Fully removing coal ash near coal plants creates more jobs and boosts local economies better than leaving the ash in place. That’s according to a new report by the nonprofit environmental group Earthjustice.
The northern Indiana utility NIPSCO plans to remove coal ash from five ponds at its Michigan City Generating Station which will close by 2028, but will keep a legacy coal ash pond in place as well as coal ash fill on the site. Activists with Just Transition NWI said for this reason, NIPSCO's plan can't be considered a "clean closure."
Earthjustice said removing all the coal ash would not only reduce potential pollution to local waterways and open up more opportunities for redevelopment — it would also create seven times as many jobs and add about $8 million more to the area’s GDP over about a decade.
Ashley Williams is the executive director of Just Transition NWI and a Michigan City resident. She said Michigan City has lost many of its industrial jobs in favor of retail jobs that don't pay a livable wage.
“We see this as all part of it in terms of really building out that new economy, that regenerative economy for our region," Williams said.
Williams said she would also like to see NIPSCO explore more options for reusing the coal ash rather than its current plan to landfill the waste at its R.M. Schahfer plant — and putting that pollution in the Wheatfield community.
Nick Meyer is the vice president of state communications for NiSource — NIPSCO’s parent company. He said state and federal environmental regulators haven’t shown that NIPSCO needs to excavate more coal ash to keep residents safe.
“We're doing exactly what, you know, what they're asking for. And so, if they found that there's other risks, they would let us know of that," Meyer said.
Though NIPSCO has the ability to go beyond what regulators require, Meyer said more work on the site could mean higher costs for customers. He said it's possible the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission might not consider that additional work "necessary" and not allow NIPSCO to recover its costs.
The report recommends the utility better engage residents in cleanup and redevelopment plans, explore ways to reuse the coal ash, and monitor the air as it transports coal ash to a landfill.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.