St. Paul ethanol plant should go

Gopher State Ethanol’s St. Paul plant, the license for which expired in April, continues to operate while the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency considers its renewal application. Many nearby neighborhoods’ residents strongly oppose renewal and voiced their opinions last week at a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency meeting. After weighing all interests, we think the benefits of an ethanol plant in the middle of St. Paul do not outweigh the costs.

The Gopher State Ethanol plant occupies the old Schmidt Brewery facility on West Seventh Street and is the only urban ethanol plant in the country. Area residents complain of air and noise pollution as well as odors emanating from the plant. The company, however, contends that it follows environmental regulations and produces valuable ethanol while employing many Minnesotans.

The issue is even more complex when seen as part of the overall ethanol debate. Ethanol is a corn-based fuel used as an additive to gasoline. Supporters see it as a gift to society, providing environmental gains and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Critics contend the highly subsidized production of ethanol is a waste, on both cost-benefit and substantive grounds. They argue a truly useful product should not need so much subsidization. They also claim that environmental gains in carbon monoxide reductions are lost in nitrogen oxide increases, which cause smog, and that producing ethanol burns more fossil fuels than the finished product saves.

The ethanol debate will continue and likely see more attention closer to election season. However, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency decision is much simpler. It does not make sense to have an ethanol plant in residential St. Paul. However, we have not heard people suggesting that Gopher State Ethanol should move to another, less populated site. Maybe this is because it would be too difficult or not feasible.

In the end, the quality of life in St. Paul is most important, especially in the long run. While there would be drawbacks to closing Gopher State Ethanol’s West Seventh Street plant, it is the best move for St. Paul.