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Do Indiana Coal Closures Have Chicago Consequences?

By JoshMogerman in News on Jan 16, 2011 8:00PM

NIPSCO's Michigan City, IN coal plant as seen from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's Mt. Baldy [via Wayne Senville, Planning Commissioners Journal,]
A settlement between a Northwest Indiana utility and the US Environmental Protection Agency will likely result in cleaner air here and throughout the region. It could also bring renewed attention to Chicago’s two aging plants as one mayoral candidate has publicly expressed his wish that they clean up or shut down.

Northern Indiana Public Service Company will permanently shut down an aging coal plant in Gary, invest $600 million to modernize pollution-limiting equipment on three other coal plants in Michigan City, Chesterton, and Wheatfield, as well as hand over properties to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in response to long-standing permit issues. The Chesterton plant had previously been one of the nation’s worst emitters of toxic and lung-damaging nitrogen oxide before being forced to put controls in place for the pollutant. Similar technology will be installed on the other plants and all three will be fitted with equipment to limit the output of air pollutants implicated with smog and an ugly array of chemicals known to impact human health.

The agreement settles the company's violations of the Clean Air Act's new source review provisions, the same legal requirements that have been used to clean up aging coal plants throughout the Midwest and have been cited in the legal fight over Chicago's Fisk and Crawford plants. When the Clean Air Act was passed in the 70s, existing plants were given a pass on installing new pollution fighting technologies until the facilities were expanded or updated. As a result, many utilities have attempted to improve and retrofit their older facilities to keep them running indefinitely without putting on modern pollution controls so as to avoid living up to the Clean Air Act's pollution standards. For example, the Fisk Generating Station in Pilsen is one of the oldest plants in the nation and has had limited non-court ordered upgrades to its pollution controls. The federal fight over NIPSCO's plants and the Chicago facilities are similar in that both center on claims that the facilities had been retrofitted without proper permits. Had permits been sought, the Clean Air Act’s provisions for modern pollution control technology would have been triggered.

While the Chicago coal plant legal action is stalled in court, a City Council ordinance that would require Fisk and Crawford to clean up or close down received public support from mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle who will likely advance the issue in upcoming debates.