Nebraska AG files complaint against AltEn

By Erin Voegele | March 01, 2021

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson on March 1 filed a complaint in the District Court of Saunders County alleging multiple environmental violations by AltEn LLC, a 25 MMgy ethanol plant located in Mead, Nebraska.

The complaint alleges violations of the Nebraska Environmental Protection Act. violations of the Integrated Solid Waste Management Act, and multiple violations of permit conditions and includes violations of an order from the director of the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy.

According to the complaint, the plant has been operating under its current ownership since early 2015. The facility was originally permitted to produce ethanol using field corn as its primary feedstock. The Nebraska Development of Environment and Energy, however, in 2015 discovered the facility was using discarded seed corn that had been treated with pesticides as its feedstock rather than normal field corn. The department in 2018 discovered that the byproducts produced at the facility contained measurable residues of pesticides.

The complaint states that AltEn since May 2019 has been prohibited from land applying distillers grain as a soil conditioner and cannot otherwise land apply the distillers grains due to elevated concentrations of pesticides. The facility has also since September 2019 barred from land applying process wastewater due to elevated concentrations of pesticides.

A statement released by the Attorney General’s Office indicates "AltEn has three primary lagoons on its property to hold its contaminated wastewater. At this time, AltEn has significant stockpiles of contaminated distiller’s grain and is operating its lagoons at improperly high levels. NDEE has ordered AltEn to dispose of all of the contaminated distiller’s grain and address the contaminated wastewater, but AltEn has failed to adequately do so. AltEn has consistently missed deadlines and failed to complete actions required by NDEE to fix the environmental problems at the facility. The stockpiles of distiller’s grains and the poorly maintained lagoons present an ongoing threat to the environment."

The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy on Feb. 4 published an emergency order requiring the facility to cease operations until wastewater violations are corrected. The order also requires AltEn to submit a plan detailing a protocol for disposal of the lagoon wastewater by March 10.

The facility was shut down by Feb. 10. On Feb. 12, however, one of AltEn’s 4-million-gallon digesters began releasing waste that flowed into a drainage ditch and onto neighboring property approximately 4.5 miles away. On Feb. 20, the NDEE issued another emergency complaint and order requiring the facility to immediately prevent any further discharge of the waste material from the digester and take active steps to clean up the discharge of waste materials from the digester. The order also prohibits the plant from resuming operations until the discharged waste materials are sufficiently remediated.

The complaint filed by the Attorney General seeks proper disposal of contaminated byproducts; compliance with state statutes, their permit conditions and the order of the director; and civil penalties. A full copy of the complaint can be downloaded from the Nebraska Attorney General’s website