Settlement Talks Ongoing in AltEn Case

Source: By Todd Neeley, Progressive Farmer • Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2024

Seed Companies, AltEn Continue Settlement Talks on Nebraska Ethanol Plant

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) — Seed companies and the former owners of a now-defunct ethanol plant in Mead, Nebraska, asked federal, state and county courts for a delay in several lawsuits related to the cleanup of an environmental disaster at the plant to allow for continued settlement negotiations.

According to a joint status report filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, all sides in the lawsuits against AltEn LLC, the owner of the plant, indicate such talks could last through the rest of the year.

The plant west of Omaha has been closed since February 2021 following multiple environmental violations reported by the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy.

Environmental cleanup at the plant entered a new phase last summer when a company hired by a coalition of seed companies conducted a pilot project to study the feasibility of moving 115,000 tons of wet cake, a byproduct that contains high levels of pesticide residue, to a landfill. The wet cake, also known as “mash,” is located on 16 acres at the northwest corner of the ethanol plant property 40 miles north of Lincoln.

AltEn once accepted unsold treated corn seed from major companies but began stockpiling the contaminated wet cake on-site after it was considered unfit for livestock feed or as a soil conditioner.

The wet cake and ponds filled with pesticide-contaminated water on the site combined to create an environmental disaster for the neighboring residents.

In the status report filed this week, all the parties involved said the voluntary cleanup of the plant site will continue while a legal settlement is pursued.

“Since entry of the progression order, the plaintiffs (which includes seed companies), the defendants, and the state of Nebraska have initiated confidential settlement discussions about a global resolution of this lawsuit and the other outstanding lawsuits concerning the AltEn property,” according to the status report.

The AltEn facility response group includes seed companies that sent pesticide-laden seeds to the plant. That includes Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.; Corteva Agriscience, LLC; AgReliant Genetics, LLC; Beck’s Superior Hybrids, Inc.; Winfield Solutions, LLC; Syngenta Seeds, LLC; and Bayer US LLC.

In addition to an ongoing lawsuit in the federal court, there are two Nebraska state court cases related to the plant site. That includes a tax lien foreclosure case in Saunders County district court.

In November 2023, according to the status report, the court in Saunders County granted a state motion to stay the case for about a year to allow AltEn to continue the cleanup.

Also, the state of Nebraska filed a 2021 lawsuit in the same court alleging AltEn violated several environmental protection laws of the state. On April 10, 2024, the state and AltEn filed a joint request to stay that case until Dec. 1, 2024.

All sides are expected to file the next status report by Dec. 1, 2024. Formal settlement discussions are expected to resume in May 2024.