State to host public hearing for coal-to-diesel


LINCOLN CITY — Ten months after the announcement of a proposed coal-to-diesel plant for Dale, area residents will have the opportunity to voice their concerns about or support for the project at a public hearing Wednesday evening.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is hosting the meeting from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. CT in the Heritage Hills High School auditorium in Lincoln City. At the public meeting, attendees will be able to submit written comments on the project, and some will be able to speak directly to IDEM representatives.

As the state agency that regulates the environmental effects of industries throughout Indiana, IDEM released a draft air permit in October for Riverview Energy’s proposed $2.5 billion direct-coal hydrogenation plant that may be built on more than 500 acres annexed into the north side of Dale last year.

The official air permit has not yet been issued and Wednesday’s hearing is part of the permitting process. The public notice period for the draft air permit ends Monday.

According to Riverview, the plant would use Veba Combi Cracker technology licensed by the company Kellogg Brown and Root to convert 1.6 million tons of coal to 4.8 million barrels of clean diesel and 2.5 million barrels of Naphtha each year.

The technology is already used at plants in China and Russia, but the Dale plant would be the first of its kind in the U.S., which some supporters of the project like.

“I find it an exciting thing because it’s a new technology in the United States,” said Timothy Begle, a Dale resident.

Others say that’s a reason not to support it.

“It is very much experimental in its current scope based on the fact that there are no other plants using this technology in the entire country,” said Wayne Werne of Saint Meinrad.

Christopher Weintraut, executive director of the Indiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, is curious about the new technology. He plans to attend Wednesday’s public hearing for “fact finding,” and said the proposed plant is tough for his organization to take a stand on because there aren’t any facilities like it nearby to compare it to.

The academy’s Indiana chapter represents just over 900 members, many of whom are pediatricians or other medical practitioners. The organization lobbies for various issues that affect the health of children.

While the new technology is what caught Weintraut’s attention, local people have several other reasons for either supporting or opposing the plant.

Supporters cite new, high-paying jobs and other economic incentives for the area. They hope the plant can attract additional development and revitalize Spencer County.

“The young people have been leaving the county because it doesn’t have the infrastructure,” Begle said. “I just see [the plant] as a good economic opportunity for the county.”

Riverview has said the plant will bring 225 “high-skilled, good-paying jobs” and more than 2,000 construction jobs to the area.

Some opposed to the project don’t believe the county needs more jobs.

Werne pointed to October’s national unemployment rate of 3.7, Indiana’s October rate of 3.5 and Spencer County’s rate of 3.3 and said there’s “no justification for the claim that we need jobs.”

“Rates that low are effectively full employment, and many local existing businesses are already having difficulty filling the jobs in this area,” he said. “Making the claim that this plant is needed to create jobs is to propose a solution to a crisis that does not exist.”

The main concern among people opposed to the project is the air pollution they believe the plant would emit, despite IDEM determining in its draft air permit that the Riverview operation would not have significant impact on air quality and overall health in the region.

Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life, a group that follows environmental pollution in the area, is spearheading the opposition. One of its members, Dr. Erin Marchand — a Dale resident and a family physician in Santa Claus — has said at previous forums hosted by the advocacy group that she worries about the plant’s proposed location just off of Interstate 64 at the Dale exit because it is close to David Turnham Educational Center, which is an elementary school, and a nursing home. Both children and seniors are at a higher risk for health effects associated with air pollution, studies have shown.

The Indiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is taking concerns like Marchand’s into consideration.

Weintraut said the national American Academy of Pediatrics has a policy statement on ambient air quality and the effects that ambient air pollution can have for children, such as increased asthma rates, early births and low birth weight.

He said that although it’s known that air pollution can effect children’s health, he’s not willing to say whether the Indiana chapter of the academy is for or against the proposed Riverview Energy plant. His main goal in attending Wednesday’s hearing will be to gain an understanding of what Riverview’s plan is and how the facility’s particle output will be measured. He also wants to hear concerns from locals to see what the academy’s role could be.

“We want to make sure that there are protections in place to make sure that we know what’s actually happening from that power plant,” Weintraut said.

More on