This Month in Corruption: Power Plant Tech Punished for Equipment Tampering

Friday, June 30, 2017

A recent Massachusetts case involving violations of the federal Clean Air Act serves as a reminder of how dependent we all are upon the honesty and diligence of those responsible for monitoring the purity of the water we drink, the quality of the air we breathe, and the wholesomeness of the  foods we eat and beverages we drink. 

We worry a lot about terrorists. Yet we barely ever give a thought to the guys testing samples at our municipal water plant or operating the pollution controls at the power plant a few towns away -- unknown persons, laboring in obscurity, who can seriously hurt us through negligence and malfeasance. 
The real daily risks we face are more familiar, more ordinary, and closer than we think.

On June 9, U.S. District Court Judge Mark G. Mastroianni sentenced Scott Paterson, age 46, of Manchester, CT, to one year of probation for tampering with environmental monitors while working as an instrument and control technician at the Berkshire Power Plant in Agawam, not far from Springfield.

The Office of Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb of Massachusetts reported that:
  • From 2008 to March, 20111, Paterson, at the direction of senior managers at the plant, tampered with the plant’s Continuous Emissions Monitoring System (CEMS), which measures and records concentrations of regulated pollutants emitted at Berkshire.
  • The purpose of the tampering was to delay repairs and avoid reporting to federal and state regulators that the plant was, at times, releasing certain pollutants, specifically nitrogen oxides, in excess of the plant’s Clean Air Act permit limits.
  • Initially, the tampering involved lowering monitors by a constant rate – approximately .5 parts per million (ppm) – below the known value.  These constant adjustments did not trigger any alarms or warnings and were thus usually maintained in the system through approximately Mid-March of 2011.
  • In the summer of 2009 and 2010, the plant underwent an independent annual audit.  Prior to the audit, Paterson’s supervisor directed him to take out the adjustments in the CEMS monitors and then to reinstate them after the audit.
  • By 2010, this .5 ppm adjustment was not sufficient to allow the plant to run at full power and to comply with the facility’s Clean Air Act permit.  Rather than making necessary repairs, Paterson, again at the direction of his supervisors, lowered the CEMS readings even more to avoid (a) reporting emissions in excess of the hourly limits or (b) hitting warning levels.
In 2015, the Berkshire Power Plant was charged jointly by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office with tampering with its monitoring equipment and falsely reporting data to environmental and energy regulators.

In March, 2017, Berkshire Power Company and Power Plant Management Services, the owners and operators, respectively, of the plant, were ordered to pay $7.25 million in fines, penalties and other payments for their roles in tampering.

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