UPDATE: It is time for Spencer County officials to demand action from Riverview Energy.

October 10, 2020 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

This night picture of the experimental plant built in China shows it as part of a much larger petroleum refinery complex. Because of its proximity to the conventional refinery, it is likely that instead of coal, it uses petroleum coke, a refining waste as feedstock. In any case, such a plant, lit up to feign daylight on the ground will permanently alter the bucolic life of those who currently live in Dale. Photo credit:Unknown. 

Valley Watch and Southwest Indiana Citizens For Quality of Life (NOC2D) have remained active during 2020 in our efforts to keep the ridiculous proposal for a Coal to Diesel plant from being constructed in Dale. Of course, the Covid Pandemic has slowed life as usual but our efforts remain strong and we predict success in stopping the plant in the end.

Surely, you remember in 2017 when Riverview Energy made its original pitch to County leaders and the word on the Street was, “This is a done deal!” And although many of the details surrounding the plant were (and still are) kept secret, our groups have collectively managed to analyze the economics, emissions and overall viability of building and operating such a costly and polluting plant in the bucolic town of Dale. Dale’s Town Board bought into the plant with stars in their eyes over the promised tax revenue a $2.5 billion plant would bring. 

But here is the thing. This plant will only be built by defying all the odds. 

First, is its stated cost. Did you know that Riverview is still using the same cost figures they used when they went to Vermillion County in 2010. In depositions, Riverview said the proposal in Spencer is identical to the one first proposed for Vermillion. And it should be noted that after nearly seven years there, Vermillion County officials tired of Riverview’s empty promises and politely told them to go elsewhere. Do Riverview’s financial experts claim there has been zero inflation since 2010?

Second, Riverview has claimed that financing for the project is just around the corner but have shown no evidence that their project will meet even the most liberal criteria for what will ultimately be closer to $4 billion. We do know that it DOES NOT qualify for current loan guarantees from the Federal Government since they refuse to capture and properly dispose of the enormous carbon dioxide emissions they will create.

Third, Riverview is a “start-up” company. They are not an established Exxon, Apple or Amazon that can finance such a large project out of pocket. In fact, their owner and President, Mr. Merle admitted in sworn testimony that he had zero experience in the manufacturing, construction, or operating anything, let alone what could turn out to be the third largest project ever undertaken in Indiana. Indeed, his previous experience was tutoring rich kids to take the SAT test-a business which I might add failed.

Fourth, there are only two of these facilities built in the entire world. One is in communist China and one in Russia, both of which are dictatorships with very limited environmental regulation. Of course, Merle also says he has been to neither but expects his money people to accept that as good business practice. USA environmental rules will significantly add to the cost of such a facility but Riverview does not seem to understand that fact or perhaps their plan is to simply ignore even the loose conditions of their construction permit which our groups have challenged, so far winning on at least one count where IDEM ignored their own public participation rules to issue.

Fifth, we are now living in a carbon constrained world. The international coal industry is on its last leg and the transportation fleet, including shipping are seeking alternatives to diesel fuel and naphtha

This list of reasons is almost endless but consider this. Riverview has a ten year history of promising things they simply can’t or won’t deliver. And, although they have had the support of County and economic development officials in Spencer County, nothing changes the fact that no one in their right mind is going to loan someone with zero experience, billions of dollars to build something that may have made sense in the early 20th Century but is nothing but a failed technology for a carbon conscious society in 2020.

Thus, I ask, when are Spencer County and Dale leaders going to follow the action of those in Vermillion County and tell Riverview that they are tired of continual division in their community and that it is time for him to put up or shut up. Riverview claims to control the land they have chosen and they have already had almost seventeen months since acquiring permission to begin construction but have actually done NOTHING to make that happen.

Officials need to ask what is the status of their land options? What is the status of the Front End Engineering and Design? What is the factual status of Riverview’s financing and who is providing that? Where is Riverview going to get their process water and who is paying for the infrastructure to get it to the site? Where is Riverview going to dispose of both its solid and liquid waste and what will that consist of? What kind of Federal, State and County taxpayer subsidies is Riverview asking Hoosiers to make?

If Riverview refuses or does not want to publicly disclose the answers to these and other pertinent questions, then everyone in Spencer County should tell them to hit the road and allow the whole community to reunite to achieve the progress they so rightly deserve.

Spencer County already has the dubious distinction of being one of the most toxic polluted communities on earth, ranking in the top 25 in the US while sporting a population around 20,000. Illustration credit BlairPhotoEVV

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Riverview Energy/Merle accused of fraud in NY suit

July 7, 2020 – by John Blair. valleywatch.net editor

Prior to proposing a multi billion dollar Coal to Diesel refinery in Dale, Merle’s only job was tutoring high schoolers on the SAT test.

Of course anyone can file a complaint in court against anyone. But I find it interesting that recently a complaint was filed alleging fraud on the part of Riverview Energy and its President, Gregory Merle in the Southern District of New York. This is the man and company that some Spencer County officials and many in State government yearn to locate a preposterous Coal To Diesel plant in Dale. Read for yourself.  SDNY Complaint

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This is the way we like it.

