Minnesota ethanol plant must cut air emissions


WASHINGTON, DC, September 3, 2003 (ENS): Air pollution from ethanol manufacturing plants has been a problem for some residents of St. Paul, Minnesota, but they have been successful in obtaining the support of the U.S. Justice Department for their efforts to limit emissions from the Gopher State Ethanol facility in St. Paul. Ethanol is a fuel derived from grain.

The Justice Department has requested that the federal district court in Minnesota approve proposed amendments to the 2002 Clean Air Act settlement with Gopher State Ethanol, based on residents' comments.

The original consent decree was lodged with the court on October 2, 2002, as one of 12 national settlements to mandate reductions in air pollution from ethanol manufacturing plants. When the initial consent decrees were lodged, the U.S. provided an opportunity for the public to review all the proposed settlements, including the Gopher State deal.

Residents of St. Paul who live near the facility raised a number of concerns and provided written comments on the decree. Representatives of the community attended a January 8, 2003 meeting in St. Paul with federal and state officials to voice their concerns about the plant’s operation. As a result of the public input, the plaintiffs elected to reopen the consent decree to strengthen certain aspects of the deal.

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Tom Skinner, an important change is a restriction on the facility’s handling of “wet cake,” a byproduct of the ethanol manufacturing process.

“In an urban setting, the air pollution caused by this material is a problem,” Skinner said. “People in the community were concerned, and we’ve responded by restricting Gopher State’s reliance on the methods that create this byproduct.”

Assistant Attorney General Tom Sansonetti said, “We worked with the community and with the Gopher State facility to get this settlement right for the citizens of St. Paul.” Sansonetti added that Gopher State has been cooperative throughout this process.

On June 5, the United States lodged an amended consent decree with the court that includes the agreed upon restrictions, and sought comments from the public on the revised settlement. The comments received are addressed in the government’s brief, which was filed with the court today.

The amended decree addresses allegations made by state and federal regulators that volatile organic compounds (VOC) and carbon monoxide from feed dryers, cooling cyclones, and ethanol loading operations have historically been underestimated by the ethanol industry.

Recent testing of these units in Minnesota plants indicates that the emissions are well in excess of the 100 tons per year that is the threshold for “major sources” to be regulated under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Since the facilities are now considered to be major sources, they are required to install best available control technology on all units that are significant sources of pollution throughout the plant. The facilities were mistakenly permitted as minor sources when they were built.

Under the settlement, Gopher State must operate a thermal oxidizer to reduce VOC emissions by 95 percent from the feed dryers, and meet, new more restrictive emission limits for nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and hazardous air pollutants. The primary sources of these emissions are the feed dryers, fermentation units, gas boilers, cooling cyclones, ethanol load-out systems, and fugitive dust emissions from facility operations.

On August 22, a federal judge in Urbana, Illinois approved the United States’ comprehensive settlement with grain industry giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) covering ethanol and oil seed operations at 52 plants in 16 states.

ADM is the largest ethanol manufacturer in the United States with approximately 50 percent of the market. The ADM decree requires the same 95 percent reduction in volatile organic compound emissions from the ethanol processes that have been imposed on the small Minnesota dry mills.


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