Imminent MPCA ethanol-plant announcement already drawing protest

There should be no environmental impact statement on a controversial ethanol plant in Eyota, Minn. That recommendation — to be announced Friday by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) — has already touched off a firestorm of protest. 
 
Yesterday, Eyota Mayor Wesley Bussell, who received advance notice of the agency’s staff recommendation as a courtesy,  shot off a letter to the agency asking for a delay in a decision meeting by the MPCA’s Citizen Board set for Oct. 28. The City Council of Eyota, a town of 1,822 located 10 miles east of Rochester, unanimously passed a resolution in July asking for a full environmental statement (EIS). 
 
The MPCA staff confirmed that an announcement will be made on Friday, but declined further comment.

Minnesota already is home to 19 ethanol plants that produce about a billion gallons annually of the alcohol that’s made from corn and blended with gasoline that’s sold in every gas station in the state. 
 
Critics term reviews cursory
But the plants consume 4 to 10 gallons of water for every gallon of ethanol that’s produced, and that fact, together with other environmental effects, has prompted a growing crescendo of calls for an EIS on the industry. The MPCA has approved all plants with what critics say has been cursory review (the agency ordered an EIS for the proposed Agassiz Energy plant in Erskine, Minn., but the operators there promptly canceled their permit applications, so a report wasn’t done). 
 
In Eyota, a company called MinnErgy has proposed a 55-million annual capacity plant that Eyota residents say would draw too much ground water but also flush wastes into nearby trout streams and bring unwanted odor and air, noise and light pollution (the facilities operate around the clock) to their town. 
 
In addition to Eyota, the Olmsted County Board, the Whitewater Watershed Board, and the local chapter of Trout Unlimited have all asked that the MPCA order a full EIS for the plant. It marks the first time in Minnesota that local elected officials have openly opposed construction of an ethanol plant. The MinnErgy facility would bring 35 permanent jobs to the area.
 
In his letter to the MPCA, Eyota Mayor Bussell asked for a delay of 30 days so that he and others can review the recommendation that the agency is about to release. 
 
‘Action alert’ issued
But Jeff Broberg, a Rochester geologist and Trout Unlimited (he’s also involved with a citizens group organized to oppose the MinnErgy plant) has already issued an “action alert” about the pending MPCA recommendations. 
 
In his email, Broberg issued a stinging rebuke:
 
“To us it looks like the MPCA and DNR make it a priority to assist anyone who wants to make more ethanol, apply more pesticides and fertilizers, to cultivate and irrigate more corn acres, to ferment more food into more fuel and to generate more byproducts to feed more feedlots. … This is exactly the legacy we have come to fear from Minnesota’s so-called ‘natural resource agencies’ who we too often see as wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
 
MinnErgy officials declined to comment on the latest development.

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