Moline-based Deere & Co. will pay $1 million for violating air quality standards over a roughly 13-year period at its diesel-engine testing center in Cedar Falls.
Chief District Judge Kellyann Lekar entered a consent decree Thursday in Black Hawk County, requiring Deere to pay the penalty and conduct annual environmental audits by a third party for at least three years.
In a petition filed earlier this month, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources alleged that over a 12- to 13-year period, Deere failed to comply with emissions limits in 80 construction permits at its Performance Engineering Center, or PEC, in Cedar Falls.
In addition, Deere allegedly operated several emission points without proper air quality permits and had provided inaccurate information to the DNR on compliance reports. And, the plant had violated emissions limits on carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from 2005 until 2018, according to the petition.
The Environmental Protection Commission voted to refer the matter to the Iowa Attorney General's Office last year, according to a statement.
"Deere’s violations went on far too long," Attorney General Tom Miller said in a news release. "Even after the violations were discovered, the company continued to exceed emissions limits while it sought revised construction permits from the DNR to address its noncompliance."
Deere did not contest the allegations as part of the settlement with the state. The company has agreed to conduct annual environmental audits until they receive two consecutive audit reports with no or minimal violations. Deere would be required to correct any violations in a timely manner or pay a daily fine, according to the decree.
"Deere is responding to the issue with employee training, review of procedures at PEC and other facilities, implementation of an updated environmental management system and other actions to reflect the lessons learned from the PEC situation," Deere spokesman Ken Golden said in an email. "The enforcement issues at PEC prompted refocused attention on air permitting requirements, especially at Deere's complex facilities."
According to the petition, in 2005, Deere's PEC conducted stack testing required by construction permits. The emission permits were based on the assumption that Deere used lower-emitting engines, but unbeknownst to the DNR, the company used engines that emitted higher levels of nitrogen oxides.
Nitrogen oxides are regulated air pollutants that can cause serious health effects and worsen conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.
Around a decade later, in 2016, the DNR learned Deere was not in compliance with current emission limits.
"Deere had believed that the permits for PEC were appropriate," Golden said. "While Deere annually reviewed the compliance status of PEC, the permitting errors were not apparent and only were discovered during the in-depth review undertaken as part of air permitting efforts for a new project."
In 2017, the DNR cited several violations at the Cedar Falls center, including exceeding the permitted emission limits for nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter, plus failing to report the excess emissions. That summer, Deere submitted revised applications seeking higher emission limits.
Last year, Deere informed the DNR that PEC had around 46 unpermitted ventilation stacks, some of which should have been previously evaluated since they existed in 2005.
After a year-long process, last December, the DNR and Deere entered into a consent order, where Deere agreed to undertake several measures to promote compliance with Iowa's air quality requirements. Among other things, Deere agreed to implement a new environmental management system and conduct annual compliance training for PEC employees.
Golden said environmental compliance is a "core element of Deere's corporate culture" and the company will continue to evaluate opportunities to "strengthen compliance programs."
He said the Cedar Falls facility, off of Deere Road and Ridgeway Avenue, is Deere’s engine research and development hub, where engine designs are evaluated to ensure they meet government emission standards and customer requirements for productivity and quality.