Duluth, Minn.-- Cleanup continues in Iron Range wetlands affected by failures in ArcelorMittal Minorca Mine, Inc.’s tailings pipeline and storage basin. As a result, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has penalized the company for related permit and water-quality violations.
ArcelorMittal operates under a state-issued permit that regulates wastewater discharges at its Virginia iron ore mining and processing facility. During ore processing, fine tailings, or waste rock low in iron content, are mixed with water and pumped as a slurry through a pipeline to an upland storage basin about three miles away.
On three occasions between May 2013 and April 2014, failures in the pipeline and a breach in the tailings basin perimeter dike caused the release of about 8,500 cubic yards of tailings slurry and aggregate from a washed-out dike road into 15.3 acres of adjacent wetlands and the pipeline ditch.
When soils or other materials are accidentally introduced into a wetland, the wetland can no longer function as a natural aquatic habitat or filtration system. This ecosystem may or may not be able to be restored. If not, destroyed wetlands may be replaced in the same or similar watershed.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which have authority over adding fill material to wetlands, are working with the company to remove the spilled tailings and road aggregate and monitor, mitigate and/or replace the affected wetlands.
In response to the incidents, an MPCA inspector visited the site, reviewed records and determined that the company had inadequately inspected and maintained the pipeline, pipeline ditch, and tailings basin structures and had failed to report two of the releases in a timely manner. These conditions violate the company’s wastewater permit that regulates discharges to state waterways.
Because it did not follow the permit’s requirements, ArcelorMittal has paid a $58,000 civil penalty to the state of Minnesota and is implementing corrective actions. They include improved pipeline leak-detection equipment, more pipeline and tailings basin inspections to reduce the chance for future spills, and prompt spill reporting.
In March 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took a separate enforcement action against ArcelorMittal under the Clean Water Act. The company was penalized $272,500 for the same wetland impacts plus an unrelated filling of about two acres of wetlands.
When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violations affected the environment, whether they were first-time or repeat violations, and how promptly the violations were reported to authorities. The agency also attempts to recover the calculated economic benefit gained by failure to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner. For a comprehensive list of enforcement actions, refer to the MPCA’s Quarterly Summary of Enforcement Actions webpage.
The MPCA offers outreach and training to help facilities meet their permit requirements. For more information on wastewater permits, call John Thomas, MPCA compliance inspector, at 218-302-6616 or toll-free at 800-657-3864.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has penalized ArcelorMittal (ARE-sell-or MITT-all) Minorca (min-OR-ka) Mine Incorporated for wastewater violations at its Virginia ore mining and processing facility.
Between May 2013 and April 2014 leaks from the company’s tailings pipeline and a dike failure at the tailings storage basin impacted more than fifteen acres of wetland.
When soils or other materials are accidentally introduced into wetlands, the wetland can no longer function as a natural aquatic habitat or filtration system. This ecosystem may or may not be able to be restored. If not, destroyed wetlands may be replaced in the same or a similar watershed.
State and federal agencies are working with the company to clean up the spill sites and monitor for resulting impacts.
ArcelorMittal is required to implement corrective actions and has paid the state of Minnesota a penalty of 58-thousand dollars. This is in addition to related U-S Environmental Protection Agency enforcement actions that resulted in a 272-thousand-500-dollar penalty for unauthorized filling of wetlands.
In March 2015, the U-S E-P-A took a separate action against ArcelorMittal under the Clean Water Act. The company was penalized 272-thousand-500-dollars for the same wetland impacts plus an unrelated filling of about two acres of wetlands.
For more information about wastewater regulations and how they help protect our lakes and streams, visit the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website.
MPCA Compliance and Enforcement: It’s
about protecting the air, water and land
Permit and License
Holders, the MPCA regulated community:
There are tens of thousands of people, facilities
and projects at any given time that affect Minnesota’s environment.
They are people conducting businesses and
activities which vary in size and type: manufacturing, mines, farms, airports, local
government, and land development; any public or private entity that affects our
air, water or land.
- These entities are regulated through a variety
of laws and permits that set limits on what pollutants they may emit to the air,
the quality of water they can release, and how they must protect the land they
It is the goal of the MPCA to monitor and assist
all these permit holders to comply with State and Federal regulations.
MPCA enforcement inspectors periodically visit
facilities and projects and review reports and tests, to make sure environmentally-protective
rules and standards are being met.
MPCA enforcement and emergency response staff
respond to tip calls and investigate, and oversee cleanup of environmental
spills and releases.
The #1 goal is compliance.
Compliance and Enforcement
tools: MPCA enforcement staff use a variety of tools to respond to
instances of noncompliance, ranging from a phone call, to a letter, to an
enforcement action assessing a financial penalty. Below are two common tools for serious or
Penalty Orders require the violation to be corrected within 30 days, and
also contain a penalty up to $20,000. In some instances, the penalty may be
completely or partially forgiven.
Agreements are used for more significant environmental violations. This agreement is a negotiated settlement
between the MPCA and the legally-responsible party. The penalty normally exceeds $20,000 and/or a
longer period of time is needed to correct the violation. It may also contain
additional set penalties which are triggered if the requirements of the
agreement are not met. Agreements may
contain a Supplemental Environmental Project, which is an environmentally
beneficial project which a party undertakes to offset a portion of the penalty.
How are penalties set?
Agency staff meet in a forum setting to discuss
factors related to a given enforcement case. This forum process helps make the
outcome more fair and eliminates the possibility of any one person determining
Penalties are based on the potential and/or
actual impacts to human health and the environment, as well as how far out of
compliance the party was.
Penalties are set to recover any economic
benefit or excess profits resulting from noncompliance.
- Penalties may be increased if there is previous
enforcement history with the party.
Penalties may be increased if the party acts
willfully or with recklessness or responds dishonestly to an investigation.
Penalties should be consistent with previous, similar cases.
Penalties should be large enough to deter
noncompliance by others.
Penalties may be paid in installments over a
period of time, or reduced, if the party’s financial records prove an inability
The MPCA sends out news releases
about environmental enforcement cases to inform the public and provide a
deterrent factor to other permitted parties.
Individual news releases are sent out for stipulation
agreements of $20,000 or more.
News releases summarizing large and smaller
penalties are also sent out quarterly.
Quarterly summary of enforcement actions:
Each quarter of a
given calendar year, a summary of all completed administrative penalty orders,
and stipulation agreements is published on the MPCA web site. The summary
offers more detail on the nature of violations and MPCA staff contacts for
further information on specific cases. Like individual news releases, the
summary also provides information to the public and serves as a deterrent
factor to other permitted parties.
The mission of the MPCA is to protect and improve the environment and enhance human health.
St. Paul • Brainerd • Detroit Lakes • Duluth • Mankato • Marshall • Rochester • Willmar
www.pca.state.mn.us • Toll-free and TDD 800-657-3864