Ethanol company Corn Plus fined $760,000 for lying to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Burning ethanol in your car is supposed to be better for the environment, but when the company producing the biofuel falsifies air pollution monitoring data, things may not be as clean as they seem.
That's what happened to Corn Plus, an ethanol producer in Minnesota that plead guilty in federal court last week to the falsifying charge and was hit with a fine of $760,000 ($310,000 of which was a civil penalty from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, according to the Minneapolis StarTribune). The company was caught because, for three months in 2009, the exact same data was reported to the MPCA. Corn Plus said in a statement (available after the jump) that this was likely due to "the isolated acts of a few employees in 2009 and early 2010, and without the consent, knowledge, or endorsement of Corn Plus's senior management."

What's most interesting is that the farmer-owned company had a water quality misdemeanor conviction two years ago that cost it over a million in fines and penalties but will still be allowed to keep operating. U.S. District Judge John Tunheim simply told the Corn Plus board of directors president, "If this happens again, there will be stiffer sanctions." At least there is no evidence that any any extra emissions were released into the air because of the falsifications.
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Corn Plus, a farmer-owned Cooperative that operates an ethanol production facility located
in Winnebago, Minnesota, was recently charged with one count of making false statements to the United States Environmental Protection Agency in violation of the federal Clean Air Act. The charges allege that employees of Corn Plus submitted false reports and documents to the Environmental Protection Agency regarding required monitoring activities and equipment readings for certain pollution control devices.

Corn Plus takes both its legal and its ethical obligation to protect the environment very seriously and has fully cooperated with the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency throughout their investigations into this matter. Immediately upon learning of the alleged record-keeping issues, Corn Plus undertook an internal investigation to determine whether any wrongful conduct occurred. The results of this investigation, which Corn Plus voluntarily shared with governmental officials, showed that the likely falsification of the monitoring records resulted from the isolated acts of a few employees in 2009 and early 2010, and without the consent, knowledge, or endorsement of Corn Plus's senior management. There has been no evidence identified by any of the investigations to date that Corn Plus, at any time, actually exceeded any of its emissions limitations or was responsible for polluting the environment in any way.

As a result of its internal investigation, Corn Plus promptly terminated the employment of the employees responsible for the alleged false reports. Corn Plus has also undertaken several other voluntary remedial efforts to avoid any similar issues from occurring in the future. These efforts include the hiring of a new Environmental, Health and Safety Manager, contracting with Golder Associates out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, to consult regarding environmental compliance issues and to conduct regular audits of Corn Plus's activities, and implementing new policies and procedures. These efforts will help ensure that Corn Plus has the expertise and resources to fully comply with all of its environmental obligations moving into the future.

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. 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. Accordingly, Corn Plus intends to continue cooperating with the regulatory agencies and is engaged in discussions with both state and federal officials to resolve these matters as expeditiously as possible.

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