Will Northern Metals be allowed to continue polluting the Northside?

I hear a great amount of confusion about the court ruling on what Northern Metal (referred to as “Northern”) is allowed to do and whether they will be closed. I have arranged to have the Pollution Control Agency (PCA) come to a meeting on the Northside to explain the rulings in the case and their efforts to limit Northern and to clean the air on the Northside. The meeting will take place at the Park Board headquarters, West River Road and 22nd Avenue North, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 17.

Many people believe the court ordered Northern to close. In reality all the court did was order Northern to close down one part of their operation which involved separating materials after they went through the metal shredder. And it was not a permanent order. The PCA is pressing forward in both District Court and the Administrative Law Process to shut down Northern by revoking their permit. Of course, even if the permit is revoked Northern could put in new control equipment and apply for a new permit.

In District Court, the PCA argued the 2012 permit is not valid and that Northern did not have the right permit for what they are doing and did not disclose to the PCA one of their operations as well as full information that affects the federal national ambient air quality standards.

Seemingly good news came on December 15. Northern brought in new consultants and new attorneys and appears to have reached a settlement in concept. Both sides are trying to work out language for a consent decree. The PCA is insisting on five points: a large cash payment to help people living near Northern mitigate¬† the conditions they face because of Northern’s action; within a certain amount of time, Northern must move their site out of Minneapolis and must be in compliance until then; Northern must pay all the PCA costs; Northern must pay all the air monitoring costs for the past and three years into the future; and a very large civil penalty for non-compliance and non-disclosure of facts and operations.

Finally, just a few weeks ago, the City of Minneapolis decided to join the lawsuit by the PCA against Northern. I had been trying to get the City to do that for many months and the PCA said they wanted them involved. My concern is whether the City only now joined so they could get control of the money that is to go to the people living near Northern and control the way it is dispersed.

The part of Northern which was closed by the judge was the Metals Recycling Plant (MRP).¬† After major items went through the shredder there was “frag” (which was large parts of metal and other things) and “fluff” (which was fine and often friable materials which were put through sieves, magnetizers, shaking belts, etc. in order to get every small thing they could sell). The MRP building was not closed a lot of the time. Northern and its consultant had not even disclosed such a building when getting its 2012 permit. After the judge closed down the MRP operation the fluff has been taken to an eastern state to separate.

Since the closing of the MRP, the readings on the particulate matter monitors have appeared to have gone down which indicates that MRP process was probably contributing substantially to the pollution in the area. However, Northern is probably still producing some pollution from the rest of its operations. But the PCA believes other companies in the area are also contributing pollution. All the other companies are cooperating with the PCA in efforts to reduce PMs. Still, the trucks and vehicles in the area and on I94 are probably the biggest contributors.

The former owners of the previous metal recycling company, American Iron, still own the property and are leasing to Northern. The PCA assures me that if Northern leaves, American Iron or any other company would have to go through strict permitting in order to operate there. The City would have far more control than the PCA on what could go in there.

We need to thank the PCA staff for being so persistent in their actions against Northern. Also, they have been very helpful in trying to initiate some of my nation-leading efforts to establish a statewide plan within the PCA for advancing environmental justice (which is making sure that polluters don’t have a worse effect on low income and minority people).

Submitted by

Joe Mullery, State Representative