Hydro Extrusion USA and federal prosecutors in the air pollution case both recommend a penalty of $550,000. | Boroda79/Shutterstock

Aluminum recycling company Hydro Extrusion USA pleaded guilty to an air pollution crime and agreed to over half a million dollars in penalties.

Federal prosecutors in August 2022 charged the company, which is part of Oslo, Norway-headquartered aluminum giant Norsk Hydro, with one count of Clean Air Act negligent endangerment. The charge stemmed from the company melting contaminated aluminum scrap at its facility in The Dalles, Ore., producing air pollution.

According to documents from prosecutors and state regulators, Hydro Extrusion USA purchased Tesla aluminum scrap from Cass Inc., a supplier in west Oakland, Calif., that was contaminated with a mineral oil, which produces smoke containing dangerous chemicals when burned in an induction furnace. At the time, July 2018 through June 2019, the facility had no pollution control equipment, and the furnaces vented into the plant and the outside air. 

Even after being told by U.S. EPA and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) inspectors that the feedstock was not clean and melting it violated the facility’s air permit, the facility continued to melt it, the charging document states. Prosecutors noted that the company purchased the scrap material for at least $466,000 less than it would have paid for equivalent clean aluminum scrap of the 5000 and 6000 alloys. 

In January 2020, DEQ issued a $1.3 million fine, the largest air quality penalty in the department’s history. In 2021, the company ultimately agreed to penalties totaling $695,000 to settle the air quality issues, according to the company’s annual report

In August 2022, at the time Hydro Extrusion was criminally charged with violating the Clean Air Act, the company was cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and was planning to plead guilty, according to a press release.

The case is in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. On Jan. 24, 2023, the parties submitted a copy of their plea agreement and Hydro Extrusion USA pled guilty to the misdemeanor charge. 

Sentencing has been scheduled for April 24, 2023, and while the judge will be able to impose a penalty he finds appropriate, the company and prosecutors are jointly recommending a fine of $550,000. 

Norsk Hydro recycled 335,000 metric tons of post-consumer aluminum in 2021, up 224% from the year before, its annual report states. The company also recycled over 1 million metric tons of pre-consumer scrap aluminum.

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