Ethanol pollution worries group

Thursday, September 27, 2007

If all three ethanol plants proposed for sites along Nash Road are built, it will be the most concentrated location in the United States for production of the corn-based fuel, a state air-pollution advisory board was told Wednesday.

Two of those plants now have permits to begin construction. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday that it approved a construction permit for the joint venture project between Ethanex Energy and SEMO Milling to build a 138-million-gallons-per-year plant at the SEMO port. A permit for Renewable Power of Cape Girardeau to build a 93-million-gallon-per-year plant at Nash Road and County Road 217 was approved in August.

The third proposed ethanol plant in the area, First Missouri Energy, has a pending permit application.

Each of the plants, the Small Business Compliance Advisory Committee heard, will be allowed to annually discharge more than 300 tons of air pollutants ranging from particulates to hazardous air pollutants. The allowed levels for each plant's hazardous air pollutants, a class which includes chemicals known to cause cancer, will be 15.4 to 27.3 times the amounts of those chemicals reported by two other significant sources of air discharges in the area, Buzzi Unicem and BioKyowa.

Whether those plants will actually emit pollutants at the levels allowed in the construction permit remains to be seen from testing and monitoring, said John Rustige of the Air Pollution Control Program.

"The biggest concern for me is that it is going to be blowing over our community," Monty Keesee, owner of M&M Real Estate Development Corp. of Scott City, told the advisory committee. "I think it is a bit extreme to be allowing three in such a confined area."

The advisory committee is a seven-member panel that reports recommendations and concerns to the Air Conservation Commission and the DNR. The panel, chaired by Robin Cole of the Rite Group, met at Cole's Executive Business Center offices in Jackson.

Ethanol plants consume large amounts of resources, the panel heard in a presentation by Kendall Hale, chief of the DNR air pollution permitting program. To produce a gallon of ethanol, a standard plant needs about one-third of a bushel of corn, 4.3 to 4.8 gallons of water, 3,350 cubic feet of natural gas and 0.65 kilowatt hours of electricity, Hale said.

The status of ethanol producers under air pollution guidelines was recently changed, Hale said. Under previous guidelines, ethanol producers were classified as "major" or "named" sources if they emitted 100 tons of a particular pollutant each year. Under new guidelines issued by the EPA, that threshold was increased to 250 tons for ethanol plants, he said.

The change, Hale said, was made so ethanol producers fall under the same regulations as distillers of alcoholic beverages meant for human consumption.

Missouri law bars the DNR from having guidelines for air pollution that are stricter than federal standards.

Ethanol producers will be subject to the same reporting requirements for their discharges as other polluters, Hale said.

The potential for pollution should mean strict guidelines to control discharges at the ethanol plants, Keesee said. "We need to see past the golden promises that ethanol is the solution to our energy needs," he said. "I understand growth. I understand business needs. But at what cost?"

As he listened to the concerns of Keesee, who was joined by Scott City councilman Rob Henderson, Cole noted that ethanol plants do not produce many jobs. In an interview after the meeting, Cole said his feelings are mixed about the potential impact of ethanol plants.

"We all must remain alert and watchful," he said the committee's role is to listen to small business to help understand the impact of air pollution rules and new sources of pollution on those busiEvery time"Every time you introduce a source of pollution, you are making economic choices," Cole said. "Are those the choices we want to make for the region?"

Proponents of ethanol, such as the National Corn Growers Association tout the fuel as being an environmentally friendly fuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and displaces harmful gasoline additives.

Furthermore, they say ethanol has rejuvenated rural communities across the country by creating jobs and boosting tax revenue.

Ethanol has helped drive up the price of corn.

Ethanol plants in Southeast Missouri will raise the value of crop land, make cotton a less attractive crop for the area and have other, as yet unknown, impacts on the regional economy.

If all the proposed ethanol plants are built, he said, it will be " the biggest change since the Little River Drainage District was formed to drain the swamps in 1907."

335-6611, extension 126

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