"Local activist rides bike to Bloomington to attend IURC hearing

If I had the power in my legs that the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has, there would be no new coal facilities in Indiana. As it is, I had barely enough power in my legs to peddle my bicycle from Indianapolis to Bloomington.

On Wednesday morning of Aug. 29, my adventure began. A humid “Knozone” day with a high near 100 degrees and a steady south wind marked the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I would make the 67-mile ride as a feeble attempt to reduce my carbon footprint and to raise awareness about the problems and dangers of coal use in Indiana.

In September of 2006, Duke Energy requested certification from the IURC for the construction of a 630-megawatt generating facility in Knox County, Indiana. If approved, the integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plant would be one of the largest coal plants in the world and have the potential to be outfitted with carbon capture and sequestration (CSS) technology that could potentially capture some of the carbon dioxide that would be released into our environment.

But CCS technology is likely more than a decade away and might never come to fruition.

The reality of the situation for Indiana would be an impressive 20 percent reduction of mercury. But this “clean coal” would bring with it a 785 percent increase in carbon dioxide, a 1,480 percent increase in carbon monoxide and a shocking 14,555 percent increase in lead emissions.

A wind farm with equal megawatt capacity to the proposed coal plant could be developed for the same cost with obvious advantages to our health and environment.

As I arrived at Showers Center City Hall, I had just enough time to change out of my sweat-drenched shirt for the formal legal proceeding. The IURC panel sat attentively as some 300 people filled the hall and the hallway.

Mayors, representatives, lawyers, environmentalists, religious leaders, mothers, fathers and students all spoke thoughtfully, carefully and emotionally. The proceedings lasted from 6 p.m. until midnight.

Knox County residents were almost entirely in favor of the plant. Upset with the economic hardships facing their county, many spoke of potential employment at the plant. They spoke with pride about the history of coal in the region. “We need this plant. We support it 100 percent.”

Jon Blair, an experienced veteran in environmental battles and editor of ValleyWatch.net (www.valleywatch.net), testified and spoke of the financial and environmental cost.

“This plant could cost $3 or $4 billion with adjustable rates transferred to rate payers. We could be looking at a 40 percent or 50 percent, even 60 percent increase in utility rates. That will devastate people across the state. That is not worth 100 jobs in Knox County.”

Many in opposition to the plant spoke of their children and family members with environmentally related illnesses such as autism, asthma and cancer. They spoke of the 887 Hoosiers that die every year because of the pollution from coal-fired plants.

As the night moved on, my head spun from the emotional testimonies and from the exhausting seven-hour bicycle ride. Shortly before midnight, I was called to the stand. I was very nervous. I raised my hand, swore to tell the truth, took a deep breath, and spoke, “I am here today because I am very concerned with the future of the human species …”

For more information contact www.stepitup2007.org and www.citact.org.

Matt Shull is a local painter and student of indigenous ecology. He is training with the Wilderness Awareness School to become an environmental educator, www.wildernessawareness.org.

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