Two environmental groups oppose Dale permit extension

October 29, 2020

Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life and Valley Watch, both environmental organizations in southern Indiana, are challenging the extension of a state air quality permit allowing the construction of a coal-to-diesel plant in Dale, Indiana.

Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm, filed an appeal on behalf of the groups with the Office of Environmental Adjudication to stop the extension of an Indiana Department of Environmental Management permit issued to Riverview Energy Corp.

The current permit was set to expire in December and has now been extended to June 2022. The previous permit required Riverview to begin construction of its proposed coal-to-diesel plant in Dale, Spencer County, within 18 months. Construction has never started.

The two environmental groups say IDEM didn’t hold a public comment period before issuing the extension, and it hasn’t explained why. During the 2018 permit comment period, the agency received 232 public comments against and 10 in favor of issuing the permit.

The proposed site of the Riverview Energy coal-to-diesel plant in Dale.

This new case is now the second before the adjudication office. In 2019, SWICQL and Valley Watch filed an appeal challenging the first permit based on six counts. The OEA judge ruled in favor of the groups on the first count, saying IDEM and Riverview violated the law pertaining to public participation. The remaining counts will be decided by the end of the year.

In his letter asking for the extension, Riverview president Gregory Merle cited the ongoing litigation and COVID-19 as reasons why construction hasn’t begun.

The proposed plant would be the first of its kind built in North America. The coal-to-diesel process would pulverize coal and mix it with an oil, such a crude oil, creating a slurry. Hydrogen, from natural gas, would be added to this slurry, creating ultra-low-sulfur diesel.

Illustration by Alexa Chryssovergis

Ultra-low-sulfur diesel reduces the amount of airborne sulfur emissions that cause smog, as opposed to regular diesel. It’s also more efficient, meaning heavy machinery could run longer on one gallon of the ultra-low-sulfur diesel than on regular diesel.

According to Riverview’s own calculations, the plant would release around 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide, 225 tons of carbon monoxide and 120 tons of sulfur dioxide annually.

The site of the proposed plant is within a mile of a nursing home, two miles of an elementary school and many residential homes.

The proposed coal-to-diesel plant in Dale would look similar to this current coal-to-liquid plant in the northwest China.

Merle says that Riverview will follow all IDEM and EPA monitoring requirements.

IDEM said they applied EPA guidance in granting the extension and couldn’t comment further at this time because the extension is the subject of litigation.

Two environmental groups oppose Dale permit extension