SE Indiana Power Plant bailed out by Ohio Legislation

July 30, 2019 – by John Blair, 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, 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

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, 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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5G and potential health risks.

December 19, 2018-Editor’s note: The Valley Watch office now has a “smart meter.” Across the street, is a Verizon cell tower and along two sides of our building runs a Vectren 134 Kilovolt transmission line. Before the cell tower and the smart meter were installed, we took a Gauss Meter reading and found a very high level electromagnetic field everywhere on our property. Now, we have a new Vectren substation being constructed just down the street. This is in a residential neighborhood where people of all ages are exposed to this radiation on nearly a continual basis. Hmm.

Dr. Sharon Goldberg, an internal medicine physician & professor gives her testimony regarding the dangers of electromagnetic radiation. She says: “Wireless radiation has biological effects. Period.” Read more about it here:…

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U.S. Climate Report Warns of Damaged Environment and Shrinking Economy

November 23

November 23, 2018 – by  Coral Davenport and Kedra Pierre-Louis in the New York Times

Fighting the Camp Fire this month in Magalia, Calif.CreditCredit:Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday presents the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States, predicting that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end.

The report, which was mandated by Congress and made public by the White House, is notable not only for the precision of its calculations and bluntness of its conclusions, but also because its findings are directly at odds with President Trump’s agenda of environmental deregulation, which he asserts will spur economic growth.

Mr. Trump has taken aggressive steps to allow more planet-warming pollution from vehicle tailpipes and power plant smokestacks, and has vowed to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, under which nearly every country in the world pledged to cut carbon emissions. Just this week, he mocked the science of climate change because of a cold snap in the Northeast, tweeting, “Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

But in direct language, the 1,656-page assessment lays out the devastating effects of a changing climate on the economy, health and environment, including record wildfires in California, crop failures in the Midwest and crumbling infrastructure in the South. Going forward, American exports and supply chains could be disrupted, agricultural yields could fall to 1980s levels by midcentury and fire season could spread to the Southeast, the report finds.

“There is a bizarre contrast between this report, which is being released by this administration, and this administration’s own policies,” said Philip B. Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center.

All told, the report says, climate change could slash up to a tenth of gross domestic product by 2100, more than double the losses of the Great Recession a decade ago.

Scientists who worked on the report said it did not appear that administration officials had tried to alter or suppress its findings. However, several noted that the timing of its release, at 2 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving, appeared designed to minimize its public impact.

Still, the report could become a powerful legal tool for opponents of Mr. Trump’s efforts to dismantle climate change policy, experts said.

“This report will weaken the Trump administration’s legal case for undoing climate change regulations, and it strengthens the hands of those who go to court to fight them,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton.

The report is the second volume of the National Climate Assessment, which the federal government is required by law to produce every four years. The first volume was issued by the White House last year.

The previous report, issued in May 2014, concluded with nearly as much scientific certainty, but not as much precision on the economic costs, that the tangible impacts of climate change had already started to cause damage across the country. It cited increasing water scarcity in dry regions, torrential downpours in wet regions and more severe heat waves and wildfires.

The results of the 2014 report helped inform the Obama administration as it wrote a set of landmark climate change regulations. The following year, the E.P.A. finalized President Barack Obama’s signature climate change policy, known as the Clean Power Plan, which aimed to slash planet-warming emissions from coal-fired power plants. At the end of the 2015, Mr. Obama played a lead role in brokering the Paris Agreement.

But in 2016, Republicans in general and Mr. Trump in particular campaigned against those regulations. In rallies before cheering coal miners, Mr. Trump vowed to end what he called Mr. Obama’s “war on coal” and to withdraw from the Paris deal. Since winning the election, his administration has moved decisively to roll back environmental regulations.

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IEEFA report: ‘Holy Grail’ of carbon capture continues to elude coal industry; ‘cautionary tale’ applies to domestic and foreign projects alike

November 23, 2018 – by IEEFA – Editor’s note, Valley Watch has long been opposed to the use of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) due to its deleterious economics.  

Study details lack of economic feasibility around North American initiatives; costly and/or failed efforts at Duke’s Edwardsport, NRG’s Petra Nova, SaskPower’s Boundary Dam, and Southern Co.’s Kemper plant; technology seen as unworkable and too expensive for fast-changing electricity-generation markets

A study published today by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis concludes that costly efforts undertaken in North America to develop workable, economic technology to capture carbon from coal-fired generation have come up short

Further, the study concludes that technology developments in the renewable energy and natural gas sectors have obviated the need for continued efforts to retrofit carbon capture technology on the nation’s shrinking coal fleet.

The report— “Holy Grail of Carbon Capture Continues to Elude Coal Industry”—tracks the history and performance of four highly touted projects: Saskatchewan Power’s Boundary Dam Power Station in Canada, NRG’s Petra Nova project in Texas, Southern Co.’s Kemper plant in Mississippi, and Duke Energy’s Edwardsport plant in Indiana.

“What all four of these projects have in common is their dismal performance,” said David Schlissel, IEEFA’s director of resource planning development and lead author of the report. “While Petra Nova and Boundary Dam are both operational, neither in truth can be considered anything other than demonstration units, the integrated gasification combined cycle project at Edwardsport has performed abysmally, and the Kemper clean coal project was essentially abandoned.”

While the report focuses on North American initiatives, it speaks as well to long-standing U.S. coal industry plans to sell carbon-capture technology abroad.

“Our findings serve as a cautionary tale for any country considering broad adoption of CCS for coal,” Schlissel said. “The technology remains unproven at full commercial scale, it is wildly expensive, there are serious questions regarding after-capture transport, injection and storage of the captured CO2 and—most important—more reliable and far cheaper power-generation options exist.”

The report traces a legacy of costly experimentation that began over a decade ago under the direction of the U.S. Department of Energy, which began in the early 2000s to seek ways to capture coal-generated carbon emissions to address climate change. American electricity markets relied on coal for more than 50 percent of power generation nationally at the time, a figure that has dropped to less than 30 percent and is continuing to shrink as natural gas and renewables gain market share.

“Electricity produced by renewable energy, particularly wind and solar, amounted to little more than a rounding error in the Energy Information Administration’s 2003 edition of its Annual Energy Review,” the report notes. “Today they account for more than 10% of the nation’s electricity generation, and both continue to gain market share fast.”

Meanwhile, technology-driven advances in natural gas production have given the energy sector a huge lift: “Supplies have soared and costs have been cut to the point that gas is now the only viable option for developers looking to build new fossil-fuel generation. Further, the utility industry itself, long a source of support for coal in general and specifically for CCS development financing, is now moving quickly away from coal.”

The report describes further how market forces have undercut the economics of retrofitting carbon-capture technology on the aging American coal fleet.: “High-risk, high-cost CCS investments looked potentially viable a decade ago but are being eclipsed today by less-costly ways to produce electricity while curbing carbon emissions,” it states.

Full report: “Holy Grail of Carbon Capture Continues to Elude Coal Industry”

Media Contact:
Karl Cates 917 439 8225

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Breathe easier in February. Henderson Muni to retire two Sebree units.

October 26, 2018-By Robert Walton, in UtilityDive.

Henderson Municipal Utilities operates two units in this complex that also hosts the Louisville Gas and Electric Company ‘s Reid Station. File Photo © 2018 BlairPhotoEVV.

Dive Brief:

  • Henderson Municipal Power and Light in Kentucky will close its coal plant early next year and turn to the open market for its power needs, as the aging plant’s energy production is consistently more expensive than available supplies.
  • Henderson’s 300 MW coal plant, Station 2, is operated by Big River which sells the excess energy. However, power from the plant costs approximately 33 times more than alternative generation and it ran infrequently, local news station WFPL reported earlier this year.
  • In a letter earlier this month, the Midcontinent ISO (MISO) approved the shutdown of Units 1 and 2 effective Feb. 1, 2019, after determining the generation was not necessary as a system support resource.

    Dive Insight:

    Coal-fired generators continue to close down, and Henderson’s power plant is only the most recent example. According to the Sierra Club, the plant is the 277th coal generator that has shut down or announced plans to do so since 2010. And new research finds closures are accelerating.

    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) on Thursday released an analysis estimating 15.4 GW of coal-fired capacity will close this year, including 44 units at 22 plants. This year at least 11 GW have retired and the final tally is predicted to eclipse the previous record of 14.7 GW retired in 2015. IEEFA estimates another 21.4GW of coal-fired capacity will close over the next six years.

    A literal “mountain” of coal ash sits along the Green river just south of the Big Rivers/Henderson Municipal coal plant near Sebree, KY. © 2010  BlairPhotoEVV

    “The competitive environment for coal-fired power in the generation marketplace is becoming ever more challenging,” Seth Feaster, IEEFA data analyst and author of the report, said in a statement. He pointed to the declining cost of renewables and natural gas prices that “are expected to remain low for the foreseeable future.”

    There have been exceptions. Just last week, FirstEnergy announced it would delay closing its 1,300 MW coal-fired Pleasants Power Station in West Virginia. The plant had been slated to close next year, but will instead continue operating into 2022. That decision, however, had less to do with coal’s long-term viability and more with the bankruptcy proceeding of FirstEnergy Solutions. 

    IEEFA estimates that in July the U.S. coal fleet stood at about 246 GW, but by the end of 2024 that capacity could be reduced 15%.

    “Cost is the biggest force in the decline of coal, as renewables and gas-fired generation are proving cheaper and more flexible,” the analysis said, also warning the electric generation industry is “well into a fundamental transition that is gaining momentum and will probably accelerate as technology disruptions occur.”

    As for the Henderson plant, MISO informed Big River three weeks ago that “the decision to retire is considered final and the existing interconnection rights for the generators will be terminated as of the retirement date.”

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Barbra Streisand releases “Don’t Lie to Me” video attacking Trump

October 13, 2018 – By Barbra Streisand

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