An Environmental Protection Agency website lists Rice University as in violation of the Clean Air Act for the last 12 quarters and the Safe Drinking Water Act from October 2013 to June 2014.
Hugh Ton-That, director of plant operations and university engineer, said the violations are a result of administrative errors.
“We did have a violation but it’s not because we’re not doing our job,” Ton-That said.
According to Ton-That, Rice’s central plant operates under Title V of the Clean Air Act, which requires Rice to submit a Permit Compliance Certification to the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality twice a year.
Ton-That said Rice was supposed to renew the PCC in January 2011, but TCEQ did not send the permit until July 2011, leading Ton-That to believe the permit was not due to TCEQ for an additional six months. Ton-That submitted the permit to TCEQ in January 2012 along with two letters seeking clarification about the deadline for the permit. When TCEQ failed to reply, Ton-That and his team continued to submit the PCC in January for 2013 and 2014, unaware the deadline was in July of each year.
Ton-That said he had no contact with TCEQ until 2013, when the Commission placed Rice in violation of the CAA and fined the plant for the three years it missed the deadline.
While the EPA website reports Rice has amassed $46,800 in penalties as a result of CAA violations, Senior Director of News and Media Relations BJ Almond said the fines paid by Rice for the three years amounted to about $12,000.
“If I had been fined that much, I’d probably be out of Rice a long time ago,” Ton-That said.
The EPA website also shows high-profile violations of the CAA beginning in quarter two which started Oct. 1, 2013 and occurring as recently as quarter twelve, which began on Oct. 1, 2016 and ends Dec. 31, 2016. In response, Ton-That said Rice received a letter from the TCEQ in February stating it is in compliance with air quality standards as of January 2016.
According to Ton-That, the SDWA violations also arose because Rice was unaware of the TCEQ’s revised procedures. In 2013, TCEQ stopped sending Rice kits to conduct the Lead Copper Report, which is due once every three years and required Rice to hire a third party to conduct tests. Ton-That said he thought the third party would send the LCR report to TCEQ and did not realize this was the responsibility of the plant. When he received a letter of violation, he sent the report immediately. The EPA cited Rice in violation of the SDWA but Rice was not fined.
As a result of the violations, Ton-That attends TCEQ seminars on an annual basis to stay up to date on procedures and has worked with the Director of Compliance Ken Liddle to create a compliance program.
“We have a schedule when [reports are] due, so we just follow the schedule address all the compliances,” Ton-That said.