AutoZone, California Settle Oil Disposal Suit


California is earning a reputation for the toughest environmental regulations and enforcement in the country, and auto parts retailer AutoZone now knows its wrath.

The California attorney general and the offices of the district attorneys of San Bernardino, Monterey, San Diego and San Joaquin counties announced a $1.5 million settlement with AutoZone Inc. requiring the company to overhaul its handling of hazardous material and waste products – including used motor oil – and its pricing policies.

The states attorney general in June 2005 filed a $12 million civil lawsuit charging AutoZone with a pattern of improperly disposing used oil and improperly storing used filters and other materials. The charges were based on inspections of about 50 AutoZone stores in San Bernardino, Monterey and San Joaquin counties. The State Department of Measurement Standards also discovered pricing errors by AutoZones cash register scanners which, in some instances, resulted in consumers being charged more than the shelf price.

As part of the settlement announced June 1, AutoZone will pay a fine of $1 million, investigation and prosecution costs of $300,000, and will contribute $200,000 to environmental training programs. The money is in addition to other costs associated with implementing AutoZones new environmental and consumer protection procedures.

AutoZone spokesman Ray Pohlman told Lube Report the settlement is a five-year injunction with steps AutoZone agreed to implement immediately.

Theyre not necessarily changes, Pohlman said. They are things weve had in place all along, but there are things that slip through the cracks from time to time. Weve tightened up those processes to make sure that doesnt happen. Weve also agreed to make sure we do the proper audits to make sure the trainings being done.

He said part of the problem stemmed from an orphan oil situation he described as common for anybody that collects used motor oil. Customers will leave oil in the middle of our parking lots, theyll leave oil at our backdoors and so on, Pohlman explained. When theres a spill, theres a procedure to go through to make sure its clean, and a reporting process and so on. What we told the State of California was that we would make sure that was being done in all cases.

AutoZone has agreed to an injunction which calls for substantial changes in their handling of hazardous material and waste products, said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. They also will make changes to their pricing policies, which should protect consumers when they spend their money at one of these stores in the future.

Memphis, Tenn.-based AutoZone sells auto and light truck parts, chemicals and accessories through more than 3,800 stores in the United States, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. The company has 421 stores in California, according to Pohlman.

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