3M incinerator changes on hold; permits await EPA approvalMore than two years after 3M Co. publicly announced its intention to begin burning hazardous waste from outside sources at its Cottage Grove incinerator — and 10 months after city leaders agreed to drop their opposition to the plan — non-3M waste still isn’t being burned at the company’s Cottage Grove facility.
More than two years after 3M Co. publicly announced its intention to begin burning hazardous waste from outside sources at its Cottage Grove incinerator — and 10 months after city leaders agreed to drop their opposition to the plan — non-3M waste still isn’t being burned at the company’s Cottage Grove facility.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has yet to OK amendments to permits that regulate the incinerator at the 3M Cottage Grove plant. That, 3M says, has prevented the company from putting into action its plan to burn hazardous waste from outside the company as a replacement for natural gas burned as a supplement to its own supply of chemical garbage from its operations in North America.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) officials have said there is nothing in the proposed amendments that would cause them to block the re-permitting. But Karen Thompson, an EPA spokeswoman, said last week the agency is still “doing due diligence” on the three permits.
That, she said, includes the investigation of alleged compliance violations.
Vickie Batroot, site director at 3M Cottage Grove, declined recently to discuss specifics of the company’s understanding of what is bogging down the re-permitting process. The two sides “still don’t have agreement on all issues,” Batroot said. She called those issues “very technical and very complex.”
Tammy Moore, a section chief with the EPA’s regional office in Chicago, said recently a heavy permitting workload has contributed to the 3M permit delay. The agency has also spent time responding to a number of comments and inquiries by the Coalition of Concerned Cottage Grove Citizens, a group that has helped lead opposition to the proposal to burn outside waste at the Cottage Grove incinerator.
There were “a couple inspections that took place while we were reviewing their permit, but we just want to make sure everything is OK,” the EPA’s Moore said. “We want to make sure they have all their ducks in a row.”
Brian Quinnell, the coalition’s spokesperson, said the group isn’t anti-3M. “We just don’t want the dang pollution expanded,” he said.
The coalition has been pushing against the 3M plan on both the state and federal levels, and has asked for a hearing before the MPCA on the proposed amendments.
Stalling the permit, Quinnell said, has been a good thing.
“The way it looked at first is we were going to get steam rolled by the big machine,” Quinnell said. “And it hasn’t happened yet.”
3M first alerted local officials to the company’s plan to take on outside waste as a cost-saving measure in early 2009. It met resistance months later, first from worried residents and then from local elected officials, following a public open house on the issue.
But in the face of strong opposition to the plan, 3M voluntarily suspended its permit amendment with state officials, allowing Cottage Grove to form a task force that later became the city’s Environmental Commission to examine the plan. Cottage Grove dropped its opposition to the plan last August after striking a deal to monitor the air near 3M’s Cottage Grove campus.
The EPA’s Moore said she expected the 3M re-permitting to move forward by the end of the year.
Continued delays have had an impact, Batroot said.
With the company’s own stream of waste solvent thinning, 3M has been burning more and more natural gas at the Cottage Grove incinerator to meet the required operating temperature, Batroot said. That, she said, has been costly; burning outside waste, for which 3M says it would receive no remuneration, would save the company upward of $1 million per year.
“It’s a financial burden, absolutely,” she said. “We are still finding ourselves burning a lot of natural gas and the price has done nothing but gone up.”