To fight or not to fight …that is the question

In my last post, I noted the efforts by industry to work with government to forge a solution to the global warming problem. It dawned on me later today that I have a compelling story from my previous life to tell. 

I joined StarKist Seafood in 1989 as its one and only corporate environmental manager. The H.J. Heinz Company owned StarKist at that time. The day after I joined the company, I found out that EPA’s Region 2 (New York) and Region 9 (California) had issued orders to the company to comply with its wastewater discharge permit conditions at its tuna canneries in Puerto Rico and American Samoa – the world’s two largest tuna canneries at that time.

Tuna wastes are very high in organics and nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen). The wastes comes mainly from the thawing of frozen tuna and they contain high concentrations of blood an dfat. These wastes were discharged into the Caribbean Sea in Puerto Rico and Pago Pago Harbor in American Samoa after primary treatment. EPA in both regions – particularly Region 9 –  were very concerned about entrophication of the receiving waters.

pago pago harborRegion 9 came to StarKist and strongly suggested that the company construct a 2-mile long pipeline in the Pago Pago Harbor in order to carry the tuna waste water to a much deeper portion of the harbor to allow for diffusion and dilution.

The  General Manager at StarKist -prior to my joining – was a British engineer who believed that the company should always fight with EPA and delay the process for as long as possible. His philosophy was that for every year delayed, the company would save so much money by avoiding the expenditure. He came up with all kinds of reasons for not extending the outfall: (1) It was too costly. (2) It would cost the company $7 million and the company simply could not afford it. (3) The company might have to close the plant in Samoa and throw thousands of people out of work on the small island.

While he was making such argument to EPA, the CEO of Heinz was flying around the world in his opulent private corporate jet. The CEO at that time was also ranked as the highest paid CEO in America – pulling in over $60 million a year.

So it was not hard to understand why EPA was not buying this British engineer’s financial hardship case. EPA finally issued Administrative Orders to StarKist and threatened to take the company to court to compell its compliance.

The British engineer was fired by his boss for talking back to him (in an unrelated case) just before I joined the company.

Faced with EPA’s enforcement order, I contacted several pipeline contractors in America and New Zealand and obtained bids on constructing a 2 mile long pipeline to carry our tuna waste away from the shallow harbor. The cost turned out not to be $7 million as claimed. It was more like $1.5 million. I also hired a competent ocean engineering firm in Hawaii and conducted an engineering feasibility study that demonstrated that the pipeline would meet EPA’s objectives.

With this information, I went to our Vice President of Operations and told him that he had two options: He could continue to fight with EPA and delay the construction and face severe penalties from EPA and a court-ordered construction project that would be much more expensive than $1.5 million. Or we could go ahead and build the pipeline and begin to comply with the law of the land.

Much to his credit, the Vice President went along and we began construction of the outfall.  We completed the pipeline 3 months ahead of EPA’s schedule despite losing two weeks of construction time due to a typhoon.

The moral of this story is that we did not let EPA dictate the details of the pipeline. We did not fight and try to prolong the inevitable. We simply did it our way but in such a way that met EPA’s objectives.

Everyone was happy at the end.


2 responses to “To fight or not to fight …that is the question

  1. congrats should be handed out to EPA’s local agent, Sheila Weigmann.

    It was her efforts that got the job done.

    You make it sound as if you were the only person interested in the project.

    From Pago Pago,

    John Wasko

  2. John,

    With all due respect, Sheila was one of the many parties involved and interested in the project. But she tried for years without success to get the company to move on the outfall project. I was the one who worked inside the company to make it happen. Pat Young and Norm Lovelace of EPA Region 9 played a much larger role on the government side. You weren’t there.


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