Built during the Eisenhower era, the Clifty Creek power plant in Madison chugs along like your father's old Ford Edsel. Except now your dad drives a newer car with modern pollution controls, while Clifty Creek keeps on chugging - as it keeps on choking lungs downwind.

If you've ever been to Madison, you can never forget those smokestacks towering a thousand feet or more over the serene Ohio River valley. They can be seen for miles as you approach the town.

If you've ever hiked in beautiful Clifty Falls State Park, you might have escaped the sight of those stacks down in one of the tree-rimmed canyons, but you could probably still hear the plant's turbines roaring in the distance.

And if you've ever stayed in the park's Clifty Inn, you know you've had to choose between a view of the parking lot or a view of the Ohio with those stacks right in your face. At least the turbines provide white noise to drown out the birds so you can sleep late in the morning.

The coal-nuclear connection

The Clifty Creek plant was built in the 1950s for the sole purpose of providing electricity to a federal nuclear fuel enrichment plant in Portsmouth, Ohio. If anyone ever tells you nuclear is clean, point them towards Clifty Creek's legacy on the environment.

The plant is owned by the Indiana - Kentucky Electric Corporation (IKEC), a consortium of several power companies including American Electric Power and a subsidiary of Cinergy.

The Portsmouth nuclear fuel plant was closed three years ago. But Clifty Creek continues operating - essentially as a huge merchant power plant with a huge environmental footprint.

The plant's smokestacks emit over 440 pounds of toxic mercury per year, along with over 39,000 tons of acid rain-causing sulfur dioxide and over 8 million tons of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. The plant's annual water discharges amount to over 200 pounds of arsenic, over 4,600 pounds of barium, over 100 pounds of chromium compounds and 30 pounds of lead compounds.

The plant's "restricted" waste dump is not as restricted as one might think. It is unlined, which means that coal ash and other contaminants are in direct contact with groundwater. And the dump is built on top of an old waste lagoon. Although their municipal wells are several miles from the Clifty Creek power plant, Hanover and Madison's drinking water is drawn from the same aquifer that runs underneath the dump.

Power plant waste contains arsenic, boron, manganese, lead and sulfates. Ground water monitoring at Clifty Creek's dump shows levels of manganese at 30 times EPA's Secondary Maximum Contaminant level and levels of iron and boron at 10 - 15 times EPA's Removal Action level.

Citizens demand action

On January 9, the Indiana Clean Energy campaign (ICE) sent a letter, initiated by the citizens group Valley Watch, to IDEM signed by 18 local, state and national groups. The letter asked IDEM to conduct a comprehensive environmental review of the plant. The timing for such a review is appropriate because all three permits - air, water and waste - are currently up for renewal. While IDEM has issued a solid waste permit for the plant's dump, citizen groups are appealing that permit.

On May 22, IDEM held a public hearing in Madison to discuss the plant's pollution levels, permit status and to receive input about a potential comprehensive review. The meeting room was packed with local citizens concerned about the plant's impact on their health and community. A majority of those in attendance supported a comprehensive review of the plant by IDEM. IDEM has yet to commit to such a review.

IKEC to citizen groups: Shut up and go home

Despite the documented problems at the Clifty Creek power plant waste dump, IDEM issued IKEC a renewed waste permit for the dump in December 2002. ICE, Citizens Action Coalition, Save the Valley, and Hoosier Environmental Council filed a Petition for Review of the permit issuance.

In a brazen attempt to stifle citizen groups' rights in such matters, IKEC's attorneys at Barnes and Thornburg filed a motion to dismiss the petition under the dubious argument that Indiana law does not allow citizen groups standing in such cases, even if the groups' members are affected.

If upheld, this draconian interpretation of the law would have far-reaching effects on citizens groups of all kinds. No association or membership organization would be allowed to represent its members in appeals - citizens would be left out in the cold, alone.

Fortunately the ICE campaign, ably represented by the firm of Mullett, Polk and Associates, successfully argued that IKEC's motion to dismiss be denied on June 23. Unfortunately, IKEC has already signaled its intention to appeal the matter to a higher court.

You can help

If you've ever been to Madison, you know it is a beautiful Ohio River town that deserves to be protected. No matter where you live in Indiana, those tall stacks at Clifty Creek have, at one time or another, sent their pollution to your hometown and into your family's lungs. Those tall stacks put the Clifty Creek plant in everyone's backyard.

The ICE campaign will continue to work for the cleanup of the Clifty Creek plant on two fronts: 1) the legal battle over the dump permit; and 2) the need for a comprehensive review of all the environmental problems caused by the plant.

To get involved, contact CAC at 317-205-3535, Hoosier Environmental Council at 317-685-8800, Save the Valley at 812-273-6015 or Valley Watch, Inc. at 812-464-5663.

Andy Knott is Andy Knott is air and energy policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council and serves on the board of directors of the Citizens Action Coalition. This article will appear in the Summer 2003 issue of Citizens Power, the CAC newsletter.