Twelve Minnesota ethanol companies agree to US air pollution deal

By OGJ editors

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 3 -- The Department of Justice, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Minnesota Oct. 2 announced civil settlements with 12 ethanol plants in Minnesota for alleged Clean Air Act violations.

The settlements are the first agreements to mandate reductions in air pollution from fuel ethanol producers, US officials said.

Under the settlements, the plants will install thermal oxidizers that reduce volatile organic compounds, a smog precursor, by 95% from the feed dryers and meet new, more restrictive emissions limits for nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and other hazardous air pollutants. In addition to emissions control requirements estimated to cost $2 million/plant, each facility will also pay a civil penalty of $29,000-39,000, US air pollution enforcement officials said.

The government alleges that the facilities were operating in violation of the Clean Air Act's New Source Review (NSR) provisions. The NSR program requires plant operators to install pollution controls and undertake other preconstruction obligations to control air pollution emissions, US officials said.

Last week, the Sierra Club announced its intention to sue two Midwest ethanol producers to force Clean Air Act compliance (OGJ Online, Sept. 30, 2002). The settlement with Ethanol 2000 in Minnesota addresses concerns raised by the Sierra Club and will bring about full compliance at that facility, Justice officials said. The other facility that Sierra Club intended to name in its lawsuit is operated by New Energy Corp. of South Bend, Ind.; that and other plants may still be targeted, Sierra Club officials said.

The consent decrees were lodged in federal district court in Minneapolis and are subject to a 30-day comment period.

Ethanol fuel producer representatives called the announcement part of a "cooperative process" between regulators and the ethanol industry. They said discussions yielded a resolution less than 4 months after EPA and industry representatives met in Chicago last June to discuss new emissions data.

"I think it should be noted that these ethanol producers did not delay and did not go to court, said Bob Dinneen, Renewable Fuels Association president. "The cooperative response will guarantee that necessary modifications are implemented in the quickest possible timeframe. The public was the real winner today. Quite frankly, this cooperative engagement with the regulators could serve as a model for industries in the future when confronted with new, unexpected data."

Ethanol fuel critics, meanwhile, said that they question what the impact of the decision would have on smaller producers with limited access to capital.

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