Riverview hearing held in Indianapolis


DALE — The debate surrounding Riverview Energy's proposed $2.5 billion coal-to-diesel plant entered a new chapter last week, when an appeal of the facility's air quality permit was brought before an environmental law judge in Indianapolis.

Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life and Valley Watch’s appeal of that Indiana Department of Environmental Management permit was heard at the Office of Environmental Adjudication during a hearing that stretched four days.

The judge has ordered both sides to submit post-hearing briefs by Sept. 30. She will make her decision on the appeal by the end of the year.

She will also decide on the remedy of IDEM's violation of public participation rules — which she ruled on earlier in the year — as well as any violations of the remaining five counts, which were heard this week.

In a Tuesday email, Mary Hess, president of SWICQL, wrote that Earthjustice — a nonprofit dedicated to representing environmental advocacy groups — “described serious flaws in the permit through the testimony of expert witnesses.”

“A lot of people are supporting us,” Hess said in a Thursday phone interview. “And we’re going to continue to do everything we can to stop this.”

She added that the group’s main concern is the health and safety of surrounding communities.

A statement shared via email on Thursday by a Riverview Energy spokesperson says that "Riverview Energy remains confident in the quality of its air-permit application and the due diligence IDEM demonstrated in drafting and issuing the permit.

"We anticipate breaking ground in early 2021."

According to Lauren Piette, an Earthjustice lawyer representing the environmental groups, if those groups win the appeal, the air quality permit would be remanded to IDEM for further evaluation and work.

Riverview announced in early 2018 plans to build a $2.5 billion coal-to-diesel plant in Dale that would be the first direct coal-hydrogenation project in the U.S. The process, Riverview has said, would make ultra-low diesel fuel, but would not burn or gasify coal. The plant would use 1.6 million tons of coal to produce 4.8 million barrels of clean diesel and 2.5 million barrels of Naphtha each year.

Dale annexed more than 500 acres into the north side of town, and approved industrial zoning for the project. SWICQL quickly formed opposing the project, concerned about potentially “dangerous air pollution,” among other things. Valley Watch, an organization created to “protect the public health and environment of the lower Ohio Valley,” also joined the charge.

IDEM, the agency tasked with deciding whether to issue Riverview Energy an air permit for the proposed project, approved a 1,200-page draft air permit for the project in October 2018. The agency’s analysis concluded that “no significant impacts are expected from the proposed facility.”

IDEM then held a public hearing on the draft permit that December, where more than 400 people gathered to hear attendees voice their comments verbally and on the record to IDEM. The agency also gathered written comments on the air permit.

IDEM issued the air permit in June 2019, and SWICQL appealed it the next month, saying it is “deeply flawed.”

“Riverview Energy must not be allowed to site this dangerous project near vulnerable communities, including an elementary school and nursing home,” an Earthjustice attorney representing SWICQL said in a press release at that time.

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