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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — State Attorney General Josh Shapiro says the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) engaged in criminal conduct by violating the state’s Safe Drinking Water Act.
“These charges, 161 counts total, are in connection with how the Water & Sewer Authority failed in its duty to notify Pittsburgh residents that it was replacing lead surface lines, putting them at risk to consume lead in their drinking water,” said Shapiro at a press conference in Lawrenceville on Friday.
Specifically, Shapiro claims the PWSA did not replace the required number of lead lines in 2017 as required by the Department of Environment Protection, failed to notify residents of line replacements when it did do so, and did not take and analyze samples from the new lines within 72 hours as required.
“Those failures are criminal violations. Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clear air and pure water,” Shapiro said.
WATCH: AG Shapiro’s News Conference —
The PWSA said it was “deeply disappointed” in Shapiro’s actions, saying it had resolved many of these issues with the DEP, adding, “We self-reported the issues to DEP, agreed to a civil penalty of $2.4 million, and have since established one of the most comprehensive lead service line replacement programs in the nation.”
Shapiro said his criminal action could lead to additional fines, but the money was, he said, “not going to end up in some slush fund in Harrisburg. It’s going to stay right here in this community.”
It’s one thing to charge a city agency like the PWSA with criminal violations. It’s quite another to levy fines on a government agency when it’s rate payers, taxpayers, who basically fund the agency.
So will a fine against the PWSA mean higher rates for city ratepayers?
KDKA money editor Jon Delano asked Shapiro that question directly.
“We believe that PWSA has the means to pay whatever fine is ultimately levied without jacking up the rates of people here in Pittsburgh,” Shapiro said.
The PWSA did not comment on possible rate hikes but did say that additional fines “would only divert ratepayer dollars that would otherwise be used for critical water quality improvement projects and programs.”
Watch Jon Delano’s report —
Shapiro said he was only bringing criminal actions against the agency, not any individuals within the agency.
The Attorney General insists it was the agency alone that engaged in a criminal violation, 161 one of them, against the state of Pennsylvania, but no individual was found to be criminally liable at all.
“The authority is being charged alone because during our investigation we found no evidence of any one single person or persons intending to harm any users of the water system,” Shapiro said.
“That’s unique. That’s not something I have seen before,” Allegheny County controller Chelsa Wagner said.
Wagner questioned that, saying the PWSA is made up of people, a board appointed by the mayor and employees, and someone caused the authority to violate the law.
“Did they have that sort of intent? Should they have known? Was there negligence? I know there was a lot of discussion today about negligence. From what we’ve reviewed, we certainly saw that many people, including the mayor himself, knew that they were saying things that were not correct,” Wagner said.
Delano: “Sounds to me like you think from the mayor on down there could be criminal culpability?”
Wagner: “Right. That’s where something like this is analogous to Flint, and it’s just a different approach that the Attorney General’s office took here in charging an organization, whereas you’ve seen in Michigan many, many individuals named.”
But Shapiro insists he found no evidence of criminality by any individual.