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Activists urge Indiana to act on pollution violations at coal plant that's no longer closing

A sign for the Merom Generating Station in Sullivan County with a smokestack from the plant in the background. The plant was purchased by coal mining subsidiary Hallador Power and now has no planned retirement date.
FILE PHOTO: Seth Tackett
The Merom Generating Station was purchased by coal mining subsidiary Hallador Power and now has no planned retirement date.

The Merom coal plant in Sullivan was supposed to shut down in May 2023. Now that a coal mining subsidiary has purchased the plant, activists say it could run indefinitely and needs to be held accountable for water, air and solid waste violations.

Environmental activist groups with Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, the Hoosier Environmental Council and Citizens Action Coalition sent a letter urging the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to act on Tuesday.

They said the plant has repeatedly sent excess iron and ammonia into the Turtle Creek Reservoir and its toxic coal ash pollution is seeping into the groundwater — harming wildlife, corroding drinking water pipes and clogging water treatment systems. Activists said the plant also produces unacceptable levels of smoke, making it harder to breathe for residents nearby.

But IDEM has issued few violation notices since the plant’s original retirement date was announced.

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Sameer Doshi is an attorney with Earthjustice's Clean Energy Program. He said Indiana needs to enforce the law since it seems the plant’s new owner, Hallador Power, doesn’t plan to close it any time soon.

“They likely see the power plant, the Merom station, as an opportunity to use their coal. In fact, they reopened two previously dormant coal mines around September in 2022," Doshi said.

A new cryptocurrency mining facility owned by AboutBit is set to open next to the Merom coal plant and get some of its power from the plant through a rural utility served by Hoosier Energy.

Doshi said the fact that the crypto mine will consume a large amount of energy likely played into why Hoosier Energy changed its mind about buying energy from the plant. But whether that played into the company’s decision is unclear.

We couldn’t reach Hoosier Energy, Hallador or AboutBit in time for comment.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Rebecca Thiele covers statewide environment and energy issues.