AT&T to pay $23.8 million to settle California dumping complaint

The company also agreed to implement environmental compliance measures over the next five years

AT&T has agreed to pay US$23.8 million to resolve allegations by the state of California that it illegally disposed of hazardous waste, including electronics, batteries and aerosol cans, by throwing it into dumpsters.

In addition, the company will spend an estimated $28 million over the next five years to implement environmental compliance measures required in the settlement, announced Thursday by California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley.

This is the first enforcement action in California against a telecommunications company for its management of electronic waste, Harris said in a press release.

The settlement, which still must be approved by the Alameda County Superior Court, "marks a great victory for California's ongoing efforts to ensure that hazardous waste is disposed of in a safe, legal and environmentally sustainable manner," O'Malley said in a statement. "Whether a small local business or a huge international company, my office will pursue all necessary legal action against entities that pollute our environment."

The complaint against AT&T should put other businesses on notice about illegal dumping, she said.

AT&T, in a statement, said it takes environmental stewardship seriously. "We've cooperated closely with the state and Alameda County to resolve this issue in a way that is in the best interests of the environment, our customers and all Californians," the company said.

Over a nine-year period, more than 235 AT&T warehouse and dispatch facilities throughout California unlawfully handled and disposed of various hazardous wastes and materials, the two law enforcement agencies and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control alleged. In addition to electronics and batteries, the wastes included some gels, liquids and other items used by AT&T service technicians in delivering telephone, Internet and video services to residential and business customers in California, the agencies alleged.

In 2011, inspectors from the Alameda County District Attorney's Office Environmental Protection Division and investigators from Toxic Substances Control conducted a series of waste inspections of dumpsters belonging to AT&T warehouse and dispatch facilities. The inspections revealed that AT&T was routinely and systematically sending hazardous wastes to local landfills that were not permitted to receive those wastes, the agencies said.

After it was notified of the investigation, AT&T agreed to cooperate and implemented measures to halt the removal of regular trash until it could be inspected, the agencies said.

There are 13 AT&T facilities in Alameda County and all 13 facilities were found to be unlawfully disposing of hazardous waste, the agencies said.

If approved by the court, under the final judgment, AT&T must pay $18.8 million in civil penalties and costs. An additional $3 million will fund supplemental environmental projects in California, and AT&T will pay a minimum of $2 million to enhance its environmental compliance.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags Alameda County District Attorney's Office Environmental Protection Divisionat&tregulationCalifornia Department of Toxic Substances ControlCalifornia Office of the Attorney GenerallegalgovernmentNancy O'MalleyenvironmentAlameda County Superior CourtKamala Harris

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