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Senate panel waters down coal-gas measure

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The fight over a proposed $2.6 billion coal-gasification plant was left to the Indiana courts on Thursday after a Senate committee decided not to get involved in how an account set up by the plant's developers would be used.

Supporters and opponents of the plant have waged parallel fights this year in Legislature and the courts. But lawmakers stepped out by abandoning a plan that would have sped up how soon ratepayers received refunds from a $150 million account established by the plant's developers to offset rate hikes.

The developers, Indiana Gasification LLC and its parent company, Leucadia, have said such a move would have killed the project.

The Senate Utilities Committee decided Thursday to strip the plan from legislation that involved the workings of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Committee members said they wanted to allow the pending court fight to play out before getting more involved.

However, the committee added in new protections for ratepayers if the courts send the issue back to the IURC. Those protections would "give the ratepayer a voice more so than before," said Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, chairman of the committee.

The panel approved the pared-downed legislation and sent it to the full Senate.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled last year that a contract the state signed guaranteeing to buy synthetic natural gas from the plant over the next 30 years was invalid. If that ruling stands, the legislation would dictate that the IURC review the contract with an eye toward projected natural gas costs and the future availability of shale gas.

The proposed Rockport plant has pitted southwestern Indiana lawmakers and the New York-based developer, Leucadia, against environmentalists, consumer advocates and large ratepayers this session, who have argued the deal unfairly places ratepayers on the hook for potential hikes.

"This is really a complicated issue and I certainly would not like to see the project die, but there are still very valid concerns," said Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis.

Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, said the plant would bring good-paying jobs to the constituents he represents.

"There's six-and-a-half million people in this state who aren't here today because they're working for a living or trying to find jobs trying to support their families. We all want jobs," he said.

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  1. I took Bruce's comments to highlight a glaring issue when it comes to a state's image, and therefore its overall branding. An example is Michigan vs. Indiana. Michigan has done an excellent job of following through on its branding strategy around "Pure Michigan", even down to the detail of the rest stops. Since a state's branding is often targeted to visitors, it makes sense that rest stops, being that point of first impression, should be significant. It is clear that Indiana doesn't care as much about the impression it gives visitors even though our branding as the Crossroads of America does place importance on travel. Bruce's point is quite logical and accurate.

  2. I appreciated the article. I guess I have become so accustomed to making my "pit stops" at places where I can ALSO get gasoline and something hot to eat, that I hardly even notice public rest stops anymore. That said, I do concur with the rationale that our rest stops (if we are to have them at all) can and should be both fiscally-responsible AND designed to make a positive impression about our state.

  3. I don't know about the rest of you but I only stop at these places for one reason, and it's not to picnic. I move trucks for dealers and have been to rest areas in most all 48 lower states. Some of ours need upgrading no doubt. Many states rest areas are much worse than ours. In the rest area on I-70 just past Richmond truckers have to hike about a quarter of a mile. When I stop I;m generally in a bit of a hurry. Convenience,not beauty, is a primary concern.

  4. Community Hospital is the only system to not have layoffs? That is not true. Because I was one of the people who was laid off from East. And all of the LPN's have been laid off. Just because their layoffs were not announced or done all together does not mean people did not lose their jobs. They cherry-picked people from departments one by one. But you add them all up and it's several hundred. And East has had a dramatic drop I in patient beds from 800 to around 125. I know because I worked there for 30 years.

  5. I have obtained my 6 gallon badge for my donation of A Positive blood. I'm sorry to hear that my donation was nothing but a profit center for the Indiana Blood Center.

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