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Appeals court turns away coal-gasification review

– The Indiana Court of Appeals has decided not to conduct a more detailed review of a nearly $3 billion coal-gasification plant proposed for southern Indiana that’s also the target of legislation before state lawmakers.

The court Thursday turned down a request by a group of gas companies and environmental groups for it to scrutinize the Indiana Finance Authority’s 30-year contract with the developers of the Rockport plant. That contract calls for the finance authority to buy the plant’s synthetic gas at a fixed rate and then resell it on the open market.

The Evansville Courier & Press reports that the court’s decision could shift the legal battle over the plant to the Indiana Supreme Court.

“That’s certainly going to be considered,” said Mike Roeder, a spokesman for Evansville-based Vectren Corp., which is leading the legal and lobbying efforts against the plant.

Vectren and other opponents had wanted the appeals court to review the Indiana Utility Regulatory Committee’s previous review of the contract.

Thursday’s court decision came as the plant’s developers told a state Senate committee that a bill the panel is considering would kill the project.

Mark Lubbers, the Indiana project manager for the coal-gasification plant’s financier Leucadia National Corp., called the court’s decision “yet another loss for Vectren.”

“They can’t win on the merits, so Vectren is trying to pressure our legislators into submission with a high-profile media campaign and an army of lobbyists,” he said.

That campaign includes full-page advertisements in newspapers across Indiana this week that focus on a bill the Senate Utility Committee heard Thursday morning. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, would require rebates to consumers every three years if the plant’s synthetic gas costs too much. The 30-year deal would tie 17 percent of Hoosier gas users’ bills to the Rockport plant’s rate.

Opponents point to the current nationwide shale gas boom and said they expect natural gas to sell for an amount cheaper than that in the coming decades.