A number of leading agribusiness firms that supplied US ethanol company AltEn with unplanted seed are taking legal action against the firm for creating an environmental crisis they claim cost millions of dollars to clean up, the Lincoln Journal Star reports.
In the lawsuits filed in the US District Court in Omaha on 22 February, five of the six members of the AltEn Facility Response Group claimed the biofuel plant near Mead had violated state and federal law governing how pesticide-treated seed should be handled, the report said.
The lawsuits — one filed jointly by Corteva, AgReliant, Beck’s Superior Hybrids and Winfield Solutions; the other filed individually by Syngenta — named AltEn and other companies operated by Tanner Shaw at the site, as well as general manager Scott Tingelhoff, the 23 February report said.
Although the sixth company in the coalition, German chemical giant Bayer, was not part of the legal filing, it was considering its legal options even as it remained “committed to our participation as a member of the (facility response group),” a spokeswoman said.
AltEn, unlike other ethanol plants that used harvested grain, produced the gasoline additive with manufactured seeds coated with pesticides that went unsold or could no longer be planted, according to the report, becoming the final destination for almost all of the discarded seed in North America.
The plant came to the attention of state agricultural and environmental regulators soon after it started operations, the report said, with the solid and liquid by-products of AltEn’s ethanol manufacturing process discovered to contain high concentrations of pesticides, which were classified as waste products.
The former suppliers to AltEn said the facility’s failure to properly handle, manage and store the discarded seed, as well as the waste products it produced, broke state and federal laws, the permits it obtained from the state, as well as the agreements they signed with AltEn, Lincoln Journal Star wrote.
“These and other failures led to the release of untreated wastewater from a tank at the AltEn plant that flowed onto neighbouring properties, the stockpiling of thousands of tonnes of wet cake by-product, and the mismanagement of millions of gallons of wastewater in lagoons perilously close to failure,” they were quoted as saying.
The lawsuits revealed that the suppliers had agreed to send discarded seed to the AltEn plant, believing that it would be disposed of in a safe and effective manner, and the companies claimed that AltEn had failed to live up to its end of the agreement in a number of ways.
In a statement, Corteva said it was “frustrated with how AltEn handled materials at its own site and its failure to follow label requirements and specific safe-handling procedures.”
“To date, AltEn itself has not participated in any actions to stabilise or address the environmental conditions at its own site, and in some cases, has hindered the (facility response group’s) work,” Corteva said in a statement, adding it would continue its voluntary remediation of the site.
Stephen Mossman, a Lincoln attorney representing AltEn, had declined to comment on the lawsuits, the report said.
The lawsuits asked for a jury trial to award compensation and damages, declare the transfer of assets void, and for an injunction preventing AltEn from the further transfer of any property.
AltEn is also subject to an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Nebraska Attorney General's Office last March for violations of state environmental regulations, according to the report.