Maryland AG, enviros sue Valley Proteins weeks after $1.1 bln deal announced

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (C) and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine (L) conclude a news conference in Washington, DC, U.S. June 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
  • Animal-waste recycler discharged pollutants into Maryland river, say lawsuits
  • Darling Ingredients announced Valley Proteins acquisition in Dec

(Reuters) - Maryland's attorney general and environmentalists have accused Valley Proteins Inc, an animal-waste recycler that sustainable food-processing firm Darling Ingredients Inc said it was buying for $1.1 billion, of polluting the Transquaking River.

Separate lawsuits filed on Wednesday say that Valley Proteins, which collects and recycles waste streams from the agri-food industry, has been illegally discharging pollutants into the already-polluted river from 2019 to 2022 at its Linkwood plant in Maryland's Dorchester County.

A Maryland attorney general spokesperson said that its lawsuit could result in a maximum penalty of about $47 million.

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The lawsuits come about month after Darling Ingredients agreed to buy Virginia-based Valley Proteins in an all-cash deal. Darling Ingredients and Valley Proteins did not respond to emails seeking updates on the status of the acquisition and comments on the lawsuit.

Valley Proteins has been steadily growing in recent years and says its annual sales are now in the several hundred million dollars. The company, which operates more than a dozen plants, manufactures animal-feed ingredients with the waste it collects at restaurants, supermarkets and slaughterhouses.

Its Linkwood plant processes poultry waste like blood and feathers, the lawsuits said.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said in a statement that he "intend(s) to prove that Valley Proteins has violated the law and put at risk fragile ecosystems and the waters of the state." Its Linkwood plant cannot discharge wastewater following a December consent order, Frosh's office said.

Frosh's complaint says that Valley Proteins' own reports from 2019 to 2021 show that, on about 40 occasions, wastewater it discharged contained higher concentrations of ammonia, phosphorous and other pollutants than permitted - in one case about 725 times the limit.

Excess discharge of nutrients like phosphorous can harm marine plant and animal life by spurring the growth of harmful algal blooms. The 23-mile-long Transquaking is impaired with suspended solids and nutrients, according to Maryland's Department of the Environment (MDOE).

Inspections conducted by MDOE from 2019 to 2022 revealed additional violations of state environmental laws, the complaint filed in Dorchester County state court said.

The lawsuit that groups including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation filed the same day in Baltimore federal court makes similar allegations. It says Valley Proteins' actions violated the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The cases are State of Maryland Department of the Environment v. Valley Proteins, Inc., Circuit Court for Dorchester County, No. C-09-CV-22-000022.

For State of Maryland Department of the Environment: Patricia Tipon and Matthew Zimmerman with the Maryland Office of the Attorney General

ShoreRivers, Inc. et al v. Valley Proteins, Inc., U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, No. 1:22-cv-00278.

For ShoreRivers, Inc. and Dorchester Citizens for Planned Growth: Patrick DeArmey with the Chesapeake Legal Alliance

For Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Jon Alan Mueller with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Inc

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Darling Ingredients to buy Valley Proteins for about $1.1 billion

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Thomson Reuters

New York-based correspondent covering environmental, climate and energy litigation.