Facebook Twitter

UTAH WASTE PANEL KICKS PRESS OUT OF NEGOTIATIONS DELTA CALLS FINES AGAINST IT UNJUSTIFIED

SHARE UTAH WASTE PANEL KICKS PRESS OUT OF NEGOTIATIONS DELTA CALLS FINES AGAINST IT UNJUSTIFIED

The Utah Solid and Hazardous Waste Committee kicked members of the public and media out of a negotiation session Friday attempting to resolve alleged environmental violations by Delta Air Lines.

The dispute involves seven alleged violations last January by Atlanta-based Delta at the Salt Lake International Airport, including improper storage of 64 drums of spent crankcase oil mixed with a hazardous degreasing solvent.Delta officials have acknowledged the violations and say they immediately corrected the problems. But spokesman Fred Rollins said the recommended fines, which state officials said could be up to a maximum $70,000, were unjustified.

"We really have not run into the excessive fine aspect (in other states) we have seen in Utah," said Rollins.

"We are very environmentally conscious," said David Hesterlee, Delta's occupational-environmental safety and compliance manager. "There is a possibility we will go ahead and pay the penalty, but we wanted to explore every possible avenue of reduction."

The state committee voted unanimously to go into a closed-door session with Delta officials despite protests by reporters and a representative of the Utah chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Fred Nelson, assistant Utah attorney general assigned to the committee, said the discussion was covered under an exception in the Utah law requiring government agencies to hold open meetings.

State agencies can legally close their meetings for secret "strategy sessions" regarding "litigation."

A lawsuit had not been filed in the Delta dispute, Nelson acknow-ledged. But he said the negotiations were an attempt to settle the matter before it got to court, and thus involved litigation.

Committee Chairman Joe Urbanik declined to comment on what was discussed behind closed doors, except to say the matter was unresolved.

Utah Environmental Health Director Ken Alkema, a committee member, said the Delta dispute had been referred to the Attorney General for possible legal action. But he said attorneys will "continue to negotiate."

Alkema said it was the second time he was aware of the committee going into closed session for negotiations with an alleged hazardous waste regulation violator. But he said other state environmental panels have done so more frequently.

"It's a little uncomfortable for all of us," Alkema said. "But we still need to attempt a settlement."

The state alleges that inspectors on Jan. 20 found Delta was storing hazardous wastes in excess of the amount and duration allowed, that some containers were leaking and were not properly marked. In addition, the company allegedly failed to properly inspect the containers and did not have required contingency, emergency preparedness and employee training plans.