Bus and Motor Coach Library

The Sharp Edge of EPA Regulations

Author – Brian Niddery (2002)

The recent EPA versus New World Tours incident has certainly provided our industry with the proverbial "wake-up call"!  However, there is a danger that this incident has put the spotlight on one single aspect of EPA regulations, with the effect that it may draw industry attention away from the much larger picture.
The federal Environmental Protection Act - the EPA - casts a very wide net that is not just confined to the dumping of lavatory holding tanks, which was the central issue of the incident in question.  The EPA mandate covers a whole raft of activities that relate to the environment.  Unfortunately many industry people are not familiar with other important aspects of EPA that may affect bus operators.
There is a danger that motorcoach operators having successfully addressed the holding tank dumping issue, may consider the EPA as no longer significant - a non-issue so to speak.  Similarly those who operate other kinds of buses or motorcoaches that do not have lavatories may be of the belief that EPA regulations do not apply to them.

Nothing can be further from the truth.  EPA regulations cover the activities of every bus operation in the nation, as well as bus vehicles licensed outside the United States such as Canada or Mexico, while operating within this country. 

There are also several other federal acts that should be of concern to bus operations in all sectors of the industry.  And no bus fleet is exempt from any of these regulations.  All parties are expected to understand and implement procedures and policies within their respective operation and to ensure that their individual organization conforms to these regulations in a satisfactory manner.

For your convenience we have encapsulated this information in the form of a checklist and a chart that can form some basis or framework on which you may wish to develop or review existing company procedures.
For anyone not yet aware of the precedent-setting court case involving the EPA and New World Tours we briefly summarize the events as we understand them.  This summary will also serve to underline the seriousness of any breach of EPA or similar regulations and the consequences that can be expected.

-  Sometime during 2000, the FBI began monitoring the New World Tours operation at their service facility in Lorton, Virginia.  Why they were monitoring this facility may not be fully understood; however, it is thought that a neighboring tenant or individual in the industrial park had noticed spillage into the storm drainage system, and had probably complained to officials.  Federal officials subsequently laid charges against the company and its co-owner, Mr. Dave Bolen.

-    Early this year, Mr. Bolen entered a guilty plea to one misdemeanor count, and the company to one felony count which involved an incident involving the discharge of a motorcoach's lavatory holding tank into a storm sewer.  This dumping incident which led to the charges was cleaned according to proper procedures within a week of the occurrence at a reported cost of $800.

-    On May 17th the presiding federal judge, Leonie M. Brinkema, sentenced Mr. Bolen to serve a two-year term of supervised probation starting with six-months of home-based electronic monitoring.  Bolen was also fined $500.  New World Tours was ordered to pay a fine of $50,000 and endure a one-year probation period in connection with the same environmental pollution charges.

It should be noted that the government's determined pursuit of criminal penalties for the environmental violations in this case is believed to be the first such prosecution in the motorcoach industry.  Federal Judge Leonie M. Brinkema acknowledged that the sentences represent a direct message that the government would not go lightly on other companies who don't learn from New World's punishment. 

The Judge said Bolen's willingness to cooperate in an industry outreach program that might deter others from such environmental offenses, and the fact that his was a crime of "negligence" rather than intent, were the primary reasons that he was not being sentenced to time in jail.

The Judge acknowledged that probation was being imposed instead of jail time, in part, because Bolen's was a crime of negligence rather than one of intent.  But she said far more!  Repeaters will not fare well.
Judge Brinkema said she was "impressed" with the coverage, which Bolen's case has been afforded and that she was convinced that Dave Bolen's willingness to share his story with others would help them avoid similar crimes. 

If it doesn't though, she made it crystal clear that "the government is serious" about stopping the environmental crimes by operators in their handling of motorcoach wastes. 

That means lavatory wastes, but it could also mean oil, antifreeze, cleaning fluids or a host of other substances.  The court reminded those in attendance however, that Bolen was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, rather than a felony; and that if the government had pursued prosecution at the maximum allowable levels, his sentence could have been a very long stay in jail. 

There was a very direct inference that the next coach company found guilty of environmental crimes will not have the "Get out of jail" card available to them.  Someone could pay a very heavy price indeed!

Somewhere in America right now there could be a well-meaning driver, working for a trusting, nice-guy manager who's done no more than issue verbal warnings, pulling the handle on a lavatory tank of a coach over a ditch along a country road.  That driver doesn't know that the industry's one and only "Get out of jail" card has been used.  He doesn't know that both he and his manager and, or the owner of that coach company could spend real time in a real prison.  It's time that every single coach company develops a written policy, and effectively incorporate it into their operation.

Mr. Carmen Daecher, of Daecher Consulting Group ( strongly advises that it is critically important that as a bus operator, you take the necessary time to develop a written set of procedures and policies that governs the conduct and operation of your bus fleet, and that fully complies with the requirements set under EPA and OSHA regulations.

Daecher goes on to say that a comprehensive self-audit should be conducted at least semi-annually or whenever there is a change in facility coordinators.  The value of an audit is only as good as the person conducting it and the checklist or procedure used.  A good audit will indicate areas that may not be in compliance or which may require further evaluation or corrective action.

Environmental and workplace audits are important tools.  They should be included in your organization's tool chest of management solutions. If you have let your programs slip regarding environmental and employee health and safety, fix them.  And if you don't have such programs, build them.  Complying with necessary environmental and workplace laws not only gives you piece of mind, but creates the type of environment within which your employees and others can perform their work safely and in good health. As we have seen, it could also save you from receiving a special guest invitation to a federal institution.