Ethanol pollution standards lowered

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

A Clovis resident fears a new law lowering air pollution standards for ethanol plants sets a bad precedent.

Clovis resident Frank Dottle, an organizer of a local group that opposes construction of a plant just west of Clovis that would produce 108 million gallons of ethanol a year, felt the new standards would allow the company to make more money by producing more of the fuel additive at the plant, and that would create more pollution.

“It just leaves the door wide open to increase production any time they want to now,” Dottle said. “I think there will be a pretty good fight to change (EPA guidelines) to where it’s not like that.”

The Environmental Protection Agency modified the definition of “chemical process plants” earlier this month. According to the EPA’s Web site, the change for ethanol plants was made because creating ethanol for human consumption and as a fuel source are generally similar processes.

The new standards would allow 250 tons per year to be emitted in pollutant categories, up from 100 tons annually.

ConAgra Trade Group Spokesperson Melissa Baron said at this point, the EPA’s changes won’t affect the Clovis Ethanol plant, which would process corn into a fuel additive. The plant would be located about three-tenths of a mile from Clovis city limits off U.S. 60/84.

“We’re aware of the new guidelines, but we probably would not submit a new permit,” Baron said.

State Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry should make a final decision about whether to grant the plant its permit in May. A hearing officer recommended earlier this month ConAgra be issued the permit. If and when the permit is approved, Baron said, ConAgra would seek construction permits and complete the plant approximately 18-20 months after breaking ground.

Dottle said according to Clovis Ethanol’s application, the plant is near the old limit in several different air pollution criteria, adding to 500 tons emitted annually. Under new regulations, that number would go up to 1,250 tons per year.

Dottle wonders whether ethanol is worth its adverse effects.

“I don’t believe ethanol’s the answer. Biodiesel is a lot more practical because they’re not using up the feedstock for cattle, chicken, pork. God forbid we have a bad season.”

Dottle said there were several other issues with the Clovis Ethanol plant, including a lagoon for cooling ConAgra equipment, heavy water demands and that people most likely to be affected by air pollutants are in lower-income neighborhoods.

“To me, it’s not worth 50 jobs to jeopardize everybody’s health.”

Two biodiesel plants are planned for Clovis. One would use animal fat to produce 75 million gallons annually, and the other would use soybean and canola oil to produce 15 million gallons per year.

Both are being built in the Clovis Industrial Park south of Clovis.