Contact: Ralph Pribble, 651-757-2657
St. Paul, Minn. ― The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has announced that Corn Plus will pay a $310,000 civil penalty to resolve violations of the air-quality permit issued to the company’s ethanol-production facility in Winnebago.
The violations, occurring from 2008 to 2010, were discovered through on-site inspections by MPCA enforcement staff and through analysis of monitoring data the company is required to submit under its air quality permit.
A staff inspection in August 2009 found violations of Minnesota laws and rules as well as permit conditions. The inspection confirmed that some of the violations were not previously reported to the MPCA as required by the facility's permit. MPCA staff requested more monitoring records and discovered many repeated data patterns that indicated Corn Plus had falsified up to a year’s worth of monitoring data, primarily relating to operations of the facility's air-emissions-control equipment.
In March 2011, staff from the MPCA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) interviewed the facility's environmental manager and requested more monitoring records. The facility was issued a grand jury subpoena at that time by the EPA. After reviewing the records, EPA and MPCA staff identified more potentially false data from 2010.
Last month Corn Plus was charged by the EPA with a felony for falsifying information about its pollution-control equipment. These actions follow an $891,000 settlement with the MPCA in January 2010, and another criminal charge from the EPA in late 2009 for water-quality violations.
MPCA Commissioner Paul Aasen said the company’s unusual record of persistent violations of state and federal laws indicates a pattern of willful disregard for its environmental responsibilities.
“While the company operated outside the law for awhile, their choices and violations eventually caught up with them. I'm proud of our staff for their hard work and commitment in this case. In the end the state and federal regulatory systems worked the way they're supposed to,” Aasen said.
“An untold part of cases like this is Corn Plus gained an unfair business advantage by ignoring its obligations as compared to other ethanol producers who played by the rules. $1.5 million in penalties and severe criminal charges send a clear message that Minnesotans will not tolerate this kind of performance from businesses who don’t meet the terms of their environmental permits,” he added.
In Corn Plus’s favor, Aasen noted, the company's current management has accepted responsibility for the company’s misdeeds, fired those responsible, and pledged to operate responsibly moving forward.
The many violations cited in the agreement can be characterized generally as failure on the part of Corn Plus to (1) submit monitoring data as required by its permit, (2) ensure that submitted data are accurate, and (3) operate its pollution-control equipment in a manner that will ensure compliance with the facility's permit.
Conducting timely monitoring and submitting accurate data to the MPCA are important responsibilities for any facility operating under an environmental permit. The monitoring and data provide the only verification that pollution-control equipment is operating as intended to protect human health and the environment. People exposed to excessive levels of air pollutants can experience a variety of health effects, including irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. People with heart or lung disease also can react more severely to air pollutants.
In addition to the civil penalty, the company agreed to a compliance schedule for completing corrective actions, including specific plans on how it will ensure compliance with the facility’s environmental permit limits and prevent reoccurrence of the violations in the future.
When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violations affected the environment, whether they were first-time or repeat violations, and how promptly they were reported to appropriate authorities. Penalties also attempt 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, go to the agency’s Quarterly Summary of Enforcement Actions webpage.