Judgments Against Bulk

Wis. company's latest legal tussle is over Katrina pricing

Published in CSP Daily News

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager said Friday that a Dane County Circuit Court has entered a judgment against Bulk Petroleum Corp., Mequon, Wis., in the AG's lawsuit against the company for illegally raising the posted prices of gasoline more than once in 24 hours in the days following Hurricane Katrina.

The judgment enjoins the company from violating the law in the future, requires it implement policies and procedures to ensure no future violations occur and imposes forfeitures and penalties for past violations, Lautenschlager [image-nocss] said.

The Department of Justice initiated seven lawsuits against retailers and other distributors of gasoline in May following an investigation initiated by the Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. During that time, complaints from Wisconsin consumers concerning high gasoline prices were reported to the state. The complaints involved numerous violations statewide, some involving price changes made in less than an hour.

Wisconsin law requires that every wholesaler or other entity selling or distributing motor fuel in the state keep posted, in a conspicuous place, the net selling price per gallon of all grades of motor fuel and the amount of all taxes per gallon. Under the law, all prices posted shall remain in effect for at least 24 hours. The law provides up to $200 in forfeitures per violation.

By stipulation of the parties, the court ordered Bulk pay $3,091.08, $1,768.08 of which will be allocated to a Milwaukee County first responder's unit.

The judgment was obtained by the AG's Office of Consumer Protection.

Also last week, Bulk Petroleum was required to pay $142,500 in fines and investigation costs as part of a settlement after exceeding its pollution limits at Plainfield Township and Kentwood gas stations, reported The Grand Rapids Press.

The company allegedly exceeded its daily maximum discharge limits for gasoline-based pollutants, failed to provide a certified operator for its facilities and missed several routine sampling events and equipment inspections, according to a lawsuit filed by Michigan AG Mike Cox on behalf of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The settlement resolves allegations that Bulk Petroleum failed to comply with requirements of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit at a CITGO station in Plainfield Township and another station in Kentwood, where the company treated groundwater contaminated with gasoline and other petroleum products.

The AG's office said Bulk Petroleum has ceased discharges at its two facilities and its discharge permit coverage was terminated in 2004.

Aqua-Tech Consultants, Grand Rapids, Mich., was Bulk Petroleum's environmental consultant at the time of the alleged violations. Aqua-Tech has agreed to pay the state $52,500 in settlement as a result of Bulk Petroleum's third-party claims against the company.

In late September, Michigan AG Mike Cox and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Director Steve Chester announced the filing of a negotiated settlement with Bulk Petroleum. The settlement resolved allegations that Bulk Petroleum failed to comply with the requirements of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit at its Grand Rapids and Kentwood facilities, where the company treated groundwater contaminated with gasoline and other petroleum products.

In a February 2005 lawsuit that Cox filed on behalf of the DEQ, it was alleged that between January and December 2002, Bulk Petroleum failed to abide by its groundwater discharge permit. The lawsuit specifically alleged that Bulk Petroleum exceeded its daily maximum discharge limits for BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes), pH and MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether), that the company failed to provide a certified operator for its facilities and that the company missed several routine sampling events and equipment inspections.

Bulk Petroleum has since ceased discharges at the two facilities, and its permit coverage was terminated in 2004.

The negotiated Consent Judgment was filed with Kent County Circuit Court Judge George Buth. Under the terms of the settlement, Bulk Petroleum agreed to pay $137,500 in civil fines and $5,000 for the State's investigation and enforcement costs. Aqua-Tech Consultants, Bulk Petroleum's environmental consultant at the time of Bulk Petroleum's alleged violations, has also agreed to pay the State $52,500 in settlement as a result of Bulk Petroleum's third-party claims against the company.

In late May 2004, Illinois AG Lisa Madigan said that the owner of a Henry County convenience store was required to pay a civil penalty of $50,000 to resolve a 2002 lawsuit filed after gasoline from a leaking underground storage tank entered the basement of an adjacent duplex and released potentially explosive vapors throughout the first floor living area.

In July 2002, a faulty connecting line at the Quad City Convenient Mart, Alpha, allowed leaking gasoline to travel through the soil and groundwater. The leak not only threatened residents of the duplex, but also caused water pollution and pollution hazards.

As part of the resolution of the case, Bulk Petroleum, owners of the facility, agreed to terms of a consent order requiring it pay the civil penalty and to continue a site investigation plan approved earlier by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).

In 2003, a judge imposed a $1.1 million penalty against the company for its failure to properly assess and clean up gasoline leakage from underground storage tanks at a site in Hartland, Mich. The penalty was the largest ever issued in Michigan against a gas station owner or operator for failure to investigate and remedy contamination.