By Veronica Carter
After decades of burning coal, the Harding Street Station in Indianapolis
was converted to natural gas in February, but coal ash and other waste remain. Under federal rules, Indianapolis Power and Light is required to develop a plan to close the ash ponds and protect public health and the environment.
Clean-power advocates celebrated after the final rail shipment of coal was dumped at the site, and Wyatt Watkins, the chairman of the board of Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, said they're now rallying to get the state to take the lead in cleanup efforts.
"Hold the utility accountable for the right kind of cleanup," he said. "Do it for the quality of water, do it for the health of citizens, do it because it also represents the true cost which we have incurred, and the environment has incurred, from burning coal."
This month, Watkins' group delivered petitions asking the state and the utility company to remove toxic coal ash from the unlined pits and store it in a lined landfill on dry land to protect the White River and drinking-water sources from further contamination. Signatures are still being collected on those petitions, until the comment period on the cleanup plan ends on December 5.
After 85 years of relying on coal, the utility switched to natural gas and said it's committed to providing safe and affordable power. Watkins said it's a big step and, while coal is touted by some as a cheap source of power, there's more to it than that.
"The fact is that it's not as cheap as it appears," he added. "It's quite expensive to the environment and, if you factor in the prices to clean up, if you factored in all those hidden costs, you would get a truer picture of what a coal economy really looks like."
In Watkins' opinion, the coal-ash lagoons that litter the state are denying people a basic human right.
"Water is sacred. Water is a sacred trust, it's the elixir of life," he explained. "It is God's gift to us, and we need to take good care of it, because it's how we live and how, as people, we flourish."