Seed corn companies sue troubled AltEn ethanol plant for damages

Several companies list address linked to $30 million ‘Quivira Mansion’ in Kansas

By: - February 24, 2022 9:36 am

The AltEn Ethanol plant south of Mead, Nebraska, is now closed. It is subject to a clean-up order from state environmental regulators. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — AltEn, which has operated a troubled Nebraska ethanol plant that used pesticide-coated seed corn to produce biofuel, is facing more legal trouble.

On Tuesday, six seed corn companies that have been cleaning up the AtlEn ethanol plant site near Mead, Nebraska, filed two separate federal lawsuits seeking repayment for their work.

One lawsuit alleges that AltEn, its owner Tanner Shaw, manager Scott Tingelhoff and other companies under Shaw’s control have mishandled the seed corn and contaminated byproducts in “violation of federal and state laws” and that AltEn did not meet its commitments to the seed corn companies to dispose of the chemically treated seed properly.

The lawsuit alleges that instead of complying with state orders to clean up, Shaw has abandoned the site, leaving millions of gallons of wastewater and thousands of tons of waste grain. 

“Environmental controls were lacking or nonexistent,” one lawsuit stated.

One lawsuit claimed that Shaw sold off his assets to prevent creditors, including the State of Nebraska and the seed corn firms, from getting reimbursed for remediation work. The seed corn companies also claim that AltEn has refused to participate in stabilization efforts and hindered the response by the seed corn companies.


Two separate lawsuits

Nebraska company attempts to unload toxic waste on Kansas farmer

Pioneer Hi-Bred International, AgReliant Genetics, Corteva AgriScience, Beck’s Superior Hybrids and Winfield Solutions filed one lawsuit. Syngenta filed a separate but similar lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Omaha.

Another company involved in the cleanup of the AltEn site, Bayer, told the Lincoln Journal Star on Wednesday that it is not a party to the lawsuits. 

Steve Mossman, a Lincoln attorney who is representing AltEn, declined to comment when reached Wednesday night.


‘Castle-like’ mansion

Shaw, the AltEn owner, is a resident of either Kansas or Missouri, according to the lawsuit, and operates a “complex web of companies” associated with the AltEn plant. All of those companies, the lawsuit said, list as their headquarters an address in Lake Quivira, Kansas, referred to as “the Quivira Mansion.”  

The Kansas City Business Journal, in a 2019 article, described the 17,755-square-foot mansion as “castle like,” with an 35-foot-tall grotto and a 30-foot-tall outdoor waterfall, with a deep pond for scuba diving. 

The Wall Street Journal reported that the home cost $30 million to build and was owned by the late Dennis Langley. Langley, who is reportedly Tanner Shaw’s stepfather, was once a speechwriter for then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden before going on to become CEO of E3 BioFuel, an early owner of the AltEn plant.

According to Zillow, the real estate sales app, the mansion sold in August for $2.7 million. It had been listed for sale at $12 million.


Nebraska state Sen. Carol Blood speaks at a recent state capitol rally urging faster action to clean up the toxic grain piles at the AltEn ethanol plant. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

Wastewater mismanaged

The lawsuits filed Tuesday allege that the “failures” of AltEn include the release of untreated wastewater from a tank onto neighboring properties, the stockpiling of thousands of tons of wet cake byproduct and the mismanagement of millions of gallons of wastewater in lagoons “perilously close to failure.” 

Unlike traditional ethanol plants, which turn field corn into alcohol, the AltEn plant began in 2015 to use expired seed corn, which is coated with a variety of pesticides. Last year, the Nebraska Legislature passed a law banning the use of seed corn in making ethanol.

The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy ordered the AltEn plant closed a year ago, after it failed to comply with several requests to properly dispose of the spent grain or wet cake in a landfill.

Shortly after the plant closed, a storage tank burst, releasing millions of gallons of contaminated water into a nearby waterway. The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office has a lawsuit underway against the company in state court in Nebraska.

This story was produced by Nebraska Examiner, a States Newsroom affiliate. Click here to read the original story.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and was named editor of the Papillion Times in 1982. He later worked as a sports enterprise reporter at the Lincoln Journal-Star. He joined the Omaha World-Herald in 1990, working as a legislative reporter, then roving state reporter and finally Lincoln bureau chief. Paul has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation and secretary of the Nebraska Hop Growers.