Politics & Government

Trump seeks state approval to limit pollution liability at SC site

FILE-- Donald Trump demonstrates his tweeting skills in his office at Trump Tower in New York, Sept. 29, 2015. China’s leaders thought they had a solution to the torrent of snark, jibes and condemnation on Twitter: They banned access to it at home. Yet in a twist, China has become the country that the now President-elect seems to enjoy criticizing the most on his open-all-hours Twitter feed. (Josh Haner/The New York Times)
FILE-- Donald Trump demonstrates his tweeting skills in his office at Trump Tower in New York, Sept. 29, 2015. China’s leaders thought they had a solution to the torrent of snark, jibes and condemnation on Twitter: They banned access to it at home. Yet in a twist, China has become the country that the now President-elect seems to enjoy criticizing the most on his open-all-hours Twitter feed. (Josh Haner/The New York Times) NYT

A company owned by President-elect Donald Trump is seeking South Carolina’s approval to limit its liability for pollution at a North Charleston industrial site once affiliated with Trump’s son.

DB Pace Acquisitions, which lists the president-elect as owner, has asked the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control for a voluntary cleanup contract to deal with contamination on the land.

Under the plan, DHEC would not hold DB Pace responsible for pollution caused by past owners of the site. In exchange, the company would test soil and groundwater, and “control” any contamination it might find, DHEC records show.

DB Pace acquired the North Charleston property and applied in March 2016 for the cleanup contract that would limit pollution liability, according to state records. Without voluntary cleanup contracts, companies can be responsible for more extensive, costly cleanups, regardless of whether they caused the pollution.

Titan Atlas, a company of which Trump’s son, Donald Jr., was at one time a representative, had owned the land from 2010 until last year, according to the proposed contract, a 2016 lawsuit against Titan Atlas and The New York Times. DHEC said it has found no evidence that Titan Atlas contributed to pollution at the site.

If DHEC approves the voluntary cleanup contract for DB Pace, it would limit that company’s liability. State regulators, who did not say how taxpayers might be affected, said Tuesday they have not decided whether to approve the contract for a limited site cleanup.

“Currently, the agency is reviewing all relevant information and pertinent facts,’’ DHEC spokeswoman Jennifer Read said in an email. Since determinations regarding voluntary cleanup contracts are legal issues, DHEC will carefully consider all relevant information.’’

Several Democratic state lawmakers said Tuesday they are concerned. Sen. Marlon Kimpson, whose district includes the area in North Charleston, said he worries that industrial pollution will remain on the property and nobody will be held responsible.

He and Rep. Robert Brown, also of Charleston, said any contract that would potentially expose South Carolina taxpayers to pay for the cleanup should be discouraged.

“I’m very concerned, first of all that the site is polluted, but secondly that the state may have to pick up the tab for Donald Trump,’’ Brown said.

At issue is a type of contract commonly called a “Brownfields agreement,’’ a document intended to make abandoned polluted sites suitable for industrial use by allowing a new owner to conduct a limited cleanup.

But companies responsible for past pollution on such industrial land are not supposed to be eligible for voluntary cleanup contracts on the same property, said Gail Rawls Jeter, a former DHEC Brownfields official who now is a consultant.

In this case, key questions are whether DHEC ultimately determines if the DB Pace company has any business ties to Titan Atlas and Donald Trump Jr. – and whether Titan Atlas caused any of the pollution on the site.

Read’s email said her agency has found no evidence that Titan Atlas or DB Pace contributed to existing pollution on the six-acre North Charleston site. The property has been used by a variety of companies dating to the 1960s and is currently being cleaned up by Lockheed Martin, a former site owner, she said. Groundwater on the property is polluted with chlorinated solvents, DHEC says.

DB Pace vice-president Michael Cohen was not available for comment Tuesday, but said in DHEC documents that the company is not connected to Titan Atlas, nor is it responsible for contamination at the site.

A 2016 lawsuit, however, says DB Pace had become a “successor in interest and/or successor owner” to Titan companies. Connections between the two companies were outlined in a Dec. 21 New York Times report but the story flew under the radar in South Carolina until the issue resurfaced on social media last weekend.

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