INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A proposed $2.8 billion coal-gasification plant that won
a reprieve last month from the Indiana Supreme Court is facing a new
challenge, this time from environmental groups that contend the southern
Indiana project’s construction permit is invalid and expired last month.
In an appeal filed Monday with the state’s Office of Environmental
Adjudication, the Sierra Club and Valley Watch Inc. argue the permit is void
because the public wasn’t given a chance to weigh in on developer Indiana
Gasification LCC’s request for a six-month permit extension.
The groups argue that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management was
required under state law to provide a 30-day public comment period on the
request but approved it Dec. 26 - the same day the developers applied for
the extension. Their appeal asks an administrative law judge to strike down
IDEM’s decision and declare that the permit has expired.
The swift permit extension approval is “an insult to all Hoosiers,” said
Jodi Perras, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana.
“IDEM’s hasty same-day approval demonstrates that our environmental agency
merely rubber stamps requests they receive from industry,” she said in a
IDEM spokesman Dan Goldblatt said the agency isn’t required to provide a
30-day public comment period for requests for permit extensions.
“An extension is not a change to the permit. IDEM has discretion under the
Clean Air Act to grant extensions,” Goldblatt said in a statement.
Perras said the Sierra Club’s reading of Indiana law is that it allows a
number of exceptions to the 30-day comment period requirement but “this type
of permit extension is not one of them.”
The groups’ appeal also contends IDEM did not provide a required
justification for extending the permit, which will expire June 27 if
construction work on the plant does not begin by that date.
Goldblatt said Indiana law requires permit holders, not IDEM, to provide a
justification for a permit extension request - and that Indiana Gasification
included that in their request.
Perras responded that “IDEM needed to make a finding that the extension was
justified” and their approval included no such explanation.
Goldblatt said the suggestion that IDEM rubber stamps permit requests
“demeans the hard work of the staff that issue permits.”
He said that while the agency approved the permit extension hours after
Indiana Gasification formally requested it, the developers had contacted
IDEM about extending its construction permit within a day of the Indiana
Supreme Court’s Dec. 17 ruling upholding the company’s state contract with
the Indiana Finance Authority.
That 30-year contract requires Indiana to buy the synthetic natural gas the
plant would produce at its planned site in the Ohio River town of Rockport,
purchasing it at a fixed price and then reselling the gas on the open
The plant’s supporters have said it would be a boon for Indiana’s coal
mining industry and would bring new jobs. Opponents maintain the plant would
saddle Indiana utility customers with as much as $1.1 billion in higher
natural gas rates.
Indiana Gasification LCC is awaiting Gov. Mike Pence’s decision on whether
he will support the project, which was championed by former Gov. Mitch
Company spokesman Mark Lubbers said the without Pence’s approval, Indiana
Gasification and its parent company, New York-based Leucadia, cannot move
ahead to secure a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy.
“The project and policy are in Governor Pence’s hands. ... The time has come
for him to tell us if he is going to say yes or no,” Lubbers said.
Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault did not immediately reply Wednesday for an
update on when the governor might announce if he’ll support the project.
Lubbers declined to comment on the environmental group’s permit challenge,
aside from saying it had been expected.