AT&T Settles Environmental Protection Case for Nearly $6 Million

By the District Attorney of Santa Barbara County

District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley announced today that her Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit, as part of a statewide team of prosecutors, settled a civil action against AT&T concerning hazardous-materials violations in Santa Barbara County and across the state.  The $5.9 million settlement is the largest ever awarded statewide for this type of environmental violation.

The case centered around the telecommunication company’s failure to report hazardous materials (batteries) at cell-phone towers and other facilities to the California Environmental Reporting System (CERS).  Reporting the presence of hazardous materials is mandated by law as part of a business’s requirement to submit a Hazardous Materials Business Plan to CERS.  The batteries in question were used to operate emergency generators at more than 3,200 sites across the state of California.  Although the People had no evidence of damage to the environment at any of these sites, AT&T is still liable for failing to report the presence of the hazardous materials.

California businesses which handle 55 gallons, 200 cubic feet, or 500 pounds of hazardous materials must submit a Hazardous Materials Business Plan to CERS.  The location, type, quantity, and health risk of the materials must be reported.  That information is then shared with firefighters, health officials, public safety offices, and regulatory agencies, which in turn is crucial to protect the public, first responders, and the environment.

To its credit, AT&T self-reported the violations and cooperated with statewide investigations including those conducted by the Santa Barbara County Certified Unified Program Agency and the District Attorney’s Office.

District Attorney Dudley said, “Having a complete understanding about the presence of hazardous materials is a vital aspect of public safety and emergency preparation.  Whether handled by a small business or a large corporation these materials can present great danger, and the law must be equally enforced to protect us all.”       

On November 14, 2022, a Stipulated Final Judgment and Injunction was entered to resolve the case.  The Judgment includes the following provisions:

  • $5,650,000 in civil penalties.
    • $613,479.16 to Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office
    • $110,625.00 to Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services
  • $250,000 as a Supplemental Environmental Project to the CUPA Forum Environmental Protection Trust Fund.
  • Injunction requiring the defendants to comply with environmental laws and regulations.

Written by Anonymous

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  1. Mega corporations don’t care about skirting the law and should be held accountable, but really just get a slap on the wrist like here. Fines like this though are just the cost of doing business for these corporations, Wall Street does this everyday – violates SEC trading rules to the detriment of retail investors, pays a couple million in fines, profits in the billions. A drop in the bucket to the largest criminal fine in our history, a whopping $1.2 BILLION, for a felony violation with the intent to defraud and mislead including bribes/kickbacks, the company, none other than…. Pfizer! But that was like 12 years ago, they’ve totally changed, top to bottom, and have our full unquestioning trust now to rush new medicines to market and conduct their own safety / efficacy trials….

  2. If the batteries used to operate 3200 generators which are spread across the state are enough of a hazard to warrant millions of dollars in penalties, maybe we need to rethink this proposal to build the world’s largest battery plant consisting of 22 acres worth of lithium batteries in morro bay right by the ocean.

    • Chip, its not about the actual hazard, its just some clerical paperwork that they can use as an excuse to fine/sue/etc in the name of some feel good reasoning that people will eat up(see most comments here). Can anyone explain why we turn a blind eye to gross pollution in our local water ways, but then praise actions like a fine for not reporting a battery? One is actually real and causing real damage, and the other is hypothetical. I’d love to this energy and enthusiasm across the board.

    • Well wait a minute here. We’re they fined because 3200 batteries combined exceeded the 500 pound cut-off, or because each battery would have exceeded the 500 pound threshold on its own? In other words, if a small business owned one of the 3200 generators in question, would they even have to file this paperwork?

    • Of course not. This was all about the Benjamins Chip. Not mentioned in the article is the number of small innovative critical infrastructure support equipment companies that have left Santa Barbara county over the past few decades. Taking great jobs and relatively high tax revenue streams with them. In the cases I know about paperwork storms and raging environmental bureaucracy were key factors in the decision to move away.

    • You make a good point JAK. I suspect a lot of small businesses are unknowingly violating this law and many others in california. All it would take is a few battery backups for the computers and servers in a small law office, for example, and that would constitute a failure to file a hazardous materials business plan. Or perhaps buying a Tesla for the business and failing file with CERS would be enough to constitute a violation and trigger some penalties. The problem is there are so many rules and CA changes them so frequently. I think many people are reluctant to take the risk of running a business in california, especially when most other states offer simpler and more consistent regulation, lower taxes, and dramatically lower costs for everything from rent to utilities and fuel. I suspect california will lose a lot more businesses as the recession deepens.

  3. Not even a blip on ATT finances.
    Fallow the money.
    Check out the $ the county gets for the DA office
    Cell towers aren’t going away.
    Someone will be awarded a big contract to replace them with Lithium ion or what ever the tech is when it finally gets done…
    Where does the money go?
    What happens to the rest of the money?
    Good Q.

  4. Telcos since the 1980s have used deep cycle batteries to backup their remote cabinets, fiber nodes, and cell towers and there is not one Firefighter who does not know this.
    This is just another shakedown by the State and the County to bring in revenue without having to tax its citizens.
    The PR wonks from the State or County will prattle on about public safety and think of the children, but reality is they have lost their rational minds. In a similar vein is the Prop 65 – Cancer Causing Chemical warning BS we push in California. My Field Techs have to inform each customer not to chew on their TV remote controls because plastic and electronics contains possible carcinogens. We do the opposite – we encourage the dummies to lick away in hopes of thinning the herd.
    If the State could figure out a way to put a Prop 65 Cancer warning label on the Sun – they would probably do that too.
    I wouldn’t be surprised.

    • You are absolutely correct, and not only batteries but backup power systems of every type are ubiquitous at telecom facilities and infrastructure nodes. Batteries, generators, solar panels, etc etc.
      In many cases these batteries are not only allowed but required by law. A good thing too. Without all this “hazardous material” there would be no telecommunications system during power failures. In other words in some critical areas no mobile phones, no internet, no 911, and minimal (at best) landline services during the next fire/ mudslide/mandated blackout/ pick your own personal favorite emergency.
      I noted no actual environmental issues mentioned in the article, just issues with the timing of paperwork. Pitiful waste of government and corporate resources.

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