Corn Plus faces charges regarding emissions equipment

By Kris Bevill | October 07, 2011

Corn Plus LLLP, a farmer-owned cooperative which operates a 49 MMgy corn-based ethanol plant in Winnebago, Minn., is facing charges that it violated the Clean Air Act by providing false information regarding its pollution control equipment to the U.S. EPA in January. According to a document filed in Minnesota U.S. District Court by the state’s attorney office, Corn Plus certified on Jan. 27 that its equipment designed to prevent the discharge of airborne particulate matter was in compliance with Title V permit regulations when it was not.

Corn Plus said in a statement that is has fully cooperated with federal officials and conducted its own internal investigation immediately upon learning of the alleged record-keeping issues. The company’s internal investigation concluded that the likely falsification of the monitoring records were the result of isolated actions taken by a few employees in 2009 and early 2010 without the knowledge or consent of Corn Plus management. The company has since fired the employees responsible for the false reports, hired a new environmental, health and safety manager, contracted with an environmental compliance consulting firm and has implemented new policies and procedures, according to the statement. The results of the internal investigation, which were voluntarily shared with governmental officials, also showed that the facility never actually exceeded its allowable emissions and did not contribute to polluting the environment in any way, the company stated.

“Although Corn Plus does not downplay the seriousness of the alleged violations or the importance of submitting accurate reports to the regulatory agencies, it notes that there are no allegations or evidence of any actual unpermitted pollution emissions or discharges from Corn Plus’s facilities,” the company stated. “Nonetheless, Corn Plus has recognized the importance of this matter and has consistently attempted to address any past issues, ensure future compliance with its environmental obligations, and continue to provide economic benefits to our region and state by providing jobs, a market for locally grown corn, and the safe, efficient and environmentally friendly production of ethanol as an alternative fuel source.”

Corn Plus has faced Clean Air Act violations in the past. In 2009, the company pleaded guilty to charges that it negligently discharged wastewater from its facility into a drain tile that led to nearby Rice Lake between 2005 and Aug. 2007. The company was placed on three years of probation as a result of the violation and agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and contribute $50,000 toward an environmental project at the lake.

 Assistant state’s attorney David Genrich said on Oct. 6 that an arraignment hearing date has yet to be set for the latest alleged violation. Corn Plus said it will continue to cooperate with regulatory officials and is in discussions with state and federal officials to resolve the lawsuit as soon as possible.