Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reached a $1.375 million settlement with New Cingular Wireless, resolving the company's self-disclosed violations of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act ("EPCRA"). This settlement marks the continuation of EPA's rigorous facility compliance enforcement initiative targeting companies in the telecommunications industry. Despite many years of EPA enforcement, telecommunications companies often are unaware of their environmental regulatory compliance risks, which sometimes are dismissed as a concern of traditional manufacturing industries. However, as the New Cingular Wireless settlement demonstrates, the regulations apply equally, and the penalties for non-compliance can be high. Telecommunications companies are subject to various requirements under EPCRA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

  • EPCRA requires companies to notify state and local planning and emergency response authorities, and local fire departments, of the presence of certain chemicals at their facilities. These requirements can be triggered by telecommunications operations involving sulfuric acid and lead-acid batteries, as well as diesel, lead, halon, and propane.  
  • Under the Clean Air Act (“CAA”), states may require a permit before construction of any source of pollution, such as for generators at telecommunications facilities. The CAA also regulates the use of various refrigerants that may be used in air conditioning units used to cool telecommunications equipment.  
  • The Clean Water Act ("CWA") requires companies that store oil or petroleum to prepare and keep updated written Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure plans. Telecommunications facilities with oil storage tanks for use in back-up generators or for vehicle fueling may require an SPCC plan. 
  • The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act ("RCRA") requires generators of hazardous waste to identify and manage the waste properly. Telecommunications operations may involve the handling of waste batteries and fluorescent lamps, which are subject to "universal waste" storage and labeling requirements, and may generate other wastes that qualify as hazardous under EPA regulations.

Navigating these obligations can be complex. The EPA encourages industry self-evaluation and correction through its Audit Policy, which provides incentives, in the form of reduced penalties (often substantially), for companies that voluntarily disclose and correct violations. To learn more about this issue, please click here to read the complete Kelley Drye Client Advisory.