Sierran Masthead

Sierra Club to Sue South Bend Ethanol Plant

As Congress stands poised to produce an energy bill that would give billions of dollars to the ethanol industry, the Sierra Club said it intends to sue two ethanol facilities—including one in South Bend—for violations of the Clean Air Act.

The Club’s announcement comes after the Environmental Protection Agency warned ethanol producers that “most, if not all, ethanol facilities” were in significant violation of the law, and offered to meet with producers to discuss resolving the violations “on terms most favorable to industry”.

The two facilities named in the lawsuit are Ethanol 2000 of Bingham Lake, Minnesota, and New Energy Corp. of South Bend, Indiana.

“By the EPA’s own admission, these two plants are only the tip of the iceberg,” said David Bookbinder, senior attorney with the Sierra Club. “There’s a clear pattern in this industry of systematic disregard for the law. These lawsuits should serve as a warning to the entire industry to clean up their act, and to the EPA to enforce the law.”

The EPA’s findings, which are based on data from recent emissions tests, reveal that corn-based forms of ethanol production—which account for around 95 percent of all ethanol produced in the U.S.—are far more dangerous than had been suspected: the two plants that are the subject of the initial lawsuits were found to be releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals well above permitted levels.

Indeed, Ethanol 2000 was exceeding its permitted level by nearly 10 times and was emitting acetaldehyde and formaldehyde. Both of these chemicals are classified by the EPA as probable human carcinogens, while VOCs contribute to the production of ozone, which causes serious respiratory problems, including asthma and lung diseases.

Other ethanol facilities were found by the EPA to be emitting unlawful amounts of carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas that causes visual impairment, reduced work capacity, reduced manual dexterity, and a host of other human health problems.

Despite this clear indication that many ethanol producers are breaking the law and putting human health and the environment at risk, Congress is shaping an energy bill that would provide $5 billion in subsidies for the industry. Lawmakers would also exempt ethanol producers from any liability when people become sick from drinking polluted water.

“When ethanol producers violate the Clean Air Act and endanger human health, Congress should treat them like the corporate polluters they are, not give them yet more tax breaks,” continued Bookbinder. “Until these plants clean up their acts, they deserve fines, not hand-outs.”

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[12/5/02]efp

Winter 2002-2003