With more than two billion bushels of corn produced yearly and one of the fastest growing green fleets in the world, ethanol-based biofuels are big business in Illinois. However, a recent filing against a Canton, Ill., ethanol production plant by the state's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), shows that such "green" enterprises can be just as hazardous as more conventional industries.
The plant, originally proposed by Central Illinois Energy (CIE), initially relied upon stock buy-ins from local farmers. Unable to raise the capital to finish the plant, CIE declared bankruptcy in 2006, causing shareholders to lose their entire investment. The company eventually re-emerged as Riverland Biofuels and, with financial backing from several hedge funds, finished the plant. The first ethanol was produced in October of 2008, although the plant subsequently experienced several interruptions in production and never reached its full operating capacity of 105,000 gallons per day. In March of 2010, the plant stopped production again amid rumors that Riverland Biofuels was preparing to file for bankruptcy.
After having received an anonymous complaint, officers from the Illinois EPA investigated the plant's site in early March and found that ash from the facility, as well as run-off from an adjacent grain processing and storage site, were contaminating a nearby lake leading to the death of fish, turtles and other wildlife.
The director of the Illinois EPA, Doug Scott, then asked the state attorney general's office to take action against Riverland Biofuels and Green Lion Bio-Fuels, the owner of the grain facility. Specifically, the EPA asked for a court order which would compel the two companies (as well as The Andersons, Inc., an Ohio-based leaser of the grain facility) to cease contaminated discharges, clean up ground contamination, prevent flow between two lakes near the facilities, provide aeration to both lakes, remove wastewater for proper treatment and obtain the appropriate permits which were apparently lacking. The EPA also recommended civil action against the companies.
The lakes in question, both located near the plant, have experienced significant damage. The smaller of the two was found to have foul-smelling sludge and debris at its inlet, no fish, and a large number of dead turtles. After a channel between the two lakes was opened, fish in the larger lake began to die. This kill is currently being monitored by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The closure of the Canton plant is a stark reminder that "green" energy can sometimes be just as hazardous to produce as conventional energy. In this case, jobs have been lost, investments squandered, and acres of land and water have been spoiled. I think we can all agree, there's nothing green about that.