SANTA CLAUS — Lifelong Dale resident Steve Schroer was one of about 35 people who lined State Road 162 in Santa Claus Thursday morning to protest a direct coal-hydrogenation plant Delaware-based Riverview Energy wants to build in Dale. His main concerns: increased environmental pollution and the plant’s proposed location inside the Dale town limits.
“That’s what scared me as much as anything,” Schroer said. “Nobody wants to live around pollution.”
Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life organized the protest because Gov. Eric Holcomb visited Santa Claus to attend the Spencer County Regional Chamber of Commerce annual meeting. The meeting was held at Santa’s Lodge, and the protesters set up in the public right of way along State Road 162, hoping the governor would see them as he arrived at the event.
“We’re just trying to draw awareness,” said Mary Hess, a Dale resident and president of Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life. ”We want to let officials know people are against this (plant).”
The proposed $2.5 billion direct coal-hydrogenation plant would be located on more than 500 acres recently annexed north of Dale between County Roads 2000 North and 2100 North and the old U.S. 231 and County Road 500 East. The project was announced in February, and concerned citizens have been opposing the project since.
According to the proposed plant’s air permit application submitted to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the plant would use Veba Combi Cracker technology licensed by the company Kellogg Brown and Root. Although plants using the technology have been proposed in the U.S. in the past, the technology is currently not used anywhere in the nation.
According to Riverview Energy, the company proposing the plant, the VCC process is used commercially in China and Russia and the “process starts with using pressure and heat (but not burning or gasifying) to liquify the coal, to which hydrogen is added to improve the quality of the fuel, and from there any waste residue and sulfur is removed from the resulting diesel fuel — making it an ultra-low-sulfur energy source.”
When the proposed plant was first announced earlier this year, Riverview Energy said it would not only convert coal into diesel fuel, but also would convert it into other products like Naphtha, which is used to produce products like plastics and gasoline.
The plant is expected to use 1.6 million tons of coal and produce 4.8 million barrels of clean diesel and 2.5 million barrels of Naphtha each year.
Supporters of the plant see the project as a way to revitalize Dale.
Riverview officials have said the development will generate “225 permanent high-skilled, good-paying jobs with competitive benefits to operate the facility.” More than 2,000 construction jobs will be available to build the plant and the company plans to hire locally. The opposition thinks the new jobs aren’t worth the added pollution to the area, especially since the Environmental Protection Agency already ranks Spencer County 23rd in the nation in total pounds of toxic chemicals released into the environment annually.
Nancy Schroer, left, and her husband, Steve, both of Dale, held signs along Christmas Boulevard in Santa Claus Thursday morning. "Quite truthfully, this is the last thing I want to be doing fighting a coal to diesel plant that is being pushed on us," Nancy said. "But I'm concerned about my children and grandchildren and they'll have to live with. We're fighting for the future generations."
“I’m not against jobs; I’m not against coal,” Hess said. “I am against the pollutants it produces.”
She also questions the need for more jobs since the April jobs report lists Spencer County’s unemployment at 2.6 percent. Surrounding counties also reported low unemployment.
The project is currently going through review with state agencies including IDEM.
According to a post on the Lincolnland Economic Development Corp.’s Facebook page, Holcomb met with Riverview Energy President Greg Merle during a recent state trip to Switzerland. The two posed for a photo together with other officials in Bern, Switzerland. The Lincolnland Economic Development Corp. supports the project, and its executive director, Tom Utter, has been recruiting the company since IDEM first contacted him and said Riverview Energy was looking for a site.
During a question and answer session at the Chamber of Commerce’s meeting Thursday, Holcomb said all the state’s decisions about the project will be based on facts and science.
“We’re not going to do anything to jeopardize our health,” Holcomb said.