According to a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) enforcement investigation, Hibbing Public Utilities exceeded emission requirements in its air permit from 2017 to 2020 at its district heating plant. As part of the investigation, the utility has taken several corrective actions to prevent future violations and paid a $26,947 fine to the MPCA.
The Hibbing Public Utilities Commission owns and operates the plant, which uses four boilers — three coal-fired and one wood-fired — to produce steam heat for buildings in downtown Hibbing. Such facilities require MPCA permits and operators must carefully monitor and maintain their equipment to meet permit requirements.
The violations stemmed from the boilers operating below the limits they were designed for. This causes inefficient combustion which results in excess pollution, which has been an ongoing problem with the coal-burning boilers. The agreement requires the facility to submit monthly reports to the MPCA on deviations from permitted emissions and to take steps to use more natural gas in the facility and reduce its dependence on coal.
MPCA permits are designed to protect human health and the environment by limiting pollution emissions and discharges from facilities. When companies do not fully comply with permit requirements, the resulting pollution can be harmful to people and the environment. The MPCA offers outreach and training to help facilities meet their permit requirements.
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 the violations were reported to authorities. The agency also attempts to recover the calculated economic benefit the company gained by failing to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner.