Ethanol plant rant

CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle
Charlene Perkin, left, listens while Leo Dudley raises his to ask a question of a Clovis Ethanol plant official. About 100 citizens and city officials attended the meeting.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ Staff Writer

Citizens who attended Thursday night’s meeting regarding the proposed ethanol plant in Clovis spoke about health effects, environmental concerns and the role of government.

However, the main topic seemed more suited for a real-estate convention — location, location, location.

Kirk Johnson, general manager of Clovis Ethanol, spoke to a crowd of roughly 100 citizens and city officials at Clovis Community College’s Town Hall of the company’s desire to build an ethanol plant to take advantage of the city’s proximity to farms that create byproducts for ethanol creation and its geographical location between the nation’s top two ethanol purchasers.

Clovis Ethanol is a legal entity formed by ConAgra to represent partners in the Clovis ethanol venture.

Clovis citizens, meanwhile, took issue with the proposed plant’s location less than a mile southeast of the city, and the potential impact of the combination of strong winds and pollutants the plant would produce.
Blake Prather of Citizens for the Right Choice said he wasn’t against building an ethanol plant, and he didn’t think anybody else was either.

He countered that the plans — a 110-million-gallon-a-year ethanol plant near ConAgra’s existing Peavey Co. West grain handling facility at 1327 U.S. 60-84 — would create a risk. With winds, pollutants would easily reach Cameo Elementary School and Plains Regional Medical Center and have a chance of reaching other schools, including Clovis High School, Prather said.

Prather, who lives about a mile and a half from the proposed site, said those pollutants could contribute to higher rates of asthma, lung cancer and other diseases.

“We don’t have the long-term studies to say … it’s not going to cause long-term health effects,” Prather said.

Prather said New Mexico has low restrictions in place for air pollutants regarding ethanol plants and would be wise to adopt standards of Midwest states that have experience with multiple ethanol plants — Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois.

Air pollutants admitted at the proposed plant would not exceed federal standards set for health, according to ConAgra officials.

Citizens asked Johnson if ConAgra chose New Mexico because of its ethanol laws, and he said New Mexico’s location was the top priority.

New Mexico, Johnson said, is between the top two ethanol purchasers (California and Texas) and its dedication to agriculture means plenty of corn byproducts to make ethanol.

“Whether it’s ConAgra,” Johnson said, “or any other company looking for locations … the market structure has saturated the feed demand in the upper Midwest.”

Citizens asked Johnson many questions regarding the plant, mostly geared toward searching for an alternate site. Johnson said the citizen concerns would certainly be a part of two meetings to be held Nov. 9 at the Clovis Civic Center. The meetings between ConAgra and the Clovis Industrial Development Corp. are set for 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Tom Taylor, who lives behind PRMC, said he didn’t want to demonize ConAgra for trying to make a profitable plant, and that the burden was on local government either to make another site enticing or raise environmental standards.

“ConAgra will adhere to the local requirements,” Taylor said. “Our city officials need to step up to the plate.”

Two Clovis city commissioners — Robert Sandoval and Len Vos — were in attendance. They said the meeting was a necessary function to make sure the best choice is made regarding the plant.

“You guys moved a mountain just by being here tonight,” said Sandoval, who encouraged attendance at other public meetings. “This is the way government is supposed to work.”

A third meeting regarding the plant, originally scheduled for Nov. 17, has been postponed. Jim Norton of the New Mexico Environmental Department said the meeting will be postponed at least a month so both sides can adequately research pros and cons of the plant.