As if Iowa's air quality isn't bad enough, the federal government wants to let ethanol plants further foul the air. The Environmental Protection Agency proposes to more than double the allowed pollutants that ethanol plants may spew.
Our air is filthy with ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and heaven knows what else. We used to say that Iowa was a great place to live because of clean air and water. We can make that claim no more.
Here we are arguing about whether smoking should be allowed at the corner bar, when a burgeoning industry is belching formaldehyde and toluene on a daily basis -- up to 100 tons of the stuff per facility per year. The EPA would increase the limit to 250 tons.
The EPA says it is loosening pollution rules to allow for increased ethanol production.
Iowa, king of corn and ethanol, has been stampeding into ethanol production under the current rules led by conglomerates Cargill and ADM. We can't build plants fast enough. So why increase the pollution limits?
Because this is an agricultural business, we are told. Ethanol plants should not be treated as chemical factories, the industry says, even though they are in fact chemical factories.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has been pushing for the rule relaxation for several months. Thune notes that corn milling plants that produce ethanol products for human consumption operate under the higher pollution threshold. So, he proposes holding fuel ethanol plants to the same standard.
The answer is not to allow more pollution. The answer should be to make corn milling plants producing ethanol for human consumption meet stricter standards.
We continue to treat the agri-industrial complex as if it were just a bunch of yeoman farmers tending their oat fields with horses. In fact, the ethanol industry is just that -- an industry -- that should be held to the same pollution rigors as a coal-fired power plant. The same goes for the livestock industry: Why should we give corporate integrators immunity from pollution rules? That is precisely what EPA did by entering into consent decrees with the likes of Smithfield Foods during a multi-year air monitoring regimen.
We have non-Iowa investors building ethanol plants that could cause lasting harm to our environment. One farmer-founded ethanol production company in North Central Iowa wants to sell a stake to Australians. Who's next: the United Arab Emirates? What do they care for our well-being?
This originally appeared as an editorial in The Storm Lake (Iowa) Times.