Buffalo Lake Energy to pay $285,000 fine

By Holly Jessen | September 23, 2010
Posted Oct. 7, 2010

A Fairmont, Minn., ethanol plant has agreed to pay a $285,000 penalty after alleged violations of the company's environmental permits issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

MPCA said Oct. 1 that the company violated the conditions of its air quality and water quality permits on numerous occasions. Mark Zoeller, vice president of general counsel for BioFuel Energy, which owns the plant, clarified that the company was paying the penalty as part of a settlement. "The company neither admits nor denies the allegations," he told EPM.

The first and most significant water quality alleged violation is that the company built and operated a different wastewater system than what was permitted.. "The system did not perform adequately to ensure that pollutants discharged from the facility met the permit's effluent limits," said a press release. "The facility discharged wastewater to Center Creek which violated its permitted limits for toxicity, a measure of potential harm to aquatic organisms."

What the MPCA does not say, Zoeller pointed out, is that the plant's new water treatment system is discharging cleaner water today than it was with the old system under the old permit. The problem was that the new water treatment system didn't conform to what was permitted..

The MPCA said the facility's water quality permit granted variances from several water quality standards but required the company to investigate water treatment technologies that would allow it to meet the standards without variances. MPCA alleges that Buffalo Lake Energy failed to adequately do that. Other violations related to the water quality permit include things like record keeping, failure to report spills and unauthorized discharges, late submittals of monitoring data to the MPCA, improper storage of byproduct, failure to properly operate the wastewater treatment system and failure to monitor in accordance with the permit-required schedule.

What was permitted was also the issue on the air emissions permit side. The company applied for its air permit in 2006 and then, in 2008, applied twice for amended permits, according to the MPCA. First, the company asked for an amendment for design changes made during construction. The second amendment was to up the emissions limits. The MPCA issued the first amended permit in July 2008 and required performance testing. The second amendment was issued in April 2009. Buffalo Lake Energy was not in compliance with emissions limits until the second amended permit went into effect in April 2009.

In other words, Zoeller said, if the company had the air permit it has now, the violations never would have happened.

In addition to the fine, Buffalo Lake Energy has agreed to a schedule of corrective actions, including plans on how it will comply with the environmental permits and prevent future violations, the MPCA said. The MPCA website contains a comprehensive list of enforcement actions.