Surprise! Sierra Club appeals permit decision on Indiana Gasification project

The Sierra Club said Jan. 13 that it has challenged a Dec. 26, 2013, decision by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to extend the construction start deadline on an air permit for the Indiana Gasification LLC project.

The club said the Indiana agency failed to allow public comment and follow required procedures before extending the air construction permit for the proposed Rockport coal gasification plant. The club is well known nationwide for arguing pretty much any legal point possible when it comes to coal plant permitting.

On Dec. 26, 2013, the developer for the proposed plant asked IDEM to extend the air permit shortly before it was to expire. Under Indiana law, such changes to permits require IDEM to provide an opportunity for public review, which includes a 30-day public comment period, the club said. IDEM approved the extension the same day the request came in, without taking public comment. Additionally, IDEM did not provide any justification for extending the permit, as required by law, the club said.

The petition asks the Indiana Office of Environmental Adjudication to strike down IDEM’s decision and declare the permit expired and invalid.

“IDEM’s hasty same-day approval demonstrates that our environmental agency merely rubber stamps requests they receive from industry. It’s an insult to all Hoosiers that IDEM would approve this extension without taking time to review changing air pollution requirements or providing any opportunity for public review, as required by law,” said Jodi Perras, Indiana representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

Rockport, which is the site for the proposed gasification plant, is already home to one of the nation’s dirtiest polluters, the club said. That is the Rockport coal-fired power plant operated by Indiana Michigan Power, which, by the way, is getting new air emissions retrofits to cut pollutants like SO2.

Originally proposed in 2007 by Leucadia National, the Rockport coal gasification plant has been mired in controversy since its inception, with no construction having begun at the site, the club noted.

IDEM’s Office of Air Quality extended the construction start deadline by six months, to June 27, 2014. All other conditions in the project’s air permits remain the same.

The Indiana Supreme Court on Dec. 17, 2013, had affirmed an order of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission approving a contract for the purchase of substitute natural gas (SNG) from the coal-fed Indiana Gasification project.

In 2009, the Indiana General Assembly passed the Substitute Natural Gas Act, authorizing the Indiana Finance Authority (IFA) to contract for the purchase of SNG to be delivered to “retail end use customers.” In January 2011, IFA executed a contract with Indiana Gasification for the purchase of SNG. Several regulated gas utilities, including Indiana Gas and Southern Indiana Gas and Electric, objected to the contract at the commission, saying there was risk in future years of above-market gas prices under this contract. After an evidentiary hearing, the IURC found the contract guarantees the required savings and approved the contract. Various groups then appealed that order, resulting in the Dec. 17 high court decision.

The designed annual usage in the Rockport SNG plant would be about 3.85 million tons of Illinois Basin coal, with the possibility of substituting a portion of this with petroleum coke. SNG production would be about 47 million mmBtu (about 38 million mmBtu would be sold to the IFA). Sulfur in the feedstock would be processed into sulfuric acid, which IG will sell into the industrial market. Heat generated during the gasification process would be used to produce steam for steam turbines that could produce about 300 MW to meet on-site power needs, with a utility interconnection for minor power balancing.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.