December 3, 2007
On November 29, 2007, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announced that Granite Falls Energy, an ethanol producer in western Minnesota, had agreed to pay a civil penalty of $300,000 to resolve alleged violations at the Granite Falls Energy facility in Granite Falls, Minnesota.
The MPCA alleged that the facility allegedly violated terms and conditions of its water and air quality permits and regulations. Specifically, the MPCA alleged that Granite Falls Energy produced ethanol above the facility’s permitted limits, failed to maintain and inspect production and pollution control equipment, violated recordkeeping and reporting requirements, exceeded water quality discharge limits, and produced “wet cake” which is prohibited under the permit.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune in its November 29, 2007, online edition reports that the civil penalty is the largest collected by the MPCA since 2005 when Potlach Corp. in Bemidji, Minnesota was fined $725,000. The penalty monies that were paid were deposited in the State of Minnesota’s general fund.
The MPCA has the authority to enter into Stipulation Agreements where it may seek penalties of up to $10,000 per day of violation for air and water quality violations. A Stipulation Agreement is an out-of-court settlement. A regulated party may decline to enter into a Stipulation Agreement. The MPCA may refer the case to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office for prosecution in state district court as provided in Minn. Stat. § 115.071. A regulated party may assert defenses and challenge the MPCA’s actions. If the MPCA can prove liability, the state district court judge assigned to the matter has the discretion to determine whether a penalty should be imposed and what amount of civil penalty, if any, should be paid.
In cases involving hazardous wastes the MPCA may seek civil penalties of $25,000 per day of violation. In determining penalties the MPCA often requires private parties to pay a penalty to address the economic benefit of noncompliance. The MPCA staff may choose to issueAdministrative Penalty Orders (APOs) rather than enter into Stipulation Agreements. The statute authorizing APOs, Minn. Stat. §116.072, permits the MPCA to assess penalties of no greater than $10,000 per inspection.
A link to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s press release can be found athttp://www.pca.state.mn.us/news/data/newsRelease.cfm?NR=277856&type=2 The Minneapolis Star Tribune story can be found at http://www.startribune.com/535/story/1581244.html
Hessian & McKasy’s Environmental Law Attorney Practice Group has extensive experience in responding to notices and defending enforcement actions brought by federal and state authorities, such as the EPA and the MPCA. Our environmental attorneys routinely represent clients in enforcement and permitting matters. We have helped clients prepare for inspections by assisting with environmental and health and safety audits and the development of environmental management systems that are designed to detect and prevent violations. We advise clients of all their available options including reaching negotiated settlements or, when appropriate, seeking judicial review.
Hessian & McKasy’s environmental attorneys handle the full spectrum of environmental issues encountered by manufacturers, businesses (such as ethanol producers), developers and individuals who have been named in an administrative, civil or criminal enforcement actions. We are regularly involved in negotiations on behalf of our clients with state and federal authorities. When a negotiated settlement cannot be reached and the MPCA makes a litigation referral, we have represented clients in matters in state district court.
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Sources:Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 29, 2007
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Press Release, November 29, 2007
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