Two Indiana environmental groups have received a grant to monitor toxic and fine particle air pollution in the southwest corner of the state and make the data available to the public.
Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life, based in Dale, and Valley Watch Inc., of Evansville, were awarded just over $190,000 by the American Electric Power Mitigation Money Fund, a fund of Central Indiana Community Foundation.
The public will be able to access the data generated by the monitoring process in almost real time via the internet. The groups will also purchase a limited number of water testing kits to assess the quality of tap water.
“Our focus has always been to inform and educate the public on our findings,” said Mary Hess, president of Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life. “Now, with this grant, we will be able to take our mission to the next level.”
The funds for the grant are provided under a legal settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, eight states and 13 citizen groups. The settlement includes an agreement by AEP to invest $3.5 million to improve air quality and reduce pollution in Indiana.
The monies are being overseen by a committee that includes Citizens Action Coalition, Clean Air Council, and Indiana Wildlife Federation, with assistance from the Sierra Club and the Environmental Law & Policy Center.
Valley Watch and the Citizens for Quality of Life are challenging an air quality permit issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to Riverview Energy to construct a coal-to-diesel plant in Dale. A trial date is set for June.
In January 2018, Riverview Energy proposed building the first ever coal-to-diesel plant in the United States in Dale. The coal-to-diesel process would pulverize coal and mix it with an oil such as crude oil, creating a slurry. Hydrogen, from natural gas, would be added to the slurry, creating ultra-low-sulfur diesel.
Ultra-low-sulfur diesel is more efficient than regular diesel, allowing heavy machinery to run longer and reducing the amount of airborne sulfur emissions that cause smog.
The Riverview plant would initially supply about 2,000 construction jobs, along with 225 permanent jobs, including petroleum engineers, maintenance workers and safety monitors.
The proposed site for the plant is within a mile of a nursing home and within two miles of an elementary school.
According to Riverview’s own air permit application, the plant would release around 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide, 225 tons of carbon monoxide and 120 tons of sulfur dioxide annually.
Indiana air quality ranks as second worst in the US, with Louisiana being first, according to US News and World Report.
A group of concerned citizens formed Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life as a response to the proposed plant and to increase transparency among Riverview, county/town governments and citizens.
Valley Watch has been working to protect the environment and human health in the lower Ohio River Valley since 1981 and joined the citizens group in its fight against the Riverview plant.
In January of this year, Judge Catherine Gibbs, with the Indiana Office of Environmental Adjudication, responded to the first of six counts included in the petition, agreeing with the environmental groups that IDEM had failed to follow public participation requirements, withholding crucial information about the proposed plant and making it impossible for the public to make informed comments within a reasonable time frame.
“Now, we will be able to determine what is coming out of industrial facilities that impacts our health and share it with the world,” John Blair, Valley Watch president, said in a statement. “No longer will we have to rely on less than motivated agencies of government to collect data. Air monitors are awfully expensive and absent the grant, we would never have been able to do this kind of reference monitoring.”
The goal for both groups is to have the monitors up and running by mid-summer. They will also be installing the monitors themselves, after going through training and setting up committees to collect the data.