Bill would exempt ethanol plants from one environmental review

A bill making its way through the Minnesota Legislature would exempt ethanol plants from an environmental review requirement.

Under current law, if an ethanol plant wants to expand production more than 5 million gallons a year, there must be an Environmental Assessment Worksheet.

Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, said this kind of review is not necessary.

"This is just for an expansion of like 15 million gallons, there is no environmental impact for that extra 15 million gallons," Gunther said. "It would need more water, but the water is getting to be less and less of a problem."

But Gary Botzek, a lobbyist with the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, said these kinds of reviews are useful.

"It does provide some of the needed information to avoid some of the potential pitfalls as it relates to contamination and/or pollution down the road," Botzek said.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has been working intensively with ethanol plants to help them reduce their permit violations. In 2009, the agency said the ethanol industry only complied with instructions half the time or less.

The measure cleared the House Agriculture Committee. Botzek said his group will continue to oppose the change in law when it next appears in the House Environment Committee.