CHICAGO (October 14, 2011) - The controversial effort to turn coal into diesel and aviation fuel in Ohio is dead after an agreement from its backers to move away from coal. The negotiated decision puts an end to challenges from environmental groups to Baard Energy's “Ohio River Clean Fuels” plant in Columbiana County and likely stands as another nail in the coffin for the expensive and highly polluting technology in the United States according to legal experts at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Sierra Club, who negotiated the settlement.
“Coal to liquids technology has always been dirty and expensive---and today’s announcement makes it clear that it remains a bad bet,” said NRDC senior attorney Shannon Fisk. “Four years into this mess, the Baard facility has not been able to sort out its pollution permits or financing because making liquid fuel out of coal simply doesn’t work economically or environmentally. The public subsidies its developers sought shouldn’t pay for pollution. We have better choices.””
Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have mounted a number of legal challenges to the State of Ohio’s pollution permits issued to the facility, raising significant issues about the dangerous air pollution, water discharges, and global warming pollution. Baard Energy and the State of Ohio settled the long permit fight with the groups by agreeing to cease efforts to turn coal into liquid fuels. Baard plans instead to move to natural gas, eliminating more than 75% of the green house gases that would have been associated with the project, as well as smog and mercury pollution that cause asthma, lung disease, heart disease. In addition, the change closes what would have been a new market for Ohio’s highly sulfurous coal, some of the dirtiest in the nation.
As the first coal-to-liquid refinery awarded pollution permits in the nation, the settlement is also a blow to the broader industry, undercutting any perceptions of economic viability.
“While we do not support the new refinery plan and believe it is unnecessary no matter what feedstock it uses,” said Sierra Club’s Nachy Kanfer. “This is a giant blow to coal in Ohio and the nation. We will continue to take on dirty coal plants in the Buckeye state and around the country.”
Ohio EPA was also a party to the settlement, which is being filed with the Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission today. Pursuant to the agreement, NRDC and Sierra Club are moving to stay their pending legal challenges to the permits for Baard's proposed coal-to-liquids facility while Baard and Ohio EPA work to modify those permits to remove coal as a feedstock and reflect the resulting emissions reductions. Assuming the modified permits reflect the agreement being filed today, NRDC and Sierra Club will then move to dismiss their appeals once the permits are modified.
The settlement of this fight likely opens the door for NRDC and Sierra Club to focus attention and resources on other significant coal battles elsewhere in Ohio.