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Gary advocates ask judge to revoke waste-to-jet-fuel plant’s permit

The exterior of Fulcrum BioEnergy's Sierra Biorefinery in Reno, Nevada.
Provided by Fulcrum BioEnergy
Fulcrum BioEnergy's Sierra Biorefinery in Reno, Nevada. The company wants to build a larger facility in Gary.

Advocates in Gary say the Indiana Department of Environmental Management broke the law when it granted a permit for a plant that would turn waste into jet fuel. They're asking the state Office of Environmental Adjudication to revoke that permit and not issue another one until the company can provide more information.

Fulcrum BioEnergy plans to use trash from landfills in the region to make fuel. But Gary Advocates for Responsible Development (GARD) said the company didn’t say what the trash would be made of specifically — which makes it hard to figure out how much the plant would pollute.

“As you know from your own household garbage, your garbage is different every day. And we also know that people throw things in their garbage cans that shouldn't be there," said GARD member Dorreen Carey.

In written responses to GARD's questions about its emissions and waste material last year, Fulcrum said it took samples of trash from the region and averaged out how much different categories of waste weighed.

Fulcrum Centerpoint waste materials sample. Mixed paper accounted for 46 percent of its samples from the region. Film and other plastic accounted for 30 percent, wood and textiles both accounted for 8 percent each, and food and yard waster accounted for 2 percent.
Courtesy of Fulcrum BioEnergy
Mixed paper accounted for 46 percent of Fulcrum's sampled trash from the region. Film and other plastic accounted for 30 percent.

About 30 percent of the waste would be from plastic. Because different types of plastic are made from different chemicals, it's unclear what the proposed plant would emit into the air in Gary at any given time.

The company also said that it would remove recyclables and "unsuitable materials" before processing the waste.

GARD questions the way Fulcrum calculated its emissions — which are based on its much smaller Nevada plant that’s not fully operational yet. The group said Fulcrum also used emissions projections from machinery that the plant may or may not use.

Without all of this info, advocates said IDEM should never have granted the company a permit. GARD said the agency also should have done a more thorough analysis to make sure the plant won't harm Gary residents' health.

“We are confident in IDEM’s decision on the merits of our application and will continue to work with the state as the process goes on," said Flyn van Ewijk of Fulcrum BioEnergy in a statement.

The company also pointed to community resources on its website for more information.

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GARD first submitted its petition to the Office of Environmental Adjudication in September. It amended it after getting help from engineers with the Environmental integrity Project’s Center for Applied Environmental Science and legal representation from two environmental law groups — the Conservation Law Center and the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“It shows that there's evidence that this is a very, very valid claim," said Kimmie Gordon, lead organizer of GARD.

The Environmental Protection Agency has raised environmental justice concernsabout the plant’s proposed location. People living in the area are more at risk from air pollution than most parts of the state, according to the EPA. There are also more lower-income, Black, and Hispanic residents.

The Office of Environmental Adjudication plans to hear GARD’s petition in September of next year.

This story has been updated.

Contact reporter Rebecca Thiele at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Rebecca Thiele covers statewide environment and energy issues.