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Indiana halts Pakistan-owned fertilizer plant

– Indiana officials are withholding state backing for a Posey County fertilizer plant over concerns about whether its Pakistan-based owners are doing enough at its overseas operations to keep the potentially explosive material from being used against U.S. troops.

The Indiana Finance Authority issued $1.3 billion in bonds in December for a nitrogen fertilizer plant that Midwest Fertilizer Corp. wants to build at the Port of Mount Vernon, in the southwest of the state. Midwest Fertilizer is owned by the Fatima Group, a company based in Lahore, Pakistan, that already manufactures fertilizer in the south Asian country.

The state agency learned Jan. 14 about concerns that Fatima Group might not be cooperating with U.S. officials worried that fertilizer made in Pakistan ends up in improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan that have killed American troops, Indiana Economic Development Corp. spokeswoman Katelyn Hancock told the Evansville Courier & Press.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence ordered the project halted shortly after his inauguration Jan. 14, and his office said at the time that the state had begun “actively investigating the situation in consultation with federal authorities” and the U.S. Department of Defense.

“Economic development is important, but the safety and security of our troops in harm’s way is more important,” Pence said in a statement. “We’re in the process of making a careful evaluation of the appropriateness of Indiana’s involvement in this project with those priorities in mind.”

To convert fertilizer into material that can be used in bombs, insurgents either grind or boil it to separate the calcium from the nitrate, which is then mixed with fuel oil.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee heard testimony last year from Gen. Michael Barbaro, who said he met with Fatima Group leaders in 2011 to ask them to make their fertilizer easier to identify and track.

“While the international and U.S. professional fertilizer associations are receptive and actively addressing these issues, the producers within Pakistan have been less than cooperative,” Barbaro said, according to a transcript of his testimony.

Despite making minor packaging, tracking and marketing changes, they have not implemented any effective product security or stewardship efforts.”