State took Koch refinery at its word in false records case

ROSEMOUNT, Minn. (AP) — State pollution control officials accepted Koch Refining Co.’s self-investigation of problems with its leak-detection program and even commended the company for taking the matter seriously.
But the problems were more serious than refinery officials portrayed or the state believed, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported Sunday.
Former Koch employee Thomas Holton, who worked in the leak-detection unit in 1996, said a crew leader told him to falsify inspection records, that he had falsely reported checking valves for leaks and that others had talked about having done so, the Star Tribune and the Saint Paul Pioneer Press reported.
Company records examined by the Star Tribune showed that a supervisor had whited out leak-detection figures more than a dozen times, usually replacing them with numbers that showed less serious leaks into the air.
Although Holton said he volunteered his information about leak-detection problems to Koch’s internal investigators in 1996, much of it doesn’t appear in the company’s repot to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
And the MPCA didn’t interview Holton or other crew members with direct knowledge of the program.
The agency also didn’t request Koch’s investigative file until three months after determining the investigation was adequate, and then only after a staff member at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggested it. Even then, the MPCA told Koch to withhold personnel information it considered confidential. The company didn’t release notes of its interviews of Holton and others.
Koch officials say there is no evidence that any of the false reporting resulted in environmental damage.
MPCA Commissioner Peder Larson reaffirmed his agency’s handling of the Koch case. He said if the MPCA were to take a strict enforcement approach in such cases, companies wouldn’t voluntarily inform the agency of problems.
Ann Foss, section manager of the compliance and enforcement section of the MPCA’s air quality division, said that if there had been a lot of pollution and her agency thought Koch’s investigation was severely flawed, the MPCA would have done its own investigation.
In recent months, Wichita, Kan.-based Koch has been conducting a major advertising campaign to rebuild public trust following a record $6.9 million penalty imposed by the MPCA for polluting water and air over several years. Meanwhile, the company is seeking a new MPCA permit that would give it regulatory flexibility for air emissions, including those caused by future changes or possible expansions at the refinery.