Private Coal Gasification Plant Lawsuit Heard In Court
September 6, 2013 — The potential fate of a southwest Indiana coal-to-natural gas plant rests with the Indiana Supreme Court after attorneys on both sides of a lawsuit surrounding the facility’s contract made their cases in front of the five justices Thursday. As Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Brandon Smith reports, the outcome of the case could affect the utility bills of nearly all Hoosiers:
The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission approved a 30-year contract between Rockport plant owners Indiana Gasification and the Indiana Finance Authority in 2011. The deal requires the state to buy natural gas from the plant at a preset price, regardless of market values. The state then resells the gas. Opponents of the deal, including rival energy companies, say the contract will drive up utility bills. They filed a lawsuit seeking to nullify the contract based on an invalid clause. The Court of Appeals sided with the contract’s opponents, striking it down. Karl Mulvaney represents Indiana Gasification and the Finance Authority. He says an amendment to the contract, negotiated between the plant and the state, fixes the problem:
“Indiana Gasification and the Indiana Finance Authority have made this agreement and they shouldn’t have to go back and have somebody review it.”
Complicating the case is legislation passed earlier this year that imposes stricter ratepayer protections if the contract is invalidated and sent back to the IURC. The plant’s owners say the new standards would kill the deal and are asking the court to strike down the problematic clause without voiding the entire deal. Norman Funk, who represents the contract’s opponents, says the IURC needs to approve any changes to the contract under the legislation’s new standards:
“We believe it would be a usurpation and a violation of the separation of powers for this court to tell the IURC what it must do in the form of a revised order.”
The Supreme Court did not indicate when it would hand down its ruling in the case. For Indiana Public Broadcasting, I’m Brandon Smith.