Residents seek more info on coal-to-diesel plant


DALE — Discussion was heated Tuesday night when Spencer County Citizens for Quality of Life opened up the question portion of a public forum on the direct-coal hydrogenation plant proposed for more than 500 acres recently annexed on the north side of town.

At the start of the forum in the Dale Presbyterian Church Micah Center, four speakers presented their understanding of the $2.5 billion plant’s specifics; health, environmental and economic impacts; and the water issues with the plant, before concerned citizens in the room asked to hear directly from those trying to bring the development to Spencer County.

Stephanie McFarland, a senior issue-management consultant with McFarland PR & Public Affairs who was hired by Riverview Energy — the company proposing the plant — was in attendance, as was Tom Utter, the executive director of the Lincolnland Economic Development Corporation.

During the presentation, John Blair, leader of the Evansville-based environmental group Valley Watch, said he believes the plant has been shrouded in secrecy, and asked why, especially when it’s going to cost billions of dollars. He said “coal is not who you want to invite to your community.”

Dr. Erin Marchand, a family physician in Santa Claus, addressed the plant’s layout and the environmental and health concerns she has about the proposal. She claims that the plant will burn gas, despite Riverview Energy’s claims, and worries about what she calls the “hazardous air particles” that will be released. She also said the “close proximity to town, water sources and agriculture puts citizens at added risk.”

Ferdinand resident and Project ACORN leader Rock Emmert expressed concerns about air quality and asked, “Why can’t we be more creative with our jobs search?”

Chuck Botsko of Gentryville was the final planned speaker and informed the audience that Riverview Energy’s water supply could come via pipeline from the Ohio River, and that pipeline would be a separate project paid for by local, state and federal entities.

During the question portion of the event, Utter said the Indiana Economic Development Corporation first contacted him and said Riverview Energy was looking for a site. He’s been recruiting the project ever since.

“I want to bring something new to the community,” Utter said. “I got the opportunity to recruit it. I’ve recruited it heavily and I’m still recruiting it heavily. I’m recruiting Riverview Energy very strongly, very aggressively.”

He said it’s his role with LEDC to “bring companies, industries, into the community.”

“We search and search in a competitive world to find new ways to bring revenues into the community,” he said.

In terms of economic development, he looks for “large projects to bring significant, innovative technologies that will revive some of the jobs that have been lost, and create new jobs.”

“The fact is that what we look at is improvements in technology,” Utter said. “Technologies now produce fewer environmental negatives than older technologies. We do want to keep bringing new investment, jobs, but we are looking at processes like this one that would indeed produce fewer environmental negatives than the older technologies. And we’ll continue to do that to raise the bar in the community.”

A forum attendee asked, “Do the benefits outweigh the cost?” Utter responded saying that he believes they do.

According to Riverview Energy, the plant would be the first of its kind in the nation and would use Veba Combi Cracker technology licensed by the company Kellogg Brown and Root. The proposed plant would not only convert coal into diesel fuel, but also would convert it into other products like Naphtha, which is used to produce products like plastics and gasoline. The company has claimed that the process will not burn or gasify coal and that the result will be “an ultra-low-sulfur energy source.”

The plant is expected to use 1.6 million tons of coal and produce 4.8 million barrels of clean diesel and 2.5 million barrels of Naphtha each year.

Marchand expressed in her presentation concern about pollutants from the plant, specifically those that could be released into the air, such as benzene, which has been known to cause anemia and leukemia.

“These substances are not harmless, that’s my concern,” she said. “I’m talking tonight because I care about you, your children and grandchildren.”

In the question portion of the forum, McFarland said she’d heard some things that concerned her. She responded directly to Marchand.

“Do you prescribe pharmaceuticals?” McFarland asked. Marchand responded, yes.

“Ok, great. So you prescribe pharmaceuticals. I’m sure we all use detergent,” McFarland said. “We have all used furniture polish. I’m sure that we have all gone and pumped our gas. Please do your homework on benzene.”

Responding to other environmental concerns voiced at the forum, McFarland added that the world is moving toward low-sulfur diesel — which the Riverview Energy plant would produce — “because it actually is better for the environment.”

“They’re doing that because again, all of the traffic that we have on the roads, I don’t think that’s a big surprise to anyone that it does produce emissions,” McFarland said. “It does produce pollution. And this actually will help to be something that contributes to lowering that, not just on a local level, but actually helping that more wide in scale.”

Forum attendees asked that the LEDC and Riverview Energy officials hold some sort of forum to inform the public of the project’s details and both McFarland and Utter agreed that it would be a good idea.

The Dale Town Council approved industrial zoning for the proposed Riverview Energy site at a meeting earlier this month. The next step will be an Indiana Department of Environmental Management public hearing. The date for that hearing has not yet been set. Riverview Energy has submitted an air quality permit application to the state agency and it’s still in the initial processing stages, according to an air quality permit status search on IDEM’s website.

To learn more about Riverview Energy, visit

The Spencer County Citizens for Quality of Life group has created a website,, where they list their concerns about the proposed plant and ask visitors to sign a petition. They plan to host other events in the future.

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