Indiana Is About to Bail Out the Coal Industry for Some Reason

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Indiana’s General Assembly fast-tracked a bill on Tuesday that will make it harder to shut down coal-fired power plants. The Indiana bill would delay shutdowns by requiring state officials to review all utilities’ plans for plant closures, hold public hearings, and then issue a report on whether or not the closure is reasonable. It’s now headed to the Republican Governor Eric Holcomb’s desk for final approval, and he’s expected to sign it into law.

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Technically, the Indiana bill just requires that utilities give advance notice t0 the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission state before they close coal plants. But it’s clear that the legislation aims to slow plans to phase out coal.

“This bill just poses a bunch of hurdles to shutting these plants down,” Wendy Bredhold, a campaign representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, told Earther. “It’s a bailout.”

In the past two years, across the state have announced plans to stop using thousands of megawatts of coal-fired generating capacity in favor of cheaper fuel from natural gas (), but also solar and wind (). In December, Indianapolis Power and Light, which serves nearly half a million people, plans to close two coal plants. And in late 2019, Indiana’s Northern Indiana Public Service Corporation, one of the country’s largest utilities, it will replace all of its coal power with renewable energy sources by 2028.

“We have no idea if the legislation will really go away in a year or what that task force is going to get up to in the meantime under Soliday,” said Bredhold. “I’m certainly suspicious of Soliday’s motivation in heading that task force.”

If the bill does slow utilities’ move away from coal, it’s also likely to lead to higher energy bills. Coal plants are more expensive to run than their natural gas or renewable counterparts, and also have higher maintenance costs. Those costs would likely be passed onto energy consumers. Indiana residents will also be forced to bear the public health impacts of coal burning, and the economic drag that comes with sick days, medical treatments, and ER visits.

“Where I live in southwest Indiana is where a lot of coal plants are located, and those put the burden of pollution on local communities,” said Bredhold.

The carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases that these coal plants produce also warm the climate. In recent years, the climate crisis has caused major in Indiana. If the world takes little action on climate by following in the footsteps of Indiana’s legislators, the state could see the number of days where the heat index rises above the dangerous threshold of 105 degrees Fahrenheit increase from one per year today to 18 by midcentury.

“Indiana’s transition away from coal to clean energy would help prevent some impact of the climate crisis when we’re already seeing those impacts,” said Bredhold. “It’s so important not to slow that transition down, so we’re going to do whatever we can to fight.”