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Two years of secrecy shows Riverview Energy to be an unqualified, unsafe, unfit neighbor

March 24, 2020 – By John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

It’s been nearly two years since then head of LincolnLand Economic Development Corp., Tom Utter promised citizens of Dale that Riverview Energy would conduct an “open forum” where residents could ask questions of plant sponsors. Now, twenty-three months later, neither LEDC nor Riverview has conducted any such forum even though repeated requests for such a session have been made by the public.

Tom Utter, Former Executive Director of LincolnLand Economic Development Corp. has been the number one cheerleader for the development of the Riverview coal refinery since 2017 when Riverview was kicked out of Vermillion County after six years of broken promises. Photo: © 2018 BlairPhotoEVV

In the meantime, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has issued a construction permit for the massive refinery which will permanently light up the night sky for miles around, forever altering life as we know it in Dale. It should be noted that already the judge hearing the appeal filed by Valley Watch and SW Indiana Citizens For Quality of Life found that IDEM issued a permit to pollute without following Indiana rules for public participation. IDEM refused to share information with citizens about the refinery prior to the hearing held December 5, 2018, even though the groups had filed formal “Public Records Requests” for that information as early as June 2018.

So, we have a corporation, Riverview, which desires to operate in secrecy being backed by a government, IDEM, that wants things opaque and out of the hands of the citizens who will be most impacted by a totally experimental venture. 

It should also be noted there are only two of these experiments operating anywhere in the World. One in China and one is Russia. Neither of those plants have any public records of emissions and according to the IDEM permit reviewer, were not even in operation when the permit was issued. It is also probable that neither of those refineries even uses coal as a feedstock so even if emissions data was available, which it is not, that data would not be reflective of using coal as a feedstock.

This night picture of the experimental plant built in China shows it as part of a much larger petroleum refinery complex. Because of its proximity to the conventional refinery, it is likely that instead of coal, it uses petroleum coke, a refining waste as feedstock. Photo credit: News China

It’s not only emissions, including known cancer-causing chemicals, that concern locals because there are serious safety issues that also need to be addressed before the first spade of earth is turned to construct the plant.

Among those safety questions is how will emergencies at the refinery be handled and by whom. We know that the sponsors claim they will produce 105,000,000 gallons of naphtha annually. FYI, naphtha is the primary ingredient used in cigarette “lighter fluid,” a chemical that can easily ignite with a single spark. 

Consider this. A single day’s production of naphtha at the refinery will equal almost 287,671 gallons. Every drop of that is highly explosive and if a single day’s production was all that would ever be on the site, please imagine the fireball that would rise from Dale if it were to ignite either accidentally or as an act of terror. Such an explosion would rattle windows as far away as Jasper and level the Town of Dale.

Add to that, the resulting fire from the slower burning daily output of diesel fuel-552,328 gallons, a fire might burn for days, even weeks polluting local streams with run-off and filling the air we breathe with noxious fumes jeopardizing everyone downwind.

As good as it currently is, the Carter Township Fire Department, would not be able to fight such a disaster. To do so would require the assistance of first responders from maybe 100 miles around, leaving those communities vulnerable to reduced protection.

You might say, “But, John, you paint the worst-case scenario for a disaster.” You would be right. But consider this. The President of the Riverview has zero experience in building and operating a giant multi-billion dollar experimental refinery. In fact, prior to his appointment as President of Riverview, his only professional experience was tutoring high school students for their SAT tests to gain college entrance. That seems unqualified to me.

To recap: Riverview has a novice managing construction and operation of a plant that will be handling some of the most explosive material on the planet. They have chosen secrecy about nearly every facet of their proposal, including actual emissions, financing, and other questions of significance. Further, the regulatory body that is supposed to protect us, issued a permit without answering legitimate and legal questions further increasing secrecy of the permitting process. This plant will be a giant public safety risk handling enormous quantities of combustible material but citizens are left in the dark as to how those risks will be mitigated.

BOTTOM LINE: Spencer and Dubois residents are expected to shut up and go along with something that will permanently alter their lives and present huge risks to their health both near and long term. Why? So a man from Connecticut who has zero experience can seek to make a fortune from an experiment likely to require taxpayer assistance. Are you willing to take that risk?


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Nature photography is faltering in the Valley Watch garden

September 19, 2019 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

Issues with my personal mobility have kept me from posting nature pix from the Valley Watch garden the last couple of years. But something did catch my eye today and I thought I would share it. A glistening blue wasp was working the early blooms of Golden Rod that are bursting forth this week.

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SE Indiana Power Plant bailed out by Ohio Legislation

July 30, 2019 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

Clifty Creek, built in the middle 1950s may continue operating until 2040 after Ohio legislature gives them giant subsidy.

Madison, Indiana is a beautiful town. It even had a large production movie made about its community spirit last decade entitled “Madison.” And, its home to a wonderful State Park-Clifty Falls. Unfortunately, it succumbed to the lure of jobs in the 1950s and became home to the nefarious Clifty Creek power plant.

Emissions hacvwe reduced for town main reasons over the last two decades at Clifty Creek. One-it only operates a portion of the time due to its uneconomic status and because the owners decided to invest heavily on pollution controls like scrubbers for SO2 and Selective Catalytic Reduction to control NOx. Photo:© BlairPhotoEVV

Clifty Creek and its “sister” plant in Ohio called Kyger Creek were built with a single purpose in mind-to supply electricity to the now shuttered Portsmouth, OH uranium enrichment plant that was closed shortly after the turn of the Century. But both continued to operate as a “merchant plants” since.

Madison’s riverfront is really cool, except when you try to watch a sunset which is always obscured by the massive plant whether it’s operating or not as it dominates every effort to look west.

Owned by a consortium of Indiana , Kentucky and Ohio utilities, including 44% by AEP, the plant has made major investments in pollution controls around fifteen years ago. (See data in picture above). As a result, numerous efforts by a group of environmentalists, including Valley Watch, CAC, Save the Valley and Hoosier Environmental Council have failed to secure retirement for the ancient plants.

Now, Ohio ratepayers are going to be further enslaved to pay for the uneconomic operation of both Clifty and Kyger Creek plants just to highly subsidize their utility owners, none of which consider those plants in their actual rate bases.

Ohio’s legislation also bailed out some failing nuclear plants owned by First Energy in what has become the worst “socialization of risk-privatization of profit” scheme devised for plants that are not only failing financially but also constitute heavily to disease in all health for those downwind.

Fortunately, a bill that would have prevented Indiana utilities from building new plants to replace aging coal plants failed in the Indiana legislature this year even after the coal industry hired disgraced former EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt to lobby the bill.

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Earthjustice to represent Valley Watch and SW Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life in Challenge of Riverview air/construction permit.

The coal-to-diesel plant would emit millions of tons of dangerous pollution using a technology that has never been employed in the U.S.

July 11, 2019 – Press Release from Earthjustice

Riverview Energy Corp. plans to build a coal-to-diesel plant one mile from the heart of Dale, IN. Citizens put up a billboard to voice their disapproval of the project. Photo: SW Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life

Community groups appealed an air quality permit issued to Riverview Energy Corporation for its proposed construction of a massive coal-to-diesel refinery in Dale, Spencer County, Indiana.  Earthjustice worked with Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life and ValleyWatch.  The proposed refinery, which would be the first of its kind ever built in the United States, would emit dangerous air pollution in a county that already ranks among the worst one percent nationally for toxic releases.  

The community groups’ appeal describes how the permit is rife with errors that provide no reassurance to the public that they would be protected from the refinery’s dangerous pollution. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued the permit on June 11, 2019.

“This permit is deeply flawed,” said Charles McPhedran an attorney with Earthjustice. “Riverview Energy must not be allowed to site this dangerous project near vulnerable communities, including an elementary school and nursing home.” 

“Riverview Energy’s coal-to-diesel refinery is in close proximity to residential homes,” said Mary Hess, President of Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life. “This refinery would be adding to several facilities already in our community emitting toxic air pollution. We won’t let our neighborhoods become a sacrifice zone for public health.” 

“We have been down this path several times before,” said John Blair, President of ValleyWatch.  “None of the prior projects even broke ground due to the horrible economics of coal conversion projects. In the end, Riverview Energy will be little more than a failed ‘get rich quick scheme’ for the sponsors.”

Background: The proposed refinery would use “Veba Combi Cracker” technology, which has never been used before in the United States and is licensed by KBR (the former Halliburton subsidiary), to transform coal into liquid fuels like diesel and naphtha through the process of “hydro-cracking.” This process would require crushing more than two million tons of coal every year and mixing it with toxic additives and heavy gas oil. If built, the refinery would emit massive amounts of hazardous air pollution every year, including known carcinogens like benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, in addition to significant amounts of particulate matter and other pollutants that contribute to asthma. The refinery also would emit more than two million tons of greenhouse gases every year.

Read the appeal.

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ORSANCO votes to relax Pollution Control Standards for the Ohio River basin.

June 6, 2019 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

Evansville and Mt. Vernon both get drinking water from the Ohio River. In fact, more than five million US citizens acquire their drinking water from our River. 

We are near the end of that 981 mile fresh water pipeline, meaning that what is placed in the River and its tributaries upstream finds its way to our faucets. Today, the government entity responsible for keeping that water quality good, ORSANCO, took a giant step backward and severely relaxed what they called Pollution Control Standards, allowing states that border the River to allow whatever level of pollution they think is appropriate for the profitability of their industrial and municipal polluters.

That means henceforth, Evansville citizens will be forced to drink water intentionally contaminated with who knows what from states like Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. Unfortunately, many of those states will likely allow far greater levels of a variety of pollutants to be dumped in a River that also serves as a primary recreational venue for thousands of boaters and anglers, both sport and subsistence.

ORSANCO or the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, has, in the past, been instrumental in significant improvement of the water quality of the River throughout its length and this is the first time in its sixty-one year history that it has formally allowed more pollution to permeate the River. 

While, today, we celebrate the D-Day invasion that began the end of WW II, this day might also go down in history as the day Evansville and Mt. Vernon, IN lost a significant asset just so some polluter can enrich themselves at our expense. In a word, Valley Watch believes today’s action is -Disgusting.

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This Town Didn’t Want to Be a Radioactive Waste Dump. The Government Is Giving Them No Choice.

May 16, 2019 – By Yessenia Funes in Earther

PIKETON, OHIO—David and Pam Mills have grown tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and okra on their secluded Appalachian property for about 18 years now. This will be the first year the retired couple doesn’t. They just can’t trust their soil anymore. Not with what’s being built barely a five-minute walk away.

The view from the backyard of David and Pam Mills, where the Department of Energy is building a giant nuclear waste dump site in Piketown, Ohio. Photo: Matthew Ashton (Earther)

Past the shed and through the gray, bare trees that grow in the backyard, bulldozers and dump trucks are busy scooping tan-colored dirt atop an overlooking hill on a brisk January afternoon. They’re constructing a 100-acre landfill for radioactive waste. The machines are there most days until the sun goes down; David, 60, hasn’t been able to escape their roaring for two years. Wearing a black-and-gray baseball cap, he drives his rusty orange tractor down the hill, against the crunch of dead leaves, to take a closer look. On a short metal fence marking where the Mills property ends, a sign reads, “U.S. PROPERTY, NO TRESPASSING,” in big, bold letters with red, white, and blue borders.

The Department of Energy (DOE) owns what sits on the other side: the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The DOE built the 1,200-acre facility, located just outside town of Piketon about an hour’s drive south of Columbus in southcentral Ohio, in 1954, as one of three plants it was using to enrich uranium and develop the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal. Now, the agency is trying to clean it up. The landfill—or “on-site waste disposal cell,” as the department calls it—would extend about 60-feet down and house 2 million tons of low-level radioactive waste comprised of soil, asbestos, concrete, and debris. It’ll be outfitted with a clay liner, a plastic cover layer, and a treatment system for any water that leaches through it. When finished, it will be one of the largest nuclear waste dumps east of the Mississippi.

Waste could begin entering it as soon as this fall.

The clean up of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio, is spurring the construction of an on-site landfill that community members are pushing back against.
Photo: Matthew Ashton (Earther)

The Mills have never taken issue with the DOE facility, but they don’t want this landfill. They’d rather see all this junk shipped off to disposal sites in the Southwest, where some low-level waste has already been sent. After all, what if the landfill leaks?

“It’s gonna contaminate everything,” David says, after he shows me how close the landfill sits to his property. “It’s just a matter of time.”

The couple is far from alone in their fears. The 2,000-strong Village of Piketon passed a resolution in August 2017 opposing the landfill. So did the local school district and the Pike County General Health District, where Piketon resides. The rural, low income, and largely white county is home to more than 28,000 people across a number of small towns and cities, some of which have passed their own resolutions against this project. Driving through neighborhoods behind Piketon’s main highway, lawn signs covered in red stating “NO RADIOACTIVE WASTE DUMP in Pike County” can be seen everywhere.“There were a lot of things they didn’t know and a lot of things they didn’t worry about that much, again, in the drive to develop nuclear weapons and to build up the nuclear arsenal. The legacy of that inattention is what we’re dealing with today.” – Edwin Lyman, senior scientist and acting director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project

In January, the Village of Piketon approved the purchase of a $5,000 air quality monitor to track any potential contamination resulting from the landfill’s construction and the cleanup of the rest of the site. By March, Scioto Township, also in Pike County, purchased its own air quality monitor.

While Piketon’s air quality monitor should be set up within the next month, a separate analysis is already raising alarm bells. The Zahn’s Corner Middle School, which sits barely a 10-minute drive away from the plant, closed on May 13 after university researchers detected enriched uranium inside the building, and traces of neptunium appeared in readings from an air quality monitor right outside the school. While the DOE believes everything’s fine, the Pike County General Health District has been calling for the department to halt work while it investigates the matter. Townspeople worry this contamination is a direct result of recent activity at the plant.

All of this highlights deep public distrust over the nuclear facility’s cleanup plan. And after reviewing thousands of pages of documents—including independent studies, the project’s record of decision, and the remedial investigation and feasibility studies that went into writing it—to understand the risks, it’s clear the public isn’t worried for nothing.

Researchers just found traces of enriched uranium and neptunium inside the Zahn’s Corner Middle School in Piketon, Ohio, which is not far from where the landfill is being built.
Photo: Matthew Ashton (Earther)

Here’s the thing: Nothing is technically illegal about the landfill. The DOE, though the polluter, is taking the lead on cleaning up the facility, and the Ohio EPA supports its plan. Whether their decision is morally right given local opposition is another matter. But this is what often happens when a corporation or governmental entity needs to dispose of toxic waste: It gets left in an overlooked town no one’s heard of.

Piketon existed long before the Portsmouth facility did. The village was established in 1846 and has, largely, been a farming and logging community ever since, local county historian Jim Henry told Earther.

Image: Google Maps, Shutterstock

The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant—locally known as the A-Plant (for Atomic Plant)—was the town’s first real industry. During the Cold War, the United States was in need of weapons of mass destruction, and these weapons required enriched uranium. Beginning in the early 1940s, the DOE started separating isotopes of uranium to isolate uranium-235, the one used to build nukes. Facilities like the A-Plant were tasked with doing the separation.

Before the A-Plant, residents had to leave the boundaries of Piketon if they wanted an industrial job, so they were glad to see it arrive. Those whom I spoke with made it sound like it gave the town a sense of patriotism.

What they, and everyone really, didn’t understand at the outset of the Cold War was the lasting impacts uranium enrichment could have. Sure, scientists understood radioactive material could cause cancer, but they thought that it’d take a lot of radiation, explained Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist and acting director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project. Now, we know any exposure poses a risk.

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Researchers Now Have Even More Proof That Air Pollution Can Cause Dementia

May 6, 2019 -By Aaron Rueben in Mother Jones Magazine. Editor’s Note: Valley Watch has long observed a wide variety of issues pertaining to health and the environment and as a result have worked tirelessly to strengthen air pollution regulations that impact the Tri-State area.

Indianapolis Power and Light operates their Petersburg power plant in southwest Indiana to exclusively serve there electrical needs of Indianapolis. In 2016, IPL announced they were retiring their Indianapolis based Harding Street plant after outcry from Indy residents about pollution that came f rom that plant. Sadly, most people in Indy do not even know they most of their electricity from Petersburg now.
Photo © 2013 BlairPhotoEVV

A few years ago I stood in a cramped trailer beside the busy 110 freeway in Los Angeles as researchers at the University of Southern California gathered soot thrown off by vehicles pounding by just a few yards from their instruments, which rattled whenever a heavy truck passed. I was there to learn about how scientists were beginning to link air pollution—from power plants, motor vehicles, forest fires, you name it—to one of the least understood and most frightening of illnesses: dementia.“I have no hesitation whatsoever to say that air pollution causes dementia,” said one leading researcher.A

At that time, as I reported in Mother Jones, the research implicating air pollution as one factor that can contribute to dementia was alarming, consistent, and, ultimately, “suggestive.” Since then scientists have published a wave of studies that reveal that air pollution is much worse for us than we had previously imagined.  The evidence is so compelling, in fact, that many leading researchers now believe it’s conclusive. “I have no hesitation whatsoever to say that air pollution causes dementia,” says Caleb Finch, gerontologist and the leader of USC’s Air Pollution and Brain Disease research network, which has completed many of these new studies. In terms of its effects on our health and welfare, Finch says, “air pollution is just as bad as cigarette smoke.” This evidence arrives alongside the alarming news that air quality is actually worsening for many cities in the United States, while the Trump Administration continues its effort to delay or roll-back environmental safeguards.

What makes Finch—and the half dozen other researchers I talked to—so sure? Of all the new research, three studies in particular paint a stark picture of the extent to which the quality of our air can determine whether we will age with our minds intact. In one from 2018, researchers followed 130,000 older adults living in London for several years. Those exposed to higher levels of air pollutants, particularly nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter released by fossil fuel combustion, were significantly more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease—the most common kind of dementia—than their otherwise demographically matched peers. In total, Londoners exposed to the highest levels of air pollution were about one and a half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s across the study period than their neighbors exposed to the lowest levels—a replication of previous findings from Taiwan, where air pollution levels are much higher. 

Another, a 2017 study published in the Lancet, followed all adults living in Ontario (roughly 6 and a half million people) for over a decade and found that those who lived closer to major high-traffic roads were significantly more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease across the study period regardless of their health at baseline or socioeconomic status. Both of these studies estimated that around 6 to 7 percent of all dementia cases in their samples could be attributed to air pollution exposures.

Those studies from Canada and the UK are certainly intriguing. But the most compelling, and least reported on, study comes from the United States. It was also, incidentally, inspired by our previous reporting.

Following our early report on the link between air pollution and dementia, three economists at Arizona State University—Kelly Bishop, Nicolai Kuminoff, and Jonathan Ketcham—decided to pursue a large-scale investigation of the issue. “We found the Mother Jones article compelling,” Ketcham says. “It was informative about the plausible pathways and the need for more rigorous studies that could test causality.” 

Ultimately, Bishop, Kuminoff, and Ketcham decided to link EPA air quality data to fifteen years of Medicare records for 6.9 million Americans over the age of 65. Rather than simply ask if Americans exposed to more air pollution developed dementia at higher rates, the team identified a quasi-natural experiment that arbitrarily separated Americans into higher and lower air pollution exposure groups. In 2005, the US Environmental Protection Agency targeted 132 counties in 21 states for increased regulation because they were found to be in violation of new air quality standards for fine particulate matter pollution. Residents of those counties consequently saw their air quality improve at a faster rate than their demographically matched peers living in other counties who, initially, had equal exposures but lived in counties with pollution levels that just barely fell below the new air quality standards.

This quirk of different standards across the country allowed the researchers to ask if a manipulated decrease in air pollution exposure actually led to fewer cases of dementia, from Alzheimer’s or other dementing diseases, like strokes. This overcame a significant limitation of the other existing studies, which could only compare differences in exposure and disease arising “naturally” among people who lived in different places rather than by a planned intervention. “If people who have lower levels of education, who are less wealthy, and who are less healthy for reasons that we can’t observe end up living in more polluted areas,” says Ketcham, “it’s difficult to say which of those factors could have led to disease.”All told, a lead study author says, enforcing the EPA’s stricter air quality standard in 2005 likely resulted in 140,000 fewer people living with dementia by 2014.

As they reported in the National Bureau of Economic Research last year, Bishop, Kuminoff, and Ketcham determined that air pollution could indeed cause dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s dementia. In counties that had to quickly comply with the new air quality standards, older people developed Alzheimer’s at lower rates than their peers in counties where the new rules didn’t apply. Annual exposure to an average of one more microgram of fine particle pollution per cubic meter of air (an amount well within the range of difference you could see if you moved from a clean neighborhood to a more polluted neighborhood) raised the typical US elder’s risk of dementia as if they had aged 2.7 additional years. The authors estimated that the size of this elevated risk approached that of other well-known dementia drivers, including hypertension and heart disease.

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U.S. Renewables Projected to Surpass Coal This Month For First Time Ever, Signaling Tipping Point

April 30, 2019 –  by Pam Wright in Weather.com

Wind farms like this one in White County, IN have earned a significant role in electrical generation over the last ten years. Iowa and Texas are big developers of wind generation. Photo © BlairPhotoEVV

  • Clean energy is projected to surpass coal this month for the first time ever. 
  • In 2010, 45 percent of total power generation came from coal.
  • By 2018, that percentage tumbled to just 27 percent and the trend is expected to continue, analysts say. 

The consumption of renewable energy is projected to generate more electricity than coal this month for the first time ever, suggesting the United States is reaching a tipping point for clean energy sources, a recent report from by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) says.

Data published this month by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) Short-Term Energy Outlook estimates renewable energy will generate 2,322 and 2,271 thousand megawatt hours per day in April and May, respectfully. This compares with coal’s expected 1,997 and 2,239 thousand megawatt hours per day for the same two months. 

The IEEFA report notes that seasonal considerations like a higher demand for hydro power in spring and coal plants being taken offline during low demand periods contribute to these figures.

This isn’t the first time that coal has been passed by a competitor. 

Natural gas surpassed coal for the first time in 2015 as the largest producer of electricity, again primarily as a result of seasonal considerations, the report noted. 

Since then, the consumption of natural gas has continued to grow. 

In 2015, coal and natural gas each accounted for 33 percent of the electricity market. By 2018, a gap began to widen with natural gas’s share rising to 35 percent while coal’s dropped to 27 percent. The gap is projected to widen even further in the coming years. 

Now, wind and solar are joining natural gas in pressuring the struggling coal sector, which has seen a 39-year low in consumption this year. 

Part of the problem is the maintenance of coal power plants, which is very expensive and drives up power costs. To combat rising costs for both the companies and their consumers, many companies are investing in clean sources like solar and wind as they become cheaper. 

(MORE: For 300 Days, Costa Rica Generated Electricity from Renewable Sources Alone)

Coal’s decline has been rapid. In 2010, 45 percent of total power generation came from coal. By 2018, that percentage tumbled to just 27 percent. Projections say coal will continue to drop to an estimated 24 percent by 2020.

“Five years ago this never would have been close to happening,” Dennis Wamstead, research analyst at IEEFA, told CNN Business. “The transition that’s going on in the electric sector in the United States has been phenomenal.”

It could take some time before renewable energy permanently surpasses coal on an annual basis. It wasn’t until 2016 that natural gas surpassed coal for good, becoming the United State’s No. 1 power source.

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Huntingburg option for plant’s wastewater

March 11, 2019 – by Olivia Ingle in the DuBois County Herald

Huntingburg, Indiana’s drinking water lake (shown) is being suggested by multiple economic development agencies to be used as a dump for a proposed coal to diesel refinery’s waste water in SW Indiana. They are making this effort to save the company proposing the refinery from having to build a twenty mile pipeline to the Ohio River to dump their waste and instead build a seven mile pipe to the drinking water lake. Photo © 2019 BlairPhotoEVV

Officials involved with the proposal of locating Riverview Energy’s direct coal hydrogenation plant on the north side of Dale are considering options for discharge of the plant’s wastewater, and Huntingburg has been included in the conversation.

Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner said any conversation has been “very informal,” however, he was told that if the plant goes in, the company will be looking for places to accept the water discharge.

“They asked if water resources were available, would Huntingburg be interested? I said we’d be interested,” Spinner said.

He added: “As mayor, I responded by saying we would like to be a part of that conversation, because I believe it’s in the city’s best interest to be informed of all the potential effects such a project should have on our city if it is approved.”

Huntingburg is in the midst of planned water upgrades, and Spinner said the city is “always looking” for other water resources.

However, he said there has been no proposal brought by Riverview Energy or any other officials involved with the proposed Dale project.

“Should there be any proposal, it would be thoroughly studied by the city [and] our water department to determine what’s in the best interest of the city,” Spinner said. “If it has any merit at all, it would go through the full review process from our utility board.”

Riverview Energy has proposed a $2.5 billion direct coal hydrogenation plant — also referred to as a coal-to-diesel plant — to be located on more than 500 acres of newly-annexed land on the north side of Dale.

According to the company, “direct coal-hydrogenation is a unique clean-coal technology that uses pressure and hydrogen to convert coal into ultra-low diesel fuel.”

It would convert 1.6 million tons of coal, and produce 4.8 million barrels of clean diesel and 2.5 million barrels of Naphtha each year.

Riverview Energy has stressed the process doesn’t burn or gasify coal.

In its air permit application to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Riverview Energy proposed its water supply to come via pipeline from the Ohio River. It also proposed that the plant’s processed wastewater leave the same way, once treated, back to the Ohio River

John Blair, president of the environmental group Valley Watch and an active member of the Spencer County Citizens for Quality of Life group opposed to Riverview Energy’s project, heard about Huntingburg being approached for Riverview’s water when someone gave him a recording of a telephone conversation Spinner had about it with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. Blair is worried about the contaminants that could be in the discharge water.

John Blair, Valley Watch president, is incredulous about a proposal to dump coal refinery waste water into the Huntingburg drinking water reservoir.”This is preposterous,” says Blair. Photo: Mary Blair

“The whole idea of taking refinery wastewater and putting it in a drinking water lake … is preposterous to me,” he said. “I don’t even know why they’d come up with that idea.”

In the recording, Spinner is heard asking questions about the water, such as: What is the state of the water when we receive it? Would there be a cost for us to accept it? Can our water facility handle more water? Are we only part of the solution?”

The representative with the Indiana Economic Development corporation didn’t have any answers for him.

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TVA ignores Trump and retires Paradise (KY) coal power plant by December next year

February 14, 2019 by- John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

The Tennessee Valley Authority board shunned the directions it was given earlier in the week by both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump and voted 6-1 to retire the incredibly filthy Paradise 3 power plant near Drakesboro, KY. Paradise will shutter its 971 megawatt unit by December of next year.

A “Combined Cycle” natural gas plant (in foreground under construction in 2016) has already replaced two of the three Paradise coal units. Next year the last of the coal units will shutter by the end of the year. Photo©2016 BlairPhotoEVV

Paradise has been a thorn in the side of Valley Watch since our inception and was once a 2650 MW behemoth that sent its massive levels of pollution for hundreds of miles whichever way the wind blew. At one time, the plant was the largest emitter of toxic chemicals in the entire southeast region of the USA. In addition, Paradise was responsible for decimating hundreds of acres of farmland around the area by Peabody Energy’s Sinclair Mine that provided the high sulfur coal consumed by the plant for almost 60 years. Later, the mine property was used to store huge quantities of coal waste.

Just this week, President Trump sought to influence the TVA Board’s decision by seeking to keep Unit 3 open indefinitely for the benefit of his friend Bob Murray of Murray Energy who supplies coal to the facility. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Senator and Senate Majority Leader made a similar request. but apparently neither were persuasive enough for the Board to follow.

This action will certainly result in the long term improvement of health for residents of the tri-state since this was one of the largest polluters in the region for decades.

Valley Watch has long sought the closure of this huge polluter and we celebrate this as yet another victory in our effort “to protect public health and the environment of the lower Ohio River Valley,” our stated mission.

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A Coal-to-Diesel Refinery Is the Last Straw for These Hoosiers

February 13, 2019 by Susan Cosier  in Our Stories/Midwest Dispatch at NRDC

The air in southwestern Indiana is bad enough without the emissions from yet another proposed polluter.

A billboard on Interstate 64 in southwestern Indiana making it clear how area residents feel about another coal plant in the region. Hele Productions

A towering billboard in southwestern Indiana greets drivers heading west on Interstate 64: “Governor Holcomb, please—No rotten egg smell! No more super polluters! No coal-to-diesel in Dale!” And adorning lawns across Spencer County are bright-yellow posters that read #NOC2D. The signs began going up last spring, about a month before the town council in the small farming community of Dale set aside more than 500 acres of cornfield for a $2.5 billion refinery that would convert coal to diesel fuel. The message is clear: Local residents don’t want the plant—or the cancer-causing and climate-warming emissions that would come with it.

One thing southwestern Indiana doesn’t need more of is air pollution, says John Blair, an environmental activist who runs the nonprofit Valley Watch. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory, Spencer County ranks in the country’s top 1 percent for toxic substances that billow into the air.

Often called a “sacrifice zone” by locals, this corner of the state is already home to four so-called super polluters within a 50-mile radius. (All four are coal-fired power plants.) According to a permit drafted in December by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), the new diesel refinery would add millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year. The plant would also release nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and fine particulate matter at levels that the EPA considers significant, though IDEM says the facility would not violate air-quality standards. Yet what else the plant might emit is unclear since it would be the first of its kind built in the country.

The proposal, submitted by Delaware-based Riverview Energy, still needs the blessing of the EPA, but if approved, the plant would use coal-hydrogenation technology to produce diesel from coal instead of oil. The process, which won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1931, would provide a market for the state’s 17 billion tons of coal reserves. This coal, which is high in sulfur, is generally considered lower quality and especially dirty.Congress that we demand new action on climateT

“Riverview Energy thinks that this is going to alter the entire landscape of how we do transportation in the United States,” says Blair, who has worked to stop the development of coal conversion plants for nearly four decades.

Riverview’s proposal, which has been in the works for more than a year, comes at a time when utilities across the country are shuttering coal plants, wind power and solar power are becoming cheaper, and Americans are demanding energy sources that don’t mess with their health and the climate. That goes for Indianans, too. In October, one of the state’s largest utility companies, the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, announced that it would eliminate its dependence on coal entirely by 2028. That commitment, says Rachel Fakhry, a policy analyst for NRDC, “is one of the most progressive not only in the Midwest, but also in the country.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, the Midwest’s dependence on energy from coal has decreased significantly over the past decade, from 70 percent in 2010 to less than 50 percent in 2017. The drop is largely due to utilities reviewing their bottom lines and realizing that a switch to cleaner fuels could cut costs and reduce electricity bills for their customers. “The landscape has changed,” says Fakhry.

IDEM, however, appears to be moving forward with the coal-to-diesel proposal anyway. It says it will address a number of issues the EPA had with its air-quality permit, including how it calculated the plant’s emissions, and file the final permit application later this year.

The people of Spencer County aren’t backing down either. In December, concerned citizens packed the Heritage Hills High School auditorium and spilled into the hallway. Forty-five people, including Mary Hess, president of the nonprofit Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life, spoke out against the refinery. Just seven spoke in support.

Hess is a former postal worker who began looking more closely at the environmental issues facing her community after she retired in 2013. After founding her organization last March, she set up an online petition opposing the plant. So far, more than 2,100 people have signed.

A rally in Evansville, Indiana, against a plan by Riverview Energy to build a new coal to diesel power plant in the state, August 2018.  Hele Productions

In addition to speaking with Riverview Energy and having Indiana health officials take a closer look at the community’s air-quality concerns, Hess’s group wants more air monitors installed around Spencer County. Armed with information from those monitors, they hope to show why the plant would be bad for the county, the state, and the region. Ultimately, she says, “our main goal is to stop it.”

Living in a country that already exports more diesel than it uses, Hess also questions the need for such a refinery. Sure, the technology “did win a Nobel Prize,” says Hess, “but so did the lobotomy.”

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At a crossroads, Ohio River agency weighs dueling proposals on role

February 4, 2019 – by Keith Schneider for Energy News Network

An industry-backed effort aims to end ORSANCO’s role in setting and enforcing pollution standards.

In the course of his decorated career in environmental law, Tom FitzGerald tamed the scourge of Kentucky’s renegade strip miners, prodded state regulators to protect groundwater from reckless underground mining practices, and kept some of the state’s wild rivers safe from oil and gas drilling. In these and the dozens of other cases he either won or significantly influenced as director of the tiny nonprofit Kentucky Resources Council, the 64-year-old lawyer served the public interest principally as an outsider.

Tom FitzGerald addresses crowd at a Louisville Forecastle Festival. Photo: BlairPhotoEVV

In 2014, though, President Barack Obama made FitzGerald an insider by appointing him to the governing board of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, more commonly known as ORSANCO. Today, FitzGerald is at the epicenter of a fierce industry-led struggle meant to end one of ORSANCO’s core missions — setting and enforcing safety limits on biological and toxic pollutants spilling into the river.

Since its establishment in 1948, the multi-state environmental agency has played an outsized role in improving water quality and ecology on America’s most important industrial river. Founded by an act of Congress and an interstate compact signed by the eight states of the 204,000-square-mile Ohio River Basin, ORSANCO has served as an innovator of policies and practices to reduce biological and toxic chemical discharges to the river. It developed and implemented so-called “pollution control standards” compelling cities and towns to stop dumping raw sewage into the Ohio River. It did the same for cleaning up chemical and toxic effluents from coal-fired power plants, refineries, and metals manufacturers along the river.

ORSANCO’s safety standards have been adopted by the six states that border the river, and incorporated by several states as requirements in discharge permits. It is widely credited for its big role in significantly improving water quality and ecological conditions along the river, which 5 million people depend upon for their drinking water.

The push to fundamentally change ORSANCO’s role is supported by some board members. But FitzGerald has fought back with a separate proposal that would maintain the pollution control standards and expand the agency’s work to help reduce biological and toxic chemical pollution. This month the full commission meets to weigh the competing measures.

Keith Schneider / Energy News Network

In 2014, utilities successfully challenged an ORSANCO water discharge safety limit for the J.M. Stuart coal-fired power plant in Adams County, Ohio. It was the first time an ORSANCO standard was nullified by a state environmental review board, and set off alarms and a review of the agency’s standard-setting program. The 2,318-megawatt power station closed in May 2018.

In regulation as in investment, previous achievements are no indicator of future success. Executives of coal-fired utilities and major manufacturers that operate along the river, and water quality managers in West Virginia and several other states, have been chafing for years at ORSANCO’s role in setting safety standards. One ORSANCO standard, adopted by Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2003, was particularly galling to industry. It barred “mixing zones” for PCBs, mercury, and other toxic chemicals — the practice of allowing industries to dilute pollutants in the river’s current to comply with water quality limits.

On June 18, 2014, an environmental appeals board in Ohio provided an opening to challenge ORSANCO’s standard-setting. The board sided with six big coal-fired utilities and formally rejected an ORSANCO human health safety standard included in a state discharge permit for a large coal-fired power plant in Adams County. Dayton Power and Light, the plant’s owner, and the five other utilities argued that the ORSANCO standard, which set a limit on the temperature of cooling water discharged into the river, was unlawful. They successfully argued that Ohio had never formally adopted the standard as a regulation.

The Ohio ruling, the first time an ORSANCO standard had been rejected by a state, set off alarms in the agency. It also provided the opportunity for utilities and their supporters on the ORSANCO commission to ask probing questions about the usefulness of the agency’s standard-setting program.

Tom Easterly was appointed by the Governor Mitch Daniels as Commissioner of IDEM. He claimed at the time that under him, the Agency would be considered “an economic development agency.” 

In December 2014, Thomas Easterly, the head of Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management and the ORSANCO chairman, formed a subcommittee to review how the agency’s water quality standards are embraced and implemented by states. FitzGerald was named as one of the nine members.

During the course of its work, the subcommittee determined the relevance of ORSANCO standards. In 188 instances, ORSANCO established a standard for a pollutant that neither the EPA nor a state set. There are 252 other instances in which ORSANCO standards were at least 10 percent more stringent than those of the Ohio River states or the EPA. ORSANCO typically establishes standards, embraced by the states, that are more rigorous than the EPA limits. Some limit discharges of pollutants known to be dangerous — ammonia, cyanide, and mercury.

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