The Department strives to fulfill its mission to protect and preserve Nebraska’s environment by working with ethanol facilities to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations, while also providing the opportunity to support industry growth.
Ethanol is considered a renewable fuel since it can be produced from agricultural feedstocks. It is a particulate-free burning fuel source and acts as an oxygenate, a type of chemical required by the Clean Air Act to be added to gasoline to reduce carbon monoxide emissions. A 2015 University of Nebraska Department of Agricultural Economics report1 showed the industry contributes over $71 million in wages and a 1300 full time equivalent job employment potential to the state.
Since 2016, ethanol production capacity in Nebraska has grown by over 7% to a potential of over 2.5 billions of gallons annually. NDEQ permitting actions have varied over the past few years, averaging nine permits and nine revisions or amendments annually.
1 Economic Impacts of the Ethanol Industry in Nebraska. Department of Agricultural Economics; Dennis Conley, Kathleen Brooks and Cory Walters. Bureau of Business Research; Eric Thompson. March 2015.
The Department conducted outreach in 2015-2016 that included workshops on various issues affecting the industry and a Title V air permitting webinar hosted in coordination with the University of Nebraska and industry. Charts below address compliance before outreach (2013-15) and after outreach (2016-present). Letters of Warning (LOW) are issued to notify the facility of minor infractions, and Notices of Violation (NOV) are issued for more serious violations. It appears NDEQ assistance efforts had a positive impact on compliance rates. However, other unaccounted factors may have had an impact as well.
Emerging Risks / Issues:
NDEQ continues to exert considerable effort to rectify the impact resulting from operations at Big Ox Energy in South Sioux City. NDEQ has required Big Ox to provide daily reports of the existing operating conditions and remedial actions taken. Additionally, NDEQ is coordinating activities with EPA Region VII as well as the City of Sioux City, IA in an effort to rectify the current situation.
NDEQ completed five “nitrate in groundwater” risk communication workshops; 113 attendees from numerous organizations, primarily staff from NRDs, municipalities, DHHS and NDEQ, attended the two-day workshops. The workshops provided attendees with strategies for overcoming communication barriers that can occur between communities, producers, and regulatory agencies.
NDEQ and the Nebraska Environmental Trust entered into a formal partnership outlining how the organizations would interact in relation to grants of common interest. The intent of the partnership is to institutionalize the productive working relationship NDEQ and NET have enjoyed over the years.
Misc. Items of Note:
NDEQ has formed a multi-program team to track issues associated with an emerging contaminant, Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), that are receiving attention at the national level. PFAS compounds are contained in many consumer and industrial applications, including components of non-stick substances and fire-fighting foams. Initial sampling for PFAS compounds was conducted at 25 public water systems between 2013 – 2015 by the DHHS Drinking Water Program. None of those samples had detections of PFAS. In 2017, NDEQ completed a statewide PFAS inventory identifying 990 sites that potentially used or produced PFAS compounds. Based on the inventory, NDEQ conducted initial PFAS sampling of nearby private wells. While levels of concern have not been detected, NDEQ is early in the investigation.