We are going to trust these folks with our watershed?
Green Fuel’s Dirty Secret
June 1st, 2006
The town of Columbus, Nebraska, bills itself as a “City of Power and Progress.” If Archer Daniels Midland gets its way, that power will be partially generated by coal, one of the dirtiest forms of energy. When burned, it emits carcinogenic pollutants and high levels of the greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
Ironically this coal will be used to generate ethanol, a plant-based petroleum substitute that has been hyped by both environmentalists and President George Bush as the green fuel of the future. The agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is the largest U.S. producer of ethanol, which it makes by distilling corn. ADM also operates coal-fired plants at its company base in Decatur, Illinois, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and is currently adding another coal-powered facility at its Clinton, Iowa ethanol plant.
That’s not all. “[Ethanol] plants themselves – not even the part producing the energy – produce a lot of air pollution,” says Mike Ewall, director of the Energy Justice Network. “The EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) has cracked down in recent years on a lot of Midwestern ethanol plants for excessive levels of carbon monoxide, methanol, toluene, and volatile organic compounds, some of which are known to cause cancer.”
A single ADM corn processing plant in Clinton, Iowa generated nearly 20,000 tons of pollutants including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds in 2004, according to federal records. The EPA considers an ethanol plant as a “major source” of pollution if it produces more than 100 tons of any one pollutant per year, although it has recently proposed increasing that cap to 250 tons.
Sulfur dioxide is classified by the EPA as a contributor to respiratory and heart disease and the generation of acid rain. Nitrogen oxides produce ozone and a wide variety of toxic chemicals as well as contributing to global warming, according to the EPA, while many volatile organic compounds are cancer-causing. Last year, Environmental Defense, a national environmental group, ranked the Clinton plant as the 26th largest emitter of carcinogenic compounds in the U.S.
For years, ADM promoted itself as the “supermarket to the world” on major U.S. radio and television networks like NPR, CBS, NBC, and PBS where it underwrites influential programs such as the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Now, as it actively promotes its ethanol business, ADM has rolled out its new eco-friendly slogan, “Resourceful by Nature” which “reinforces our role as an essential link between farmers and consumers.”
Despite the company’s attempts at green packaging, ADM is ranked as the tenth worst corporate air polluter, on the “Toxic 100” list of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts. The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency has charged the company with violations of the Clean Air Act in hundreds of processing units, covering 52 plants in 16 states. In 2003 the two agencies reached a $351 million settlement with the company. Three years earlier, ADM was fined $1.5 million by the Department of Justice and $1.1 million by the State of Illinois for pollution related to ethanol production and distribution. Currently, the corporation is involved in approximately 25 administrative and judicial proceedings connected to federal and state Superfund laws regarding the environmental clean-up of sites contaminated by ADM operations.