Biogas Facility Sued for Violating Environmental Clean Air Regulations

The United States of America and the State of Nebraska filed suit Thursday in the District of Nebraska against Big Ox Energy – Siouxland, LLC and NLC Energy Venture 30, LLC. The complaint alleges that the defendants have violated numerous sections of the Clean Air Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act or Clean Water Act, the Nebraska State Implementation Plan, and the Nebraska Environmental Protection Act.

The defendants, according to the complaint, produce biogas and solids at their waste-to-energy facility located in Nebraska, also known as Big Ox. Their facility processes “food waste, high strength waste, and industrial and residential wastewater in a conventional mesophilic anaerobic digester system.” The plant began operating in September of 2016, purportedly producing as much as 1,314 million standard cubic feet of biogas per year.

In December of 2017, liquid biomass allegedly began releasing from the facility, which mixed with storm water and ran off to state waterways. Liquid biomass is not an allowable non-storm water discharge, meaning that the substance is a pollutant.

The complaint said that inspections by various agencies began at the facility, all of which noted several issues with the machinery and conditions that did not adhere to state and federal guidelines. As inspections and visits continued, violations, penalties, and fines accumulated, eventually totaling $68,500. In April 2019, the City of Sioux City refused to renew the permits under which the facility operated due to “outstanding compliance issues and failure to pay the penalties and surcharges associated with Big Ox’s noncompliance.”

The defendants are no longer within their rights to accept waste materials at the Big Ox facility since their permits have all been revoked, the filing said. The plaintiffs are charging the defendants with failure to design and maintain a safe facility environment and surrounding area, improper maintenance of the facility and its accompanying machinery, failure to monitor releases, and violations of a multitude of state and federal regulations and permits. The twenty-five separate claims for relief have led the plaintiffs to seek civil penalties and late violations of those penalties, totaling up to $102,638 per day for certain violations.The plaintiffs are represented by the United States Department of Justice as well as the Attorney General’s Office for the State of Nebraska.