Frequently asked questions about compliance and enforcement

What kinds of business or industry does the MPCA oversee?

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.


Does the MPCA work with regulated parties to help achieve compliance?

The MPCA monitors and assists the regulated community in complying with state and federal regulations by:

  • Providing technical assistance, 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

How does the MPCA hold violators accountable?

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 field citations, administrative penalty orders, stipulation agreements, or consent decrees.


What are the different types of enforcement actions?

Field citation

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.

Letter of Warning

A Letter of Warning (LOW) is a notice sent to the Regulated Party to document violations discovered during an inspection, complaint follow-up or review of submittals. The LOW includes the citation of the statute, rule, permit condition or document violated. The LOW may also require the Regulated Party to complete specific corrective actions to return the facility to compliance. When corrective action is required, the LOW usually gives the Regulated Party from 7 to 30 days to complete it.

Notice/Order of Sanctions

A Subsurface Sewage Treatment System (SSTS) professional may have their license and/or certification suspended, revoked, restricted or have other sanctions in accordance with Minn. R. 7083.2020.

Notice of Violations

A Notice of Violation (NOV) is a notice issued to a Regulated Party to document violations or other noncompliance situations that are more serious or more numerous than those that can be addressed in an LOW, or for cases that require corrective actions which take more than 30 days to complete and thus could not be resolved through an APO.

Red Tag

Minnesota Statutes section 115.071, subdivision 7, authorizes the MPCA to issue a red tag for failure to have a regulated underground tank system protected from corrosion, failure to have spill and overfill protection, failure to have a leak detection method in place, or failure to correct violations asserted in a field citation. Once a red tag has been issued, the delivery of petroleum products to the tagged tank is prohibited.

Request for Information

A Request for Information (RFI) is a formal letter asking the Regulated Party to provide evidence of compliance, an explanation of noncompliance, or other information concerning the status of a source. Unlike most other enforcement documents, a Request for Information does not describe violations, nor does it require corrective action. Rather, it seeks information (by a specified date) so that staff may better evaluate the compliance status of the source.

Schedule of Compliance

A Schedule of Compliance (SOC) is a negotiated settlement between the MPCA and the Regulated Party commonly used to resolve a noncompliance situation that does not require the upfront payment of a civil penalty for the initial noncompliance. While an SOC does not include upfront civil penalties, it does include stipulated penalties for failure to follow the SOC.

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.

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. STIPs 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. This is no monetary minimum or maximum for a STIP.

Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) can be part of a STIP, 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

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.

 

Chart describing penalty types


How does the MPCA determine 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

Does the U.S. EPA play a role in MPCA compliance & enforcement?

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.

Does the MPCA publicize enforcement actions via the news media?

The MPCA sends out news releases about environmental enforcement cases to inform the public and provide a deterrent effect to other regulated parties. Enforcement cases with a net monetary penalty of $10,000 or more are subject to an individual news release being issued. A summary of all public APOs and STIPs are published on the MPCA web site biannually (twice per year).


Can a citizen report a potential environmental violation?

Yes. If you have information about a pollution problem that you've seen, you can submit it to the MPCA using the form available on the Citizen Complaints page.

Is there a way to find out what regulated parties may be in my neighborhood?

Yes. An online application, called What’s in my neighborhood?, offers you a way to access a wide variety of environmental information about your community.