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A federal appeals court Tuesday unanimously upheld the 17-year prison term for a company owner who ordered an employee to clean out a storage tank filled with hydrogen cyanide gas. Allen Elias’ prison term issued last year was the harshest ever imposed for an environmental crime in the United States, authorities said. Elias, the 62-year-old former owner of Evergreen Resources Inc. in southeastern Idaho, was the state’s first employer ever convicted on federal charges of knowingly exposing a worker to hazardous waste. A federal judge had also ordered Elias to pay $6.3 million in restitution to Scott Dominguez and his family. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in striking down the payment Tuesday, ruled that Elias’ conviction is among “the few for which Congress has not sanctioned the imposition of restitution.” Elias was convicted in 1999 of ordering Dominguez to wash down the sides of an 11-foot-high, 36-foot-long, 25,000-gallon tank containing phosphoric acid and cyanide, a combination that produces the same gas Nazis used in their World War II death camps. Dominguez collapsed in the tank in August 1996 and could not be rescued for an hour. He suffered severe brain damage and requires extensive care. Elias provided no safety training and did not give Dominguez or other workers required protective gear. Elias maintained that Dominguez was the victim of a tragic accident for which he bore no responsibility. He was convicted of knowingly endangering the safety and health of his employees, illegally disposing of hazardous cyanide waste and making a false statement to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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