Indiana panel advances bill giving broad liability protection to energy company

An Indiana House panel narrowly passed a bill on Tuesday that would prevent an energy company from being sued if its plans to pump carbon emissions thousands of feet underground diminish the value of neighboring properties.

Wabash Valley Resources LLC wants to turn an old gasification plant near Terre Haute into a power plant that uses hydrogen to produce electricity.

In the process, it plans to capture and pump more than a million tons of carbon emissions underground each year.

The House Natural Resources Committee voted 7-5 to advance a bill that would prohibit anyone from recovering damages for the diminution of the value of their land due to “any perceived risk associated with the operation of the carbon sequestration pilot project.”

The bill, however, would allow property owners to sue if they suffered actual damage or suffered loss of use.

The House passed a similar measure last year, only to see it die in the Senate. But supporters say the legislation, House Bill 1249, would catapult Indiana into the ranks of green-energy states.

“This bill is all about clean hydrogen energy, bringing it to the state of Indiana,” said Rep. David Abbott, Republican from Rome City. “We have a great opportunity here, with this pilot project.”

Wabash Valley Resources said it expects to secure a permit this summer from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to drill wells to inject the carbon emissions more than 5,000 feet underground.

It expects to begin work this fall to construct a plant that will turn corn silage and waste plastics into hydrogen power that can produce electricity.

Nalin Gupta, one of the company’s board members, said the project has received support from the Trump and Biden administrations, as well as federal lawmakers from both parties.

He said the federal infrastructure bill, recently passed by Congress, provides $9.4 billion for hydrogen demonstration projects, and $120 billion for carbon capture projects. Wabash Valley Resources plans to compete for that money, he said.

“Having this bill in place would make us very, very competitive,” he said.

The Indiana Manufacturers Association and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce supported the bill.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources opposed the bill, saying it would give the company extremely broad liability protection not available to any other companies.

The Hoosier Environmental Council said it doesn’t necessarily oppose capturing and storing carbon emissions underground. “But in this instance, there is just a lot we just don’t know about the project and its impacts,” said Tim Maloney, the council’s senior policy director. “To be offering some kind of liability protection is just not warranted.”

The bill was also opposed by the Indiana Farm Bureau, the Indiana Corn Growers Association and the NAACP.

Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana said the bill would provide near-blanket immunity for the potential problems related to the underground storage of carbon dioxide.”

“It’s a bridge too far,” said Kerwin Olson, the coalition’s executive director.

The panel also passed a companion bill, HB 1209, that provides broad mechanisms for regulating underground storage of carbon dioxide in Indiana, by a vote of 10-2.

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