SOUTH SIOUX CITY -- Big Ox Energy continues to work with state and federal regulators on a plan to comply with its most recent environmental violations, a company representative and regulators said.
The South Sioux City biofuels plant has submitted a draft compliance plan and is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to comply with permit requirements for a flare bypass in addition to addressing digester issues that have resulted in sludge spills at the plant.
"We have and continue to work cooperatively, collaboratively with both the EPA and NDEQ," Big Ox spokesman Kevin Bradley said. "We have every intention of following through on the schedules and the intentions we have agreed to. Discussions are continuing."
The EPA on Feb. 12 issued an administrative compliance order for Clean Air Act violations, citing the company for utilizing a flare bypass since at least September that released hydrogen sulfide, methane or other biogases into the air. It followed a November NDEQ notice of violation issued to the plant for not seeking a required permit for a flare bypass, a pipe that releases biogas that is not routed to and combusted by a flare that burns off pollutants.
"We're working with Big Ox and the EPA to get that corrected," said Kevin Stoner, an NDEQ air quality division administrator.
Stoner said the plant had excessive gases going to the flare, and it couldn't handle the amount of concentration contained in the gases. Instead, the gases were sent to the bypass to be released into the air.
The EPA notice instructed Big Ox, which converts organic waste from local industries to methane, to correct the violations and submit a plan of compliance within 30 days of the notice's Feb. 12 effective date.
Stoner said regulators have received preliminary information from Big Ox about compliance plans and have discussed plans for construction or correction.
Bradley declined to comment on what construction or plant modifications Big Ox might be considering.
The EPA notice termed a Jan. 25 digester spill at the plant an accidental release, and state regulators said the 60,000-80,000 gallons of digester materials that flowed onto the plant's grounds have been cleaned up. No citations were issued.
Big Ox was cited in June and August for sludge spills and also received a notice of violation in July and again in November for air quality violations.
The plant has been the subject of numerous odor complaints from area residents, and a class action lawsuit has been filed against the company claiming that its odors are a nuisance and the result of negligence. A total of 15 homeowners also have filed individual lawsuits against the company, claiming that toxic odors and gases backed up into their homes shortly after the plant began operations in September 2016, causing health issues and making their homes uninhabitable.