J.R. Simplot Settles Enviro Violations

J.R. Simplot to Fix Hazardous Waste Runoff at Idaho Phosphate Production Plant

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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A J.R. Simplot Company phosphate production plant near Pocatello, Idaho, agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine and to install technology to better capture radioactive waste. (DTN file photo)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- J.R. Simplot Company will pay a $1.5 million fine and take steps to better recover and reuse phosphate at a fertilizer production facility in Pocatello, Idaho, as part of an environmental settlement reached on Tuesday.

According to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho on Tuesday, the company settled several Resource Conservation and Recovery Act violations.

The complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice said J.R. Simplot failed to properly identify and manage certain waste streams as hazardous wastes.

Josh Jordan, associate director of global communications and public relations at J.R. Simplot, told DTN the company was pleased to reach the settlement.

"This more than 500-page settlement, which took over 15 years to achieve, provides for additional recovery of phosphate in our production process and other environmental protection measures associated with the handling of our ore processing materials and wastes," Jordan said in a statement to DTN.

"This settlement is part of our work to continue to provide important crop nutrients throughout North America to help feed a growing population."

Simplot's Don Plant manufactures phosphate products for agriculture and industry, including phosphoric acid and phosphate fertilizer, through processes that generate large quantities of acidic wastewater and a solid material called phosphogypsum.

The phosphogypsum is deposited in a large pile known as a gypstack, and acidic wastewater is discharged to the gypstack. The gypstack can store several billion gallons of acidic wastewater.

According to an EPA news release, the settlement also resolves alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act that relate to reporting and notification requirements for hazardous substances and toxic chemicals.

As part of the settlement, Simplot agrees to undertake about $150 million in specific waste management measures. That includes new technology to recover and reuse phosphate.

The settlement also includes a detailed plan for the future closure and long-term care of the gypstack and requires Simplot to provide $108 million in dedicated financing for the eventual closing of the plant.

The phosphogypsum byproduct created during phosphoric acid production contains radioactive materials. That byproduct is mixed with water and pumped into a gypstack. The gypstacks on the property were unlined.

EPA said Simplot also agreed to cease operation of the facility's cooling towers no later than June 27, 2026, and replace them with one or more newly constructed cooling ponds.

Simplot also is providing $200,000 in funding for environmental mitigation work that will be administered by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality in conjunction with the city of Pocatello and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, according to EPA.

"The mitigation work will address habitat degradation on the Portneuf River that has resulted in part from excess phosphorus releases, especially from the facility's formerly unlined gypstack," EPA said in a news release.

The company's Don Plant sits on about 1,025 acres just west of Pocatello. Simplot acquired 713.67 acres adjacent to the property on Dec. 15, 2020, as a result of a land exchange with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management.

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribe filed a lawsuit against the BLM, arguing the agency-exchanged land is within the tribes' aboriginal homelands and that an environmental impact statement did not properly consider the environmental risks posed by the expansion of the plant on the property.

"After our 2020 settlement with Simplot's phosphoric acid and fertilizer plant in Wyoming, we are pleased to reach this settlement with Simplot's other major phosphoric acid and fertilizer operation at the Don Plant in Pocatello, Idaho," said Todd Kim, assistant attorney general of the DOJ's environment and natural resources division.

"This proposed consent decree will comprehensively address the waste management, air emissions and reporting issues EPA identified with respect to the Don Plant's operations."

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

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Todd Neeley

Todd Neeley
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