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Pollution Knows No State Lines: Aging Indiana Coal Plant Dumps on South Side

By JoshMogerman in News on Sep 19, 2010 6:30PM

Entrance to State Line Power Station with the obelisk marking the Indiana-Illinois border in front [State Line by reallyboring via Flickr]
The State Line Power Station sits on a spit of land jutting into Lake Michigan that is officially the northernmost territory of Indiana. But considering that you cannot get to the coal plant from the Hoosier State unless you drive through Chicago, it is just a technicality. But it’s a big technicality, as it has kept Illinois regulators from addressing one of the worst emitters of soot in the entire country as it spews pollution over the South Side while Indiana seems disinterested in addressing the situation. That might be changing as a coalition of environmental groups have filed suit to push enforcement of a rash of air pollution violations levied against the aging coal plant.

Lately, the City’s Fisk and Crawford coal plants have gotten a lot of attention with suits, a proposed ordinance and regular protests, but an analysis done by the Trib confirms what anyone who has seen Stateline’s bellowing black smoke has already guessed---the Indiana plant is the worst polluter of the three. Michael Hawthorne’s latest investigative story for the paper notes that State Line is one of the worst nitrogen oxide polluters in the nation and emits more than Fisk and Crawford combined. It also dumps more mercury or sulfur dioxide into our air shed than either of the two plants in the City (both of which are older than State Line, which was built in 1929). Dominion, the owner of the plant, tells the Trib that the economics don’t work out to cleaning up the plant:

"We aren't going to make significant capital expenditures in the future at State Line," said Jim Norvelle, a Dominion spokesman.

That doesn’t sit well with a coalition of groups who have filed notice that they will sue to get dozens of pollution violations enforced. Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago tells the Gary Post-Tribune emissions could easily be lowered by installing scrubbers---common pollution control equipment---to remove particle pollution like sulfur dioxide:

"Hundreds of coal-fired power plants do not yet have scrubber technology, so there is still an enormous opportunity to significantly enhance public health ... Getting scrubbers on plants like State Line will save lives."

Ann Alexander, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Chicago, recently told Chicago Public Radio’s Northwest Indiana correspondent Michael Puente:

“Old cold plants are supposed to be cleaning up or shutting down and they are not and there are health impacts as a result.”

A recent Clean Air Task Force report quantifies those impacts, with very ugly results. In the greater Chicago region (southern Wisconsin to Gary, IN) every year, exposure to coal plant pollution sends over 250 people to the emergency room, causes nearly 600 heart attacks and kills almost 350 people.

So why has this mess been allowed to fester on Lake Michigan’s shores? If you have ever driven past State Line on the way to Northwest Indiana, you know that the coal plant is just the beginning of a massive industrial corridor. A quick drive on the Skyway takes you past State Line, BP’s Whiting Refinery, U.S. Steel’s Gary Works, Enbridge's massive oil tank farms, the Arcelor-Mittal’s Indiana Harbor steel foundry and Michigan City’s disconcerting coal plant which is dominated by what looks like a nuclear plant cooling tower. In that massive pollution parkway, it is pretty hard to isolate one bad actor from another. Still, we hope that the recent public exposure on State Line, and Dominion’s irresponsible disregard for people over profit, will force a clean up quick.