity for an eco-friendly improvement, such as a voluntary pretreatment system, is always a welcomed alternative to seeing your name in headlines because of an environmental violation.

If you have questions concerning confidential wastewater testing, wastewater laws and regulations, or other environment-related matters, please contact Mat Todaro or Karen Mignone in Verrill Dana’s Environmental Department.