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BY ANDREW WALTERS SVS REPORTER email@example.com
An ethanol plant scheduled to get up and running in Hennepin this year is coming under fire from a citizens' group that says the plant eventually will produce more pollution than permitted.
The group also contends that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is deliberately issuing lesser permits to this and other ethanol plants, and ignoring potential future pollution violations, to fulfill Gov. Rod Blagojevich's desire to make Illinois a leading state for ethanol production.
The group, Concerned Citizens for Putnam and Bureau Counties, is planning to file suit in federal court, demanding more stringent pollution controls on the Marquis Energy plant in Hennepin.
Once fully operational, the ethanol plant is expected to draw grain from a 50-mile radius, which would include Lee and parts of Whiteside counties.
At issue is the plant's future expansion plans. Phase one, expected to be completed in December, is a 100-million-gallon-per-year natural gas-fired plant, for which the IEPA issued a "minor source" permit. But phase two, expected to be completed by January 2009, calls for the plant to expand to a 200-million-gallon-per-year coal-fired plant, which would require a "major source" permit that has not yet been obtained. Coal-fired plants emit mercury and other pollutants.
The citizens' group has hired attorneys and a California nonprofit environmental advocacy group to take Marquis Energy and the IEPA to task on the "sham" pollution permits issued, and has filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue in federal court to force the ethanol refinery to install "legally required pollution controls" needed to meet federal Clean Air Act standards for a 200-million-gallon capacity coal-fired ethanol plant.
The group alleges that the IEPA ignored clear evidence that Marquis intends to build a coal-fired refinery when it issued only a "minor source" permit.
IEPA spokeswoman Maggie Carson said the agency has no reason to believe that such a change of plans has taken place. A coal-fired facility would require new permitting and another public comment period, she said.
In an April 2006 article in Ethanol Producer Magazine, however, Mark Marquis, president of Marquis Energy, laid out the company's plans, including the expansion and conversion to a coal-fired plant, which he said would reduce the plant's energy expense by 70 percent. The plans are repeated in an October 2006 article.
Marquis did not return repeated phone calls asking for comment.
The citizens' group also says the IEPA permit fails to require Marquis to install the necessary pollution control equipment, and to require the testing and monitoring needed to ensure the refinery produces only minor amounts of air pollution.
"Our experts tell us that much of their permit is erroneous," said James Wilson, president of California-based Legal and Safety Employer Research. The advocacy group's experts are convinced the plant will exceed the 100 tons of annual emissions for which they have been permitted, Wilson said. If Marquis and the IEPA do not correct the situation on their own within the 60-day period, which ends around the first of March, the group will sue.
"The IEPA is rubber-stamping ethanol. The truth is, the IEPA has taken the numbers the company gave them and did not do their own independent study," Wilson said.
The IEPA's Carson contests claims that any of the agency's permitting is substandard.
"We believe the permit was issued properly and the agency is prepared to defend that," she said, adding that the IEPA has received the notice of intent, but has not yet been sued.
The Hennepin case is indicative of what is happening with ethanol plants around Illinois, Wilson said.
"The majority of the permits being offered today are sham permits," Wilson said, adding that the IEPA often turns a blind eye to environmental problems ethanol creates because of the administration's desire to put Illinois in the forefront of ethanol production.
"We don't understand why a few renegade ethanol companies and the Illinois EPA think that to build ethanol plants we have to disregard laws designed to protect our health and safety," said Chris Maggi, member of the citizens group who lives in nearby Granville. "All we ask is they care about our health and quality of life, like the law requires."
Reach Andrew Walters at 625-3600, 284-2222 or (800) 798-4085, ext. 522.