R.M. Packer Co. Fined for Pollution

By JULIA WELLS

The Environmental Protection Agency announced this week that it has reached an agreement with R.M. Packer Co. for fines and compliance after the company violated the Clean Air Act by releasing literally tons of harmful pollutants into the air, both in Vineyard Haven and in New Bedford.

The Packer company will now spend $300,000 to install emissions control equipment at its Vineyard Haven terminal, and the company will pay a penalty of $200,000 to the EPA over the next three years.

Owned by Ralph Packer, the 24-year-old gas and oil concern is headquartered in Vineyard Haven. Mr. Packer operates a wholesale and retail gasoline, home heating oil and aviation fuel business on the Vineyard. In New Bedford he operates a marine transport facility for petroleum products. The company ships some four to five millions gallons of gasoline to the Vineyard every year.

The company was cited by the EPA 11 months ago for a long list of violations of the Clean Air Act, some dating back for years. The EPA concluded that the Packer company had dumped some 27 tons of volatile organic compounds into the air on the Vineyard and in New Bedford because the company had not installed the proper equipment - required under state and federal law - to capture gasoline vapors.

After an investigation that went on for two years, the EPA also concluded that the Packer company had failed to conduct annual pressure and vacuum testing on gasoline delivery trucks as required by law, and that the company had failed to maintain complete records of loading activities at the New Bedford terminal.

The EPA, which sent the company a formal notice of violation in May of 2001, announced the settlement agreement this week.

"We are very happy about obtaining the pollution controls - that was always the goal of this action, and Mr. Packer through his attorney has been very cooperative," said Gregory Dain, a senior enforcement attorney at the EPA regional office in Boston.

Mr. Packer could not be reached for comment. When he received the notice of violation last year, he said he had been under the impression that Dukes County was exempt from the provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Mr. Dain said since the notice of violation, the Packer company has installed the proper pollution control equipment in New Bedford, and he said the company has also corrected the problems with the delivery trucks, in some instances by taking the trucks off the road.

The emission control system that will be installed in Vineyard Haven is a carbon-bed system that prevents fuel vapor from polluting the air at the terminal.

The $200,000 fine is not considered onerous by EPA standards. Mr. Dain said the amount of the penalty was determined after EPA financial experts analyzed the Packer company financial records and determined that the fine was a reasonable amount. "The EPA does not relish putting companies out of business, and our analysis showed that this was something the company could handle," he said.

The notice of violation sent to the Packer company last year was a first step in a process that typically leads to a court complaint.

Mr. Dain said because of Mr. Packer's cooperation, the EPA was able to avoid a costly court process. He said the complaint and the settlement agreement now will be filed at the same time, bringing the entire matter to a close.

"This was all very successful, really. Because Mr. Packer expressed a willingness to cooperate, we didn't follow through with the complaint - it saves everybody resources and the complaint and settlement are done in one step," Mr. Dain said.

Volatile organic compounds, known in government parlance as VOCs, interact in the presence of sunlight with oxides of nitrogen, creating ground level ozone pollution, or smog. Children, adults who are active outdoors, and people with respiratory diseases like asthma are especially sensitive to smog.

The federal Clean Air Act took effect in 1993. The EPA began publishing smog alerts for the New England states in the spring of last year.