Nebraska Legislature Taps Macy for NDEE

Nebraska State Senator Questions Actions in Response to Environmental Disaster at AltEn Plant

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Environmental Editor
Connect with Todd:
Nebraska state Sen. Carol Blood on Tuesday questioned whether the legislature should approve the reappointment of Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy Director Jim Macy. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Jim Macy was reappointed Tuesday to lead the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy despite questions about how the department handled the environmental disaster at a now-defunct AltEn LLC, ethanol plant in Mead, Nebraska.

The Nebraska Legislature voted 38-0 with eight senators abstaining on new Nebraska Republican Gov. Jim Pillen's reappointment of Macy, following a debate led by Sen. Carol Blood about whether the NDEE acted swiftly enough in response to soil and water contamination from piles of distillers grains laced with pesticides.

A cleanup of the site continues to be led by a number of seed companies that provided neonicotinoid-coated seeds to the plant for producing ethanol and distillers grains.

Last year the Nebraska Legislature passed a bill and former Gov. Pete Ricketts signed into law a ban on the use of such seeds to produce ethanol in the state.

Despite the legislature's vote for Macy, Sarpy County Sen. Carol Blood continued to raise questions about how Macy handled the AltEn situation.

"So, I have sent out two handouts today. One is part of a PowerPoint that was given to the citizens of Mead in reference to sampling and analysis and I want you to look at that very closely," she said during the floor debate.

"I want you to see what's happening and why the citizens of Mead are concerned for their safety and well-being. And I want you to consider if the circumstances would be the same had we acted in a more timely manner."

The University of Nebraska Medical Center is conducting a health study of the Mead community and presented some results during a January town hall meeting, https://www.unmc.edu/….

Part of that work included surveying Mead residents about their potential health concerns from the environmental contamination.

About 38% of residents responded to the survey. About 8% of those residents reported they had health issues they attributed to the AltEn disaster, and a vast majority of residents said they were worried about the situation at the ethanol plant site.

Scientists also took air and other samples inside and out of 11 houses in Mead. Neonicotinoids were detected on surfaces inside all of the houses and from air samples outside the residences.

During debate Tuesday, Blood said Macy's reappointment deserved to be scrutinized in light of the events at Mead.

"Now you can say that we're nitpicking, you can say that we're just trying to slow down the process," she said. "That's not what's going on with me. I'm not participating in any shenanigans. This is important to me."

In February 2021, the state ordered AltEn LLC to shut down operations following numerous environmental violations near the village of 569 residents.

Violations outlined in a state order include excess water levels in and damage to the plant's three lagoons, high levels of numerous pesticides and fungicide chemicals found in the lagoon water and wet distillers, as well as a failure on the part of AltEn to stop land-applying wet distillers after being ordered by the state.

State records show numerous complaints were filed by area residents, who say the odor coming from land-applied wet cake is causing health issues.

Water tests in 2019 showed the lagoons contained high levels of fungicides and pesticides, including glyphosate, azoxystrobin, clothianidin, thiabendazole and thiamethoxam.

NDEE water samples from the lagoons and wet distillers found levels of neonicotinoid insecticides, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, at between 30,000 and 50,000 parts per billion (ppb), as well as several fungicides as high as 200,000 ppb.

Tests found solid wet cake had twice as much neonicotinoid at 112,000 ppb clothianidin, 30,000 ppb thiamethoxam, and again, several fungicides were detected at high levels. The maximum daily oral dose for neonicotinoids in food and water set by the EPA ranges from 4 to 70 ppb.

State Sen. Bruce Bostelman said during debate Tuesday the evidence shows Macy and the NDEE responded to the disaster in an appropriate manner.

"The state of Nebraska takes this very serious and he (Macy) takes this very serious," Bostelman said. "I take this very serious. The community of Mead takes this very serious and we are all involved in getting this site cleaned up and getting it taken care of."

Read more on DTN:

"Court Freezes Neb. Ethanol Plant Assets," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Health Monitoring Planned in Mead, NE," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @DTNeeley

Todd Neeley

Todd Neeley
Connect with Todd: