Environmental rules and regulations are essential tools used to protect Minnesota’s air, water, and land. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) helps protect the environment by writing and enforcing the rules and regulations in agency programs that include: Air Quality, Water Quality, Solid Waste, Hazardous Waste, and Tanks (above and below ground).
The MPCA regulated community
Tens of thousands of facilities at any given time affect Minnesota’s environment. They include businesses that vary in size and type including manufacturing, mines, farms, airports, local government, land development or any entity that affects our air, water or land. These entities are regulated through a variety of laws and permits that set limits on what pollutants they may emit to the air and water, and how they must protect the land they occupy.
MPCA role – compliance is the goal
The MPCA monitors and assists the regulated community in complying with state and federal regulations by:
- Providing periodic training, and supplying fact sheets and guidance documents
- Inspecting facilities and reviewing required reports, tests and files to make sure standards are being met
- Responding to complaints, and investigating environmental spills and releases
Handling violations – types of enforcement actions
Many inspections and file reviews the MPCA conducts do not uncover violations, but when violations are discovered, they are often resolved by an enforcement action that does not involve a monetary penalty, such as a Letter of Warning or Notice of Violation.
Serious or repeat violations however, may result in an enforcement action that does carry a monetary penalty. In those instances, the MPCA may issue administrative penalty orders, stipulation agreements, consent decrees, and field citations.
Administrative penalty orders
Administrative penalty orders (APOs) are issued to resolve compliance problems involving state and/or federal environmental laws. An APO contains a schedule of actions the regulated party must follow to return to compliance. APOs require the actions to be completed within 30 days. The maximum penalty that can be assessed in an APO is $20,000.
There are three types of APOs: forgivable, non-forgivable or a combination of forgivable and non-forgivable:
- A forgivable APO assesses a penalty, but the penalty is waived if actions to correct violations are completed as required.
- A non-forgivable APO requires both corrective actions and payment of the penalty in full.
- In a combination APO, a portion of the penalty is waived if corrective actions are completed within 30 days.
Learn more: Administrative Penalty Orders factsheet (gp2-01)
Stipulation agreements (Stips)
Stipulation agreements are negotiated settlements used for more significant environmental violations or when violations are serious enough to warrant a civil penalty greater than $20,000 and/or a longer period of time is needed to complete corrective actions. Stipulation agreements are a negotiated settlement between the MPCA and the regulated party. These agreements also contain penalties which are triggered if the requirements of the agreement are not met.
Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) 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 regulated party agrees to undertake in the settlement of an enforcement action, but which they are not otherwise legally required to perform. These projects can mitigate penalty amounts, but often dollar-for-dollar credit is not given for what is spent.
Consent decrees are the highest level of enforcement action that the agency uses. They are overseen by a court and typically used for cases that have very high penalties, or when court oversight would be necessary or beneficial. This type of action is not commonly used.
A field citation is similar to a ticket. Field citations are issued by the MPCA or a Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer for violations of statutes or rules governing solid waste, spills, tanks, and septic systems, and they impose penalties in amounts specified in statute. Field citations require that violations are corrected, or that reimbursement is provided to the government agency that performs the corrective actions.
Determining penalty amounts
When the MPCA assigns a penalty, the dollar amount is determined based on consideration of the following factors:
- The potential and/or actual impacts a violation posed to public health and the environment
- The level of non-compliance
- Whether the violation was intentional or accidental
- How prompt and cooperative the Regulated Party was in correcting the problem
- Whether the violation was an isolated incident or part of a pattern of violations
- Whether a business gained an economic benefit from the violations
Enforcement actions issued by MPCA program
MPCA programs use these penalty-containing remedies in working to ensure there is compliance with state rules and laws.
Interactively view charts to see the number of enforcement cases with penalties per year sorted by case type and by program.
The role of the U.S. EPA
Occasionally an enforcement action will be handled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). This generally happens in cases where the violations involve environmental issues over which the MPCA has no regulatory authority, but the EPA does. It may also happen in cases where MPCA negotiations break down, or in some instances where a case shifts from civil to criminal proceedings.
The MPCA sends out news releases about environmental enforcement cases to inform the public and provide a deterrent effect to other regulated parties. Individual news releases are sent out for all stipulation agreements, while summaries of other actions including a monetary penalty are issued on a quarterly basis. Since October 2000, the MPCA has also posted enforcement summaries on our 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 1-800-657-3864.