Hibbing’s air quality forecast shows improvement after Public Utilities Commission enforcement

Contact: Anne Perry Moore, 218-302-6605

Iron rangers are wondering about the air quality forecast. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, less dust and lower carbon monoxide are in store for the Hibbing area.

The Hibbing Public Utilities Commission (PUC) operates a district heating plant at 1832 6th Avenue East. It uses boilers fired by wood (biomass) and coal/natural gas to produce electricity and steam heat for downtown Hibbing buildings.

Between 2014 and 2016, the boilers’ air cleaning equipment was the source of multiple air quality permit violations for excess particulate matter (very small airborne particles) and carbon monoxide emissions.

As a result, the PUC is required to submit compliance, operations and maintenance plans identifying causes of the emissions violations, boiler re-testing schedules and inspection procedures. The PUC will also pay a $68,000 civil penalty.

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 gained by failure to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner. For a comprehensive list of enforcement actions, refer to the MPCA’s Quarterly Summary of Enforcement Actions web page.

Minnesota law requires governmental units and contractors to apply for an air quality permit when emitting specific pollutants or chemicals into the air. The MPCA offers outreach and training to help facilities meet their permit requirements. For more information on air quality permits, call Steve Palzkill of the MPCA’s Air Compliance Section at 218-302-6653 or toll-free at 800-657-3864.