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Swinerton Builders Reaches Agreement to Address Clean Water Act Violations and Offset Environmental Harm at Solar Farm Construction Sites in Alabama, Idaho and Illinois

Jan 17, 2024

Settlement includes 600k to restore Portneuf River near Pocatello, Idaho

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department today announced that Swinerton Builders has agreed to pay a $2.3 million penalty – divided between the United States, Alabama Department of Environmental Management and State of Illinois – to resolve allegations that it violated the Clean Water Act and related state laws during the construction of solar farms in Alabama, Idaho and Illinois.

The company has also agreed to undertake mitigation actions to help restore the Portneuf River in Idaho and to purchase stream credits to improve the watershed surrounding the Alabama site. The states of Alabama and Illinois joined the United States in the settlement.

“Illegal stormwater discharges from construction projects can contaminate municipal drinking water systems and harm aquatic life, which is why EPA, DOJ, and our state partners worked together to hold Swinerton Builders accountable for the company’s violations of the Clean Water Act,” said David M. Uhlmann, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Solar farms are vital to slowing the effects of climate change, but companies building solar farms must comply with environmental protection requirements just as companies must do for any other construction project.”

“This settlement holds Swinerton accountable for its widespread Clean Water Act violations and ensures that nearby communities in Alabama and Idaho will benefit from projects to restore the waterways and enhance recreation,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). “We’re grateful for the work and cooperation of our state partners in helping reach this agreement.”

“My office was pleased to work with the United States Department of Justice to resolve the alleged water pollution violations,” said Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. “Clean water is a critical resource, and I will continue the work to protect Illinois water sources.”

“We are pleased with today’s announced settlement, which holds the builder to task for serious stormwater violations that harmed the watershed and its ecosystem,” said ADEM Director Lance LeFleur. “The settlement not only requires Swinerton to pay civil penalties to both the state and federal government, it also obligates the company to mitigate the environmental damage it caused by taking steps to protect water quality and preserve habitats through the purchase of stream credits. Those credits are an investment that will provide long-term benefits to the watershed.”

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Background

Swinerton is a California-based construction company that operates nationwide. Until 2021, its Swinerton Renewable Energy division was the country’s leading constructor of utility-scale solar farms.

Solar farm construction involves clearing and grading large sections of land, which can lead to significant erosion and major runoff of sediment into waterways if stormwater controls at the site are inadequate. Increased sediment in waterways can injure, suffocate or kill aquatic life, damage aquatic ecosystems and cause significant harm to drinking water treatment systems. To avoid these harms to the environment and public health, parties responsible for construction of solar farms must obtain construction stormwater permits under the Clean Water Act and comply with the terms of those permits. A complaint filed with the settlement alleges that during its construction of solar farms near American Falls, Idaho, Lafayette, Alabama, and Perry and White Counties, Illinois, Swinerton failed to use proper stormwater controls, did not conduct regular site inspections by qualified personnel and did not accurately report and address stormwater issues. At the Alabama and Idaho sites, Swinerton’s actions led to unauthorized discharges of large volumes of sediment-laden stormwater into nearby waterways. The United States previously settled cases against the owners of the four solar farm sites.

 

Settlement Details

To resolve the alleged Clean Water Act violations at these sites, Swinerton will pay a civil penalty of $1,614,600 to the United States, $540,500 to ADEM and $144,900 to the State of Illinois. In addition, Swinerton will fund substantial mitigation projects to redress the excess sediment discharges at the Idaho and Alabama sites. In Idaho, Swinerton will provide $600,000 in funding towards a restoration project on the Portneuf River in nearby Pocatello. The project will capture sediment, reconnect riparian and wetland habitat, and will provide a host of other environmental and recreational benefits. In Alabama, Swinerton will purchase 14,020 stream credits in the surrounding watershed, which will help preserve the watershed to promote healthier water quality and aquatic habitats.

The Justice Department’s Environmental Enforcement Section lodged the consent decree with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. It is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. The consent decree can be viewed on the The consent decree can be viewed on the Justice Department’s website.

 

Contact Information: EPA Press Office ([email protected])

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