Environmental rules and regulations are essential tools used to protect Minnesota’s environment. These rules and regulations set standards for environmental quality and limits on pollutants that can be discharged from facilities. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) helps protect our environment by writing and enforcing these rules and regulations.
To help regulated parties stay in compliance with rules and regulations, the MPCA conducts onsite inspections, provides training and distributes fact sheets and other guidance materials.
The MPCA has a variety of enforcement options when violations occur at permitted sites and facilities. These options are available to enforcement staff in most agency programs, including:
- air quality
- land programs (includes solid waste, hazardous waste, and above and underground storage tanks)
- water quality (includes point source, non-point source, stormwater and feedlots)
Many of the site inspections and file reviews the MPCA conducts do not uncover any violations. When violations are discovered, they are most often resolved by an enforcement action that does not involve a monetary penalty, such as a Letter of Warning (LOW) or Notice of Violation (NOV).
Serious or repeat violations may result in an enforcement action that does carry a monetary penalty: Administrative Penalty Orders (APO), stipulation agreements, and field citations.
Administrative Penalty Orders (APO)
APOs are issued to resolve compliance problems involving state and/or federal environmental laws. The severity of the enforcement action depends on the environmental impact of the violation, whether it is a repeat offense, and how quickly the problem is corrected, among other factors. An APO contains a monetary penalty and a schedule of actions the violator must follow to return to compliance. The maximum penalty that can be assessed in an APO is $20,000. APOs can be appealed.
There are three types of APOs: forgivable, nonforgivable or a combination of the two.
- A forgivable APO assesses a penalty, but “forgives” the dollar amount if actions to correct problems are completed on schedule.
- With a nonforgivable APO, no portion of the monetary penalty is waived.
- In a combination APO, a portion of the penalty is forgiven if corrective actions are completed on schedule—usually within 30 days.
Stipulation Agreements (Stips)
Stipulation Agreements are negotiated settlements used when violations are serious enough to warrant a civil penalty greater than $20,000. They are also used when the actions needed to correct the problem may take more than 30 days to complete.
Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEP) can be part of a Stipulation Agreement, and are intended to provide extra environmental and public health benefits. SEPs are environmentally beneficial projects which a responsible party agrees to undertake in the settlement of an enforcement action, but which the responsible party is not otherwise legally required to perform. These projects are done in order to mitigate penalty amounts, but it’s often not a dollar-for-dollar credit given for what is spent.
A field citation is similar to a ticket. It is issued by the MPCA or DNR Conservation Officers for violations of statutes or rules governing solid waste, spills, tanks, and septic systems. Citations require violations to be corrected, or reimbursement to the government agency that performs the corrections. The citation also imposes penalties, in amounts specified in statute. Field citations may be appealed.
Using the tools
Agency programs use all of these remedies in working to ensure compliance with state rules and laws.
When the MPCA assigns a penalty, the dollar amount is determined based on consideration of the following factors:
- The risks a violation posed to public health or the environment
- Whether the violation was an isolated incident or part of a pattern of violations
- The damage the violation caused to natural resources
- Whether the violation was intentional or accidental
- How quickly a violation was reported to the appropriate authorities
- Whether a business gained an economic benefit from the violations
- How prompt and cooperative the party was in correcting the problem.
Occasionally an enforcement action will be handled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This generally happens in cases where the violations involve environmental issues over which the MPCA has no regulatory authority, but the EPA does. Examples include violations of regulations concerning chloroflurocarbons. It may also happen in cases where negotiations break down, or in some instances where a case shifts from civil to criminal proceedings.
Since October 2000, the MPCA has posted a quarterly summary of enforcement actions on its website:
For more details on specific cases within the quarterly summaries, or for more about the MPCA’s enforcement activities, contact Stephen Mikkelson, Information Officer at 218-316-3887, or toll free at 1-800-657-3864.