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Senators consider bill that would give regulators authority for environmental cleanups sooner | Regional Government

Senators consider bill that would give regulators authority for environmental cleanups sooner | Regional Government

According to the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy director, a bill currently under consideration by the Legislature would give the agency more power to stop bad actors polluting.

If passed, Sen. Bruce Bostelman’s bill would allow Jim Macy (director of the environmental agency) to order cleanups or to issue cease and desist letters for companies posing a risk to people and the environment. He also has the authority to initiate cleanups and recover costs.

Macy declined to answer questions by lawmakers on Thursday regarding whether the proposed legislation would have stopped AltEn from turning pesticide-treated seeds into ethanol.

The source of pesticide contamination has been identified as the biofuel facility near Mead. It spread for miles throughout Saunders County.

Would the situation have been different if this (legislation), had it been in place five years ago? At a hearing before Nebraska’s Natural Resources Committee, Sen. John Cavanaugh asked Macy.

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Macy replied, Senator, I’m going to be very careful in my answer here. Instead of looking back, this looks forward.

Omaha senator stated that the Department of Environment and Energy hadn’t exercised its authority to prevent AltEn from occurring after it had learned of the pesticide contamination, or had insufficient authority.



Jim Macy

Jim Macy




Before Cavanaugh could respond to his question, Sen. Mike Moser of Columbus, vice chair of the committee, cut him off.

Macy stated that the department spent a lot on “making a solid case against AltEn in Court” and that he would not address this situation at the hearing.

AltEn has six seed companies that supplied pesticide-treated seeds. Six more seed companies are participating in a voluntary cleanup of the ethanol plant’s contaminated byproducts.

According to a spokesperson for the Nebraska Attorney Generals Office, a 98-page suit, filed on March 1, 2021, is in the discovery phase in litigation in Saunders County District Court.

In response to the environment crisis, several pieces of legislation have been proposed by lawmakers this year.

The Nebraska Environmental Response Act grants regulators more authority to order cleanups. If passed by lawmakers, it also creates a cash fund that would be seeded using $300,000 in state appropriations.

The cash fund would be replenished through the recovery of costs from companies found to have violated environmental regulations.

Bostelman explained to the committee that this bill will ensure that cleanups are paid for by responsible parties rather than Nebraska taxpayers.

The bill’s hearing is almost one year after the Department of Environment and Energy had ordered AltEn not to pump contaminated wastewater into a lagoon system at the facility.


“How long is too much?” Bill would extend the time Mead residents could sue ethanol plant

After dozens of inspections that resulted in violations notices, noncompliance letters and administrative orders spread over many years, the state decided to order the ethanol plant shut down.

A few days after AltEn shut down, a tank at the facility ruptured, releasing 4 million gallons of pesticide-contaminated waste into waterways flowing downstream from the ethanol plant, and brought further scrutiny from state and federal environmental regulators.

Al Davis, former state senator representing the Nebraska Chapter, stated that the environmental advocacy group supported this bill but criticised the state for not taking action to protect the citizens of Mead.

State records indicate that AltEn knew from 2012 that AltEn intended to use pesticide-treated seeds as ethanol feedstock. The lawsuit against AltEn acknowledges that the state knew about the treated seeds in 2015.

In 2016, residents of Mead and the surrounding areas began to file complaints to the Department of Environment and Energy.


After intervention of the state agency, AltEn has halted the sale of contaminated biochar


Environmental cleanup at AltEn shows progress, Nebraska agency says

Davis and others, including Amy Svoboda, an environmental lawyer, claimed that the bill’s permissive language gave the director too much control over when to take action against polluters.

Svoboda also stated that the bill did not go far enough to define who would be considered responsible for cleanup purposes. He said it could be used against individual front-line employees and not against the entire company.

She suggested that the bill identify “responsible parties” as the owners, operators or former owners of a facility and the suppliers of any waste product.

According to this definition, any seed company that supplied AltEn with discarded plants treated with pesticides may be held responsible.

The Nebraska Agri-Business Association opposed the bill in a letter. It said it supported Bostelman’s intention but was concerned that seed dealers, haulers, individual growers could be liable for cleanup costs.

Scott Merritt, president of the association, wrote that “our concern is whether commercial vendors could be held liable for improper disposals of products by users.”

Bostelman stated that he was open for amending the bill to address any concerns. The committee did nothing on Thursday.


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Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

Follow @ChrisDunkerLJS on Twitter

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