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Solar company fined 600K for EPA violation on the Portneuf River

A sign on a door of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
In this Sept. 21, 2017, file photo, a sign on a door of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington. Long-running research projects credited with pivotal discoveries about the harm that pesticides, air pollution and other hazards pose to children are in jeopardy or shutting down because the Environmental Protection Agency will not commit to their continued funding, researchers say.

A construction company will have to pay to restore a river near Pocatello after it failed to comply with federal environmental protection requirements. Swinerton Builders was ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department to pay civil penalties to both the state and the federal government.

The agencies say the California-based solar energy company did not properly control its stormwater discharge, releasing sediment into nearby waterways in violation of the Clean Water Act. They also allege it failed to conduct regular site inspections by qualified personnel and did not report the stormwater issues.

Swinerton will pay $600,000 to restore the riparian and wetland habitat of the Portneuf River, a tributary of the Snake river in South East Idaho, by recapturing the sediment.

Solar farm construction requires clearing large areas of land which can lead to significant erosion. Sediments can also kill aquatic life and damage drinking water systems.

“Solar farms are vital to slowing the effects of climate change, but companies building solar farms must comply with environmental protection requirements just as companies must do for any other construction project,” said Assistant Administrator David M. Uhlmann of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in the U.S. Department of Justice.

The company must pay a total fine of $2.3 million, including for stormwater violations in Alabama and Illinois. The owners of the solar farm sites were previously fined for similar violations in 2022.

As the Canyon County reporter, I cover the Latina/o/x communities and agricultural hub of the Treasure Valley. I’m super invested in local journalism and social equity, and very grateful to be working in Idaho.

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