EPA still waiting on response from Biomass

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 30, 2003

Though the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has sent a second notice of violation to Biomass Energy LLC of South Point regarding the removal of tobacco and other materials on site, mounds of the material remain unmoved.

On March 27, the Ohio EPA sent Biomass a letter indicating that the company was in violation of several open dumping laws and asked Biomass to respond within 15 days.

At that time, Biomass' attorneys responded with two letters outlining the company's view that the tobacco is a fuel source, not a solid waste product as the EPA has classified it, that Biomass is removing the coal and would like to obtain permits to store the tobacco in specific areas on the property.

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However, more than 10,000 tons of tobacco are still stored on site.

A pile of wood waste materials and approximately 35,000

tons of a coal and coke mixture that was purchased from Allied Signal also needs to be removed, according to the EPA letter.

Based on follow-up inspections in April, the EPA sent Biomass a second notice on May 12 again asking for a response within 15 days as to how they plan to remove the materials, said Jim Leach, spokesman for the Ohio EPA.

"Unfortunately, the tobacco is still there," Leach said. "To the best of my knowledge, it has not been moved."

As of Tuesday, the EPA had not received a response from Biomass as to how they will address this, even though the 15-day period expired. If Biomass does not respond soon, the EPA may move ahead with issuing an order to remove the tobacco and other products, Leach said.

"Internally, we have recommended that enforcement actions be taken," he said. "But, no final decision has been made at this time."

An order is the next step in the enforcement process, and could include fines and mandating a particular amount of progress in a given time frame, Leach said.

Earlier this year, Biomass Energy agreed to a $2 million contract with the United States Department of Agriculture to destroy 112,408 tons of surplus tobacco.

The USDA stopped all shipments in March and will deliver no more until the issue is


Mark Harris, CEO of Biomass Energy said he has no comment at this time, but the company is working to resolve the issue. Biomass attorney Anthony J. Giuliani, of the Columbus-based firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP did not return messages left by The Ironton Tribune.

Originally, Biomass' plan was that the company would burn the tobacco

with wood after the company completes a $100 million renovation of its plant that will begin in April and could be completed in 12 to 15 months.

When completed, the plant will operate more than $10 million dollars in air quality control equipment, Harris has said.

Biomass currently has a permit to burn wood and wood, waste but does not have operational furnaces to do so. The company does not have a permit to burn tobacco or coal.