Whether it’s a group of employees, members of a team or the industry members that make up a trade association, there’s a collective desire to put one’s best foot forward. No one wants to see the so-called “bad egg” bring everyone else down with it.
Such is probably the case these days in regard to the ethanol industry in Nebraska and surrounding states.
It’s because of an ethanol plant near Mead that uses pesticide-treated seed corn in producing the biofuel — a practice that is not common in the industry; in fact, it’s on the far edge of legitimacy.
The AltEn plant in question has been the subject of dozens of complaints since it reopened in 2015 relating to the odor coming from the byproduct of its ethanol process. Unlike other ethanol plants, AltEn uses treated seed instead of harvested grain as a feedstock for its fuel production, but the byproduct and wastewater have been found to carry levels of pesticides and fungicides above the limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In addition to odor concerns, neighboring land owners have complained about the harm done to bee hives, birds and other environmental concerns. Health issues have been raised, too. The concern is that the chemicals from the treated seed have leached into the groundwater near the plant and could have long-lasting effects on the area. A frozen pipe at the plant recently overflowed lagoons and spread wastewater from the plant to the surrounding area.
Why would an ethanol plant risk all of that and choose to use treated seed in its manufacturing process? Because it’s basically free for the taking since there are virtually no other uses for it.
In recent weeks, the scrutiny of the Mead plant has increased, leading to an order issued by the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy to shut down the plant. The order was issued after the state found three lagoons on the site were badly damaged and holding more wastewater than permitted. The state also imposed a deadline for AltEn to remove the piles of waste from the production site.
The ethanol industry itself has had to battle misleading information in regard to the efficiency of ethanol production as well as the positive impact it can have on the environment because it is a cleaner-burning fuel.
The last thing the industry — including top-notch operations like Husker Ag near Plainview and the Louis Dreyfus Commodities plant in Norfolk — is more negative perceptions. The sooner the mess surrounding the AltEn plant — both literally and figuratively — can be cleaned up, the better.