Media Contact: Dan Olson, 218-846-7390
Technical Contact: Cary Hernandez, 218-846-0746
Toll free/TTY: 1-800-657-3864
Detroit Lakes, Minn. -- The Potlatch Corporation allegedly exceeded air pollution limits at its oriented strand board plant near Bemidji from 1999 to 2003 because of an equipment malfunction and inconsistent programming of a data acquisition system. As a result, the company will pay a $725,000 penalty, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
Minnesota law requires owners and operators of facilities with the potential to release certain levels of air pollutants to have MPCA permits. They must also monitor and maintain equipment because emissions exceeding standards can degrade air quality.
Potlatch received an air emission permit from the MPCA in 1990 for a wood-fired boiler. In 1994 the permit was amended to require installation of equipment to control nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx) from the boiler. The amendment required a "selective non-catalytic reduction" type of system.
On May 25, 2001, this system malfunctioned. It was not repaired until Nov. 5, 2003, 29 months after the equipment failure. The company's operational permit requires that any breakdown of more than one hour be reported to the MPCA immediately. Potlatch self-reported the incident to the MPCA on Jan. 26, 2004. Soon after that, Potlatch also discovered and reported its data acquisition system was operating with programming values that were not consistent with those in use at other sites. Revised calculations showed NOx emissions exceeded limits 58 percent of the time the boiler was in operation from 1999 through 2003.
In addition to the alleged violations related to the NOx emissions, the company failed air emission performance testing for fine particles in April and May of 2004.
A new company, Ainsworth Engineered, acquired the Potlatch operation in September 2004. Testing results from Oct. 19, 2004, indicated the operation was in compliance with emission limits for fine particles. The facility continues to operate within the guidelines of its air permit.
"We are pleased that this situation has reached a satisfactory conclusion," said Cary Hernandez, MPCA air quality enforcement officer. "The company's self-reporting (of the alleged violations) is one of the factors we considered during the penalty phase of the enforcement action."
The settlement between Potlatch and the MPCA is called a "stipulation agreement." It is one of the tools used to achieve compliance with environmental laws. When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violation affected the environment, whether it is a first time or repeat violation, and how promptly the violation was reported to appropriate authorities. It also attempts to recover the calculated economic benefit gained by failure to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner. For a comprehensive list of enforcement actions by the MPCA, refer to the agency Web site at:/newscenter/enforcement.html
A copy of the stipulation agreement is available by request from Daniel Olson at the MPCA regional office in Detroit Lakes, MN, 714 Lake Avenue, 56501, or by e-mail at email@example.com.