Ekotek officials violated several environmental laws in the mid-'80s because the company was in financial trouble and officials cut corners to make money, according to testimony Monday by a former Ekotek official.
Ekotek co-owner Steven F. Miller spent several hours on the stand Friday and Monday testifying against his former business partner, Steven M. Self.Self and Miller repeatedly "violated" the terms of their waste permits at the Ekotek site in 1986 and 1987 because they were under "incredible economic pressure," Miller testified Monday morning.
"We had very noble aspirations, but the pressure and reality ground us down. Our attitudes deteriorated. The illegalities increased."
He said those illegalities included dumping water contaminated with oil and grease into the Salt Lake City sewer system, pouring acidic sludge on the ground at Ekotek, burning chemical solvents and illegally receiving and storing hazardous waste.
Miller testified Monday that he and Self not only dumped Ekotek's contaminated water in the city's sewer system, they trucked in contaminated water from California and illegally dumped it into the system as well.
A federal grand jury indicted Miller and Self in 1990 for crimes against the environment - at the time, the largest case of its kind. Miller pleaded guilty to the three felony charges against him. He faces up to 13 years in prison and fines up to $750,000.
Miller agreed to testify against Self after prosecutors agreed not to use Miller's testimony against him at his sentencing.
Miller and Self created Ekotek in 1981, intending to refine used oil and resell it.
When the officials couldn't make enough money cleaning dirty oil, they began to process a variety of waste products at the site.
Several California companies sent waste - both hazardous and non-hazardous - to Ekotek to be processed during the mid-'80s.
When Ekotek couldn't properly handle the volume and type of waste it received, federal prosecutors say company officials began illegally disposing of the waste.
Self has been charged with 11 felony violations of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Self and Miller deliberately hid their violations from local and federal officials, according to testimony offered during the 11-day trial.
Miller, who holds a doctorate in biochemistry from University of California, Berkeley, told Self they could disguise the illegal burning of chemicals by telling site visitors that the chemicals were being burned for energy recovery, according to testimony in court Monday.
Ekotek's air permit for burning restricted the company to burning only refinery distillate.
Miller and Self also falsified Ekotek records to make it appear that the waste they were burning was refinery distillate when it was not, Miller testified.
Miller testified that he and Self argued frequently about the increasing volume of waste being shipped to the site.
Miller testified that he was worried that Ekotek was accepting much more waste than the company could process.
Self's attorney, Christopher Harris, challenged that claim. Harris noted that in 1987, Ekotek obtained a railroad car to ship excess waste to other facilities. If Miller had been worried about the volume of waste at Ekotek, he could have ordered the excess waste put into the railroad car and shipped to other sites, Harris said. But he did not.
Harris also said that Self relied on Miller's chemical expertise when he made waste decisions at Ekotek.
However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Campbell focused the blame back on Self by stressing Self's extensive business experience in gasoline retailing.
The trial under way in U.S. District Court is Utah's first federal prosecution of criminal charges involving violation of environmental law.