State alleged a group of environmental consulting firms conspired to rig bids and inflate prices that the state pays to clean sites contaminated by leaking petroleum tanks. According to the state, the conspiracy began in 2002 as the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources tried to set so-called “reasonable rates” to pay firms which repair environmental damage from leaky petroleum tanks. In June of 1988, the General Assembly created a trust fund with a portion of gasoline and kerosene taxes and tank fees to pay clean-up costs. When tank owners disappear or fail to clean up, DENR requests proposals from environmental consultants and the trust fund covers the cost. The state also reimburses private landowners who clean land around leaky tanks. The state alleged that the defendants manipulated the process repeatedly through 2003. First, they submitted a “survey” of average project costs after encouraging several firms to inflate rates and share data. Evidence shows that the defendants hoped the “survey” rates would become standard rates for future projects. Second, the firms formed a trade association called North Carolina Environmental Service Providers Association (NCESPA) to lobby DENR to accept the inflated rates for its “reasonable rates” determination. Third, the trade association used email to direct either a boycott of specific state project bids or a submission of inflated rates. Firms that bid also lied by swearing that they had not colluded with other firms to peg prices, a felony violation of North Carolina law. Defendants settled for a total of $1 million in penalties and damages.