The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and state of Nebraska finalized a settlement with Big Ox Energy - Siouxland LLC and NLC Energy Venture 30 LLC for alleged violations of federal and state environmental laws at its waste-to-energy facility in Dakota City, Nebraska.
According to EPA, the defendants will pay a $1.1 million civil penalty to be split between the U.S. and Nebraska.
“The Big Ox facility’s operations presented a significant risk to their workers and nearby property owners,” said Acting EPA Region 7 Administrator Edward H. Chu, reported EPA. “This settlement represents the efforts of the U.S. and the state of Nebraska working together to enforce environmental regulations that protect citizens from harmful releases of extremely hazardous substances, especially in communities that may already experience disproportionate environmental risks.”
The Big Ox Energy facility accepts municipal and industrial waste. After inspections conducted by EPA and the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy in 2017 and 2018, the agencies found that the facility was releasing hazardous amounts of biomass and biogas.
On at least 16 occasions between 2017 and 2019, biomass released from the digesters went over the sides of the facility’s roof and onto the ground where it mixed with storm water, reported EPA. This resulted in discharges to adjacent properties and into nearby water bodies.
Enforcement actions were initiated against Big Ox Energy by EPA, the state of Nebraska, and Sioux City, Iowa, between 2017 and 2019. These malfunctions resulted in violations of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, as well as state air and water regulations and city ordinances.
According to EPA, violations in the orders and notices included:
- Causing the Sioux City wastewater treatment plant to exceed water quality limits;
- Failure to comply with air and water permits;
- Failure to design and maintain a safe facility;
- Improper maintenance of digesters;
- Failure to control accidental releases of extremely hazardous substances;
- Violations of air emission standards;
- Failure to comply with EPA- and state-issued compliance orders; And
- Unauthorized discharges into local water bodies.
The state revoked the facility’s Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act permits in 2019, reported EPA. Since late 2019, the facility stopped accepting waste and has since ceased operations.