For Polluting the Air, Maricopa County Slaps Circle K With Video Job, Small Fine

For Polluting the Air, Maricopa County Slaps Circle K With Video Job, Small FineEXPAND
Elizabeth Whitman

Circle K gas stations, owned by Canadian conglomerate Alimentation Couche-Tard, don't necessarily have more air-quality violations than other companies that dispense gasoline in metro Phoenix.

But the big company, which has some 350 gas stations in Maricopa County, was regularly neglecting to clean up after itself. And the county's air-quality department had long lacked the money it needed to produce a training video.

So, after finding that 25 Circle K stations across the county were violating air-quality regulations last year, the department slapped the global company, ever so gently, with a punishment: Pay a fine of about $17,000, and produce a video on how not to violate those standards.

"Our main goal isn't to fine folks," said Bob Huhn, spokesperson for the department. "We'd rather educate them so that they're in compliance."

Huhn said that the video Circle K produced was something the department wanted to do in-house but didn't have the finances to do.

A representative for Circle K didn't return a call seeking comment.

The most common violation had to do with Circle K's spill buckets, which are supposed to catch gasoline that drips when a fill truck loads a gas station's underground storage tank. Spill buckets are supposed to be clean and free of debris, so that excess gasoline will drain back into the tank.

Over the past year, county inspectors found debris in those spill buckets like leaves, dirt, sponges, and random trash. When that junk absorbs gasoline, the liquid doesn't drain. Instead, the moist mass of debris exudes vapors that foul the air, contributing to ozone pollution.

Supervisors at the Maricopa County Air Quality Department say the impact on air pollution from these buckets is not significant because they contain only small amounts of gasoline. They also say it's a common problem with gas stations.

Still, it's on Circle K to take care of these small infractions when they happen — and Maricopa County's notoriously bad air doesn't need any more pollution, no matter how little.

"They're the ones that are supposed to be making sure that the tanker trucks are doing what they're supposed to be doing, and also cleaning up the messes afterward," said Bryan Mandalfino, assistant division manager at the Air Quality Department, referring to Circle K.

Instead of pursuing civil or criminal remedies for the violations, the department opted to work out a settlement with the company, settlement records show. Circle K didn't have to admit to the violations, and it had to participate in educational activities and training sessions.

The settlement included a penalty of $72,104, from which Circle K was allowed to subtract the $54,421 it spent on producing "Training Video: Forecourt and Environmental Inspection.

In the end, Circle K, whose parent company last year raked in gross profits of more than $8 billion, owed the county $17,683.

How this video cost more than a few thousand bucks to produce isn't clear. It hasn't gone viral since being uploaded to YouTube on March 13: As of Saturday, it had five views, three of which were from Phoenix New Times.

But gas-station managers now have an easy, online reference to ensure their spill buckets aren't full of muck and reeking gas fumes.

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