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Group says Fulcrum BioEnergy plant 'a bad deal for Gary,' calls for more due diligence

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Group says Fulcrum BioEnergy plant 'a bad deal for Gary,' calls for more due diligence

GARD releases the report "Why Fulcrum is a bad deal for Gary" at the Gary Public Library.

GARY — The Gary Advocates for Responsible Development, or GARD, released a report Wednesday questioning the environmental impact and feasibility of Fulcrum BioEnergy LLC's proposed waste-to-jet-fuel plant in Gary, calling for more due diligence to be performed. 

The group of concerned citizens released the report "Why Fulcrum is a bad deal for Gary." It looks at the track record of gasification projects, the environmental effects of such a plant and "how Fulcrum's claims measure up against reality."

California-based Fulcrum BioEnergy LLC wants to build a $600 million plant financed by Indiana Finance Authority-backed bonds on a 75-acre former cement factory in Buffington Harbor. The harbor on Lake Michigan is home to the Carmeuse limestone facility, a Praxair industrial gas site, the former Majestic Star Casino and the abandoned Gary Screw and Bolt Factory. The Fulcrum plant was first proposed in 2018.

"Our group is concerned that locating a facility of this kind in our city, on our lakefront, will exacerbate the already existing burden of air, land and water pollution impacting the environmental justice community of Gary," organizer Dorreen Carey said. "Our volunteer community members have spent this past year raising public awareness to our objections to Fulcrum Centerpoint based on the company's unproven track record and the negative impact plant operations will have on resident health, our natural resources and our future as a sustainable community on the shore of Lake Michigan."

Valerie Denny, a longtime Gary resident who runs Valerie Denney Communications and worked with the International Pollutants Elimination Network, researched the report that the group is mailing to Gary city officials, distributing to the public and publishing online.

"Its findings make it crystal clear that the proposed Fulcrum plant is a bad deal for Gary," she said. "Most of the reporting about this plant and about gasification, in general, has been superficial. The claims the company makes are rarely well scrutinized. The reality is that waste-to-fuel schemes have been piloted and tried since the 1970s. And no one in the world has succeeded in producing fuel from garbage on an ongoing, commercial and profitable scale."

The waste typically ends up going back to landfills or being burned in incinerators or cement kilns, Denny said.

"Fulcrum's own plant, Sierra Biofuels, which it touts on its website, only began operating earlier this year," she said. "There has been no independent confirmation that it is, or will be, able to produce usable fuel on a commercial scale. There is no way their plant can produce anything that can honestly be called a 'net zero carbon fuel.' Enormous amounts of energy are required in every step of the gasification process."

Fulcrum BioEnergy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. City spokesman Michael Gonzalez said the administration was not yet aware of the report.

Gasification attempts have been attempted many times over the years, starting with Europe in the 1970s.

"Europe found it impossible to get high-quality fuel using a mixed waste source, and the fuel it could produce was too costly to sell," she said. "So that abandoned the process. Gasification is now classified by the European Union as what it really is, incineration."

She expressed concerns about toxic byproducts since much of Fulcrum's feedstock would likely come from plastics containing toxic chemicals

"In addition, trucks will make an estimated 200 to 240 round trips to Gary every day to bring in the gasification feedstock from locations in Illinois and Indiana," she said. "These trucks wil emit particulate matter and other kinds of air pollution in communities that are already overburdened with pollution."

The group urged city and state officials to do more due diligence before approving the project, particularly on its environmental impact and commercial viability.

"Our question is why the city is choosing to go into business with companies that are questionable in the first place and promising pie in the sky," organizer Jennie Rudderham said. "Akyumen got the Genesis Center and Ivanhoe when five seconds on the internet would have revealed the company was not what it claimed. We need a responsible and thorough vetting of these companies coming to our doors."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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