LINCOLN – On May 18, two legislative resolutions related to the ethanol plant in Mead were introduced during the waning time legislators had left in the 107th session.
District 23 Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard introduced Legislative Resolution 152 (LR152) which proposed an interim study “to evaluate the need for laws that would allow the Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) to expeditiously respond to emergency situations that threaten the health of agricultural land, water and air quality, livestock, and other plant and animal life from toxic or harmful products that are a part of or created by pesticide-treated seed or grain.”
While the resolution doesn’t specifically name AltEn, an ethanol plant in Mead, NDEE is currently overseeing the plant due to the use of pesticide-treated seed corn in the production of ethanol which has resulted in the potential risks to the surrounding environment.
AltEn’s process has resulted in byproducts such as pesticide-ridden distillers grain and wastewater that are being stored on the property.
The one-page resolution states that the study will be conducted by the Natural Resources Committee and gather information on alternative uses of treated seed corn in Nebraska, identify “emergency response and enforcement options” accessible to NDEE to “protect against harmful materials or byproducts resulting from use of pesticide-treated seed or grain” and review additional options for the state to “order, enforce, and facilitate expedited cleanup or removal” of byproducts and treated seed corn.
Bostelman also introduced legislative bill 507 (LB507) in January which was recently voted in as law by the Nebraska Legislature. The bill bans the use of treated seed corn in the ethanol process and also comes as a result of the situation in Mead.
Bostelman’s resolution states that the Natural Resources Committee would report its findings to the Legislative Council or Legislature upon completion of the study.
With the 107th session ending on May 27, the interim study was referred to the Natural Resources Committee on May 20, and could be addressed in a late-summer or fall session. District 3 Sen. Carol Blood also introduced a legislative resolution which specifically named AltEn in the resolution and is a more “deliberative examination,” Blood said in an interview, compared to Bostelman’s LR152.
“I respect that Sen. Bostelman is definitely taking this seriously and he’s doing it in good faith, but I don’t feel that it’s deliberative enough because we’re in a dire situation,” Blood said.
Blood said Bostelman’s study “doesn’t go far enough.” Blood’s five-page Legislative Resolution 159 (LR159) was also introduced on May 18 and requests that the Executive Board appoints a special committee called “AltEn LLC, Ethanol Plant at Mead Special Investigative and Oversight Committee,” according to the resolution.
This committee would consist of nine members of the Legislature appointed by the Executive Board and would investigate several different items including company records; certain laws or regulations related to the disposal of the byproducts and treated seed corn and necessary compliance from AltEn; costs for removal of the byproducts and treated seed corn; and the potential for negative impact on human health and drinking water in Omaha and Lincoln.
This resolution also stated that the committee would provide a preliminary report to the legislature no later than Dec. 1, 2022 and be disbanded by Dec. 31, 2022.
Blood has focused on waterway contaminations in Nebraska in previous studies she has conducted and executed. The senator said her main goal with this resolution is to not only create a model of how to dispose of unused treated seed corn but also define definitions related to treated seed corn treatment protocols.
“The problem is that we never really created a good model policy here in Nebraska for the greater good of all Nebraska,” Blood said.
However, when LR159 came to the Executive Board, the board’s chairperson, District 44 Sen. John Hughes, “refused” to consider scheduling a hearing, Saunders County Attorney Joe Dobesh said during the Saunders County Board of Supervisors meeting on May 25.
“It’s truly disappointing we won’t get the answers we deserve,” Dobesh said to the county board.
Blood said they were told a hearing was not set due to lack of time so the resolution will be put on pause until the January session begins.
“I did let Sen. Hughes know that I understood it was a small window of time (and) that we would accommodate any way that we could to encourage him to go ahead and schedule it,” Blood said. “But it still was thought that they would just schedule it in January.”
In the meantime, Blood said she plans on conducting “roadshows” starting at the end of June or beginning of July where she will travel the state holding open forums to discuss situations like AltEn and how to prevent something like that from happening again in the future in other communities. Blood said she does plan on hosting an event in Mead during this tour.
When Blood started to see a lack of progress related to AltEn, she felt the need to take it a step further especially after being contacted by the affected communities. Just because she’s now an urban senator, doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about rural Nebraska, Blood said.
“We represent all of Nebraska, so it shouldn’t be an urban versus rural thing,” Blood said. “It should be that state senators want to make sure that Nebraskans are protected.”