A Minnesota state agency has fined one ethanol plant $199,000 for air pollution and other violations, while another ethanol plant was found to have discharged polluted wastewater and stormwater.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on Thursday, Sept. 30, announced the violations by Al-Corn Clean Fuel LLC in Claremont, Minnesota. The violations date back to 2018 and 2019.

The agency also announced a $18,634 fine against Denco II LLC of Morris, Minnesota, for water pollution.

In addition to paying a $199,000 civil penalty to the MPCA, Al-Corn was required to submit plans to ensure testing and reporting deadlines are met, emissions testing does not exceed permitted limits, and staff are properly trained to meet permit requirements.

The MPCA found that Al-Corn Clean Fuel LLC had uncontrolled emissions of volatile organic compounds and particulate matter as well as nitrogen oxide emissions. The uncontrolled emissions exceeded Al-Corn’s permit limits by 35-75%.

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In addition, the MPCA investigation found that Al-Corn:

  • Exceeded permitted limits on single and total hazardous air pollutants.
  • Failed to submit accurate records and emission readings required by its permit. Readings on several pieces of control equipment were out of permitted ranges.
  • Failed to apply for permit amendments prior to installing new equipment.

In a written statement, Al-Corn CEO Randal Doyal said "we have been working collaboratively with the MPCA to resolve disputes over our air permit and self-reported deviations associated with the current permit language, primarily relating to recordkeeping, reporting, and proper calculation methods. Al-Corn is pleased to have resolved these issues by entering a Stipulation Agreement with the MPCA. Importantly, there are no systemic concerns about Al-Corn’s operations."

The statement also noted Al-Corn's commitment to operating a sustainable business, including that it was the first ethanol plant in Minnesota to achieve "zero liquid discharge" from its operations.

Discharge violations

Denco II exceeded pollutant limits in its industrial wastewater and stormwater discharges at its ethanol production facility in Morris in western Minnesota. Such pollution could reduce oxygen in the water and harm aquatic life when it reached lakes, rivers, and wetlands.

The MPCA uncovered violations between January 2018 and April 2021 that included:

  • Exceeding permitted pollutant in industrial wastewater and stormwater discharges. The company eliminated its wastewater discharge in 2019, but its stormwater discharge continued to exceed pollutant limits.
  • Failing to prevent corn byproduct from getting into stormwater discharge.
  • Failing to prevent excess pollutants from getting into stormwater discharges.
  • Failing to record additives used in its wastewater streams that must be approved for use and used only in authorized amounts.

The company was required to develop and implement plans to minimize risks of future similar violations.

Messages left with the company had not been returned as of Thursday, Sept. 30.

When calculating penalties, the MPCA says it takes into account how seriously the violations affected or could have affected the environment, and whether they were first-time or repeat violations. The agency also attempts to recover the economic benefit the company gained by failing to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner.