By Ben Fox Rubin
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) pleaded guilty and agreed to pay more than $81 million in criminal and other fines for violating environmental regulations by illegally handling and dumping hazardous waste at its retail stores across the U.S., the Justice Department said.
Results from the three criminal cases brought by the Justice Department, as well as a related civil case filed by the Environmental Protection Agency, come after previous claims brought by the states of California and Missouri for the same conduct.
According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, didn't have a program in place and failed to train its employees on proper hazardous-waste management and disposal practices at the store level, the Justice Department said. As a result, hazardous wastes were either discarded improperly at the store level--including being put into municipal trash bins or poured into the local sewer system--or they were improperly transported without proper safety documentation.
Wal-Mart pleaded guilty Tuesday morning in San Francisco to six misdemeanor counts of negligently violating the Clean Water Act. The six criminal charges were filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In the third criminal case resolved Tuesday, Wal-Mart pleaded guilty in the Western District of Missouri to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA, by failing to properly handle pesticides.
In addition to the penalties, Wal-Mart is required to implement a comprehensive, nationwide environmental compliance agreement to manage hazardous waste generated at its stores, the Justice Department said.
Wal-Mart said Tuesday the incidents the charges stemmed from occurred years ago and have already been remedied. Since the California and Missouri state cases, Wal-Mart said it designed and implemented comprehensive environmental programs that remain in place.
"We are pleased that this resolves all of these issues raised by the government," said Phyllis Harris, senior vice president and chief compliance officer at Wal-Mart U.S.
The company said the payments won't impact the company's results of operations for the second quarter, and won't be material to the company's financial position.
Shares closed Tuesday at $77.32 and were unchanged after hours.
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