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Iowa-based fertilizer producer fined for Clean Air Act violations at nine plants
One of the nation’s largest producers of nitric acid and nitrogen fertilizers has agreed to pay more than $500,000 in civil penalties to settle alleged violations of pollution laws at nine of its plans in Iowa, Mississippi and Oklahoma. The company will also spend an estimated $17 million to install and implement safeguards to reduce harmful emissions by at least 1,200 tons per year.
Terra Industries Inc., headquartered in Sioux City prior to a 2010 buyout, was a major U.S. producer of nitrogen fertilizers, including anhydrous ammonia, urea, ammonia nitrate and urea-ammonium nitrate. The company also produces nitric acid, a key intermediate in the manufacture of ammonium nitrate and urea-ammonium nitrate. The production of nitric acid, according to government officials, results in the emission of nitrogen oxides, which can cause lung damage, worsen respiratory diseases, contribute to acid rain, and lead to the formation of smog.
In order to settle alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act, Terra has agreed to pay $325,000 to federal officials and $100,000 each to the state of Iowa, state of Mississippi and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality co-plaintiffs in the action filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Sioux City.
Terra’s nine places included in the settlement are four nitric acid plants in Yazoo City, Miss., two in Verdigris, Okla., one in Woodward, Okla. and two in Sergeant Bluff.
According to the consent decree, Terra allegedly constructed, modified, and operated its facilities without obtaining appropriate pre-construction and operating permits, and without installing best available control technology for controlling air pollution. Terra also allegedly violated the Clean Air Act by failing to comply with applicable air emission limits and ongoing requirements for emissions monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting at some of its facilities.
“Illegal air pollution from the production of nitric acid can leave the public vulnerable to long-term health problems such as respiratory illness and asthma,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Bringing Terra into compliance with the Clean Air Act will protect the public health of communities across Iowa, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.”
It is estimate that the company will spend an estimated $17 million to install and implement new catalytic reduction units or upgrade existing equipment. Continuous emission monitors will be required at all facilities. The enhancements are expected to drop emissions by a total of 1,205 tons per year. A the Sergeant Bluff facilities, the EPA estimates a reduction of 54 tons per year.
According to information on the company’s website, their Port Neal Complex in Sergeant Bluff contains an ammonia plant, two urea plants, two nitric acid plants and a urea-ammonium nitrate plant. Since a rebuild in 1995, the plant’s capacity has been 1,100 tons per day.
The company agreed in March 2010 to a takeover bid of $4.7 billion from rival fertilizer maker CF Industries Holdings. The two combined form the world’s second largest nitrogen fertilizer producer.
“This agreement will require Terra Industries to make important improvements in pollution control technology at nine acid-producing facilities that will result in cleaner and healthier air for the benefit of communities in Iowa, Mississippi, and Oklahoma,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “This is a notable achievement in our efforts, alongside the Environmental Protection Agency, to address the largest sources of harmful air pollution and bring about company-wide compliance with the Clean Air Act.”
The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting comments is available at the U.S. Department of Justice website.
In February testimony before the U.S. House and Energy Commerce Committee, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson noted that during 2010 enforcement of the Clean Air Act saved 160,000 lives, prevented millions of cases of respiratory problems resulting in hospital visits and missed work days.
# Since 1970, the Clean Air Act has reduced key air pollutants that cause smog and particulate pollution by more than 60%. At the same time the economy more than tripled. And Since the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990, electricity production is up and prices are down. In 2009, electric utilities delivered 33 percent more electricity to U.S. households and businesses than in 1990, while nationwide electricity prices were 10 percent lower.
Over its forty-year span, the benefits of the Clean Air Act – in the form of longer lives, healthier kids, greater workforce productivity, and ecosystem protections – outweigh the costs by more than 30 to 1.