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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Environment - Details on the BP permit; more stories today

In my opinion, the best report on the problems with the recently granted BP permit remains the initial story by Michael Hawthorne in the July 14th Chicago Tribune (originally quoted in this July 13th ILB entry). Hawthorne's story begins by acknowledging:

The refinery will still meet federal water pollution guidelines. But federal and state officials acknowledge this marks the first time in years that a company has been allowed to dump more toxic waste into Lake Michigan.
Later in the story:
In sharp contrast to the greenways and parks that line Lake Michigan in Chicago, a string of industrial behemoths lie along the heavily polluted southern shore just a few miles away. The steady flow of oil, grease and chemicals into the lake from steel mills, refineries and factories -- once largely unchecked -- drew national attention that helped prompt Congress to pass the Clean Water Act during the early 1970s.

Paul Higginbotham, chief of the water permits section at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said that when BP broached the idea of expanding the refinery, it sought permission to pump twice as much ammonia into the lake. The state ended up allowing an amount more than the company currently discharges but less than federal or state limits.

He said regulators still are unsure about the ecological effects of the relatively new refining process BP plans to use. "We ratcheted it down quite a bit from what it could have been," Higginbotham said.

The request to dump more chemicals into the lake ran counter to a provision of the Clean Water Act that prohibits any downgrade in water quality near a pollution source even if discharge limits are met. To get around that rule, state regulators are allowing BP to install equipment that mixes its toxic waste with clean lake water about 200 feet offshore.

Actively diluting pollution this way by creating what is known as a mixing zone is banned in Lake Michigan under Indiana law. Regulators granted BP the first-ever exemption.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been pushing to eliminate mixing zones around the Great Lakes on the grounds that they threaten humans, fish and wildlife. Yet EPA officials did not object to Indiana's decision, agreeing with the state that BP's project would not harm the environment.

Federal officials also did not step in when the state granted BP another exemption that enables the company to increase water pollution as long as the total amount of wastewater doesn't change. BP said its flow into Lake Michigan will remain about 21 million gallons a day.

In response to public protests, state officials justified the additional pollution by concluding the project will create more jobs and "increase the diversity and security of oil supplies to the Midwestern United States." A rarely invoked state law trumps anti-pollution rules if a company offers "important social or economic benefits."

The ILB posted the 21-page IDEM Fact Sheet that was prepared to explain the proposed permit to the public. NPDES permit's are very complex. Pages 15-17 discusses the application of the anti-backsliding and anti-degradation provisions of the environmental rules to the proposals to increase discharges of ammonia and total suspended solids. It begins:
During the permit development period, BP Products North America requested that the effluent limits for TSS and Ammonia be increased due to material and substantial changes at the refinery. Regardless of the fact that these increases will be allowed by 327 IAC 5-2-10(11) [antibacksliding] due to substantial changes at the refinery, the increases must be in compliance with 327 IAC 5-2-11.7 (Antidegradation Implementation Procedures for Outstanding State Resource
Waters).

The provision of 5-2-11.7 that can be used to allow an increase in the pollutant loading to Lake Michigan in this instance is 5-2-11.7(a)(1)(B)(iv). 5-2-11.7(a)(1)(B)(iv) allows the increase to be calculated on a case-by-case basis when the proposed increase in mass is not a result of an increase in discharge flow. The rules do not provide any guidance for determining the appropriate increase in mass when the increase is not a result of an increase in flow.

IDEM met with representatives of BP North America on October 4, 2006 to discuss how to implement 5-2-11.7(a)(1)(B)(iv). IDEM required BP North America to conduct an Antidegradation Analysis which evaluated the social and economic benefits, alternate wastewater treatment and the expected effluent quality after the refinery is reconfigured to process the CXHO. BP North America must demonstrate that all economically and technically feasible measures have been taken to avoid the action that will result in the new or increased discharge of the pollutant or pollutant parameter including a demonstration that it is not feasible to limit the new or increased discharge to a temporary or short term period. BP North America must demonstrate that any increase in pollutant loading is necessary. The new or increased pollutant loading shall be limited to the minimum necessary to allow the action to occur. The Commissioner has determined that BP has met these requirements, based on the facts described below. As a result, the increased limits requested are consistent with the provisions of 5-2- 11.7(a)(1)(B)(iv), and those limits have been incorporated into the permit.

The IDEM 35-page Response to Comments, which may be accessed via the ILB here, contains much interesting information, including an IDEM response #91 to comments made by Save the Dunes, beginning on p. 33. Some quotes [emphasis added]:
Lake Michigan was designated as an OSRW [outstanding state resource water] by the state of Indiana. The federal government does not have a stream designation equivalent to an OSRW. There is no federal law regarding OSRWs. Therefore, no federal Laws were broken.

The antidegradation rule found at 327 IAC 5-2-11.7(A)(1)(b)(iv) provides the Commissioner of IDEM with the authority to evaluate a proposed increase in the monthly average mass limits for a pollutant, when there is no increase in flow, on a case by case basis. IDEM knows that the increase in the effluent limits for ammonia and TSS will result in some degradation of the water quality of Lake Michigan. However the increase has been limited to the amount shown by BP to be necessary and this action does support important social and economic development in the area of the discharge. The antidegradation application and addendum plus the draft permit and fact sheet were sent to EPA Region V on January 9, 2007 for their review prior to sending a pre-public notice draft permit to BP. EPA has submitted a letter to IDEM expressing no objection to the draft permit as written.

The Biological assessment conducted by IDEM does identify issues of concern, but several of the concerns that you point out from that assessment are speculation based on what might happen.

More stories today. COMING LATER

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 26, 2007 09:05 AM
Posted to Environment