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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Environment - Protests grow over BP permit to increase dumping in Lake Michigan

The initial story was published Saturday July 14th by the Chicago Tribune - see ILB entry here. It was headlined "Indiana gives BP break on dumping in lake." Subsequent ILB entries can be found on July 16th and July 17th and July 18th.

Today there are many new stories. The Chicago Tribune reports that:

The City of Chicago joined the fight Wednesday to stop the BP refinery in Whiting, Ind., from dumping significantly more ammonia and industrial sludge into Lake Michigan.

City administrators said they hope to meet with BP officials next week. They've hired a consultant to review the water permit granted by Indiana regulators that will allow BP, one of the largest polluters along the Great Lakes, to dump 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more sludge into Lake Michigan each day.

City officials also said they are exploring legal options, on the same day BP opened its refinery to media tours and disputed reports about increased pollution resulting from the new permit. * * *

These latest efforts come on the heels of objections by several U.S. lawmakers from Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, who urged federal regulators this week to block expansion efforts by BP. Phillipa Cannon, spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency's Chicago office, said administrators in Washington are preparing a response to the congressional letters and calls.

Officials with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management have said that the approval came after "substantial citizen participation" and that the limits are below federal water quality requirements.

But Carolyn Marsh, a Whiting resident who appeared at the Chicago Park District news conference, said the public comment period lasted only 2 months. She said she was appointed to a citizen's committee by BP, but the refinery never mentioned any increase in ammonia or other pollutants.

ABC 7 Chicago has a similar report here. A letter to U.S. EPA from Richard J. Durbin, United States Senator, states in part:
The goal of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is to minimize and eventually eliminate the discharge of pollutants into our rivers and lakes. As you know, the anti-backsliding regulation prohibits the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from reissuing NPDES permits that allow more pollutant discharge than was allowed in the previous permit.

The NPDES permit issued to BP by IDEM is clearly out of step with federal regulation as well as the State of Indiana’s anti-degradation policy. * * *

Lake Michigan is one of our nation’s greatest natural resources and serves as the drinking water supply for over 40 million people – including the entire Chicago metropolitan area, supports a significant commercial fishing industry, and supports numerous recreational activities. Pollution from industrial, agricultural and municipal sources already poses a serious threat to the ecological health of the Great Lakes ecosystem. It is our responsibility to support efforts to restore, rather than further degrade Lake Michigan. We should be working toward the goal of eliminating pollution in this fresh water ecosystem.

Not mentioned is that Whiting sits midway between Chicago's beaches and the beaches of Indiana's Dunes State Park and the National Lakeshore. Another Tribune story reports "Legislators blast waiver for BP plant near lake." A quote:
Reacting to a story in Sunday's Tribune, members of Congress from Illinois, Indiana and Michigan contacted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, demanding to know why the agency stood idle while Indiana regulators approved the oil company's proposal. * * *

The refinery already is one of the largest polluters on the Great Lakes, but under BP's new state permit it can release 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more sludge into Lake Michigan every day. Ammonia promotes algae blooms that can kill fish and trigger beach closings, while sludge contains concentrated heavy metals.

Federal and state regulators acknowledged this is the first time in years that a company has been allowed to dump more pollution into the lake, the source of drinking water for Chicago and dozens of other communities.

Gitte Laasby reports today in the Gary Post-Tribune:
After several days of intense criticism from opponents of its new wastewater permit, BP officials announced Wednesday that they are willing to take another look at what can be done to reduce pollution at its reconfigured refinery.

"The permit is approved, but the way we operate is very transparent. If they want to show the energy to participate, we're open to dialogue," refinery Manager Dan Sajkowski said.

The permit, approved by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, allows BP Whiting to re-lease into Lake Michigan 54 percent more ammonia (1,584 pounds per day, about half the legal limit) and 35 percent more sludge (4,925 pounds a day, the maximum allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

Ammonia can lead to algae blooms and fish die-off, according to the EPA. Suspended solids contain heavy metals and can clog the gills of fish. * * *

Several legislators, including Sens. Evan Bayh and Richard Lugar, have asked their staff for information on the issue. A spokesman for Rep. Pete Visclosky said he has worked with BP and other legislators on a solution to the problem.

"As part of their expansion efforts, I believe BP can best serve Northwest Indiana, the Great Lakes region, and the nation by doing everything possible to reduce the amount of pollution their facility discharges into Lake Michigan," Visclosky said Wednesday. * * *

Environmentalists have urged BP to install additional treatment on top of that.

They didn't buy the argument BP made in its permit request that the company does not have 12,000 square feet needed to put more treatment tanks at its lakefront wastewater treatment plant to strip ammonia out of the water.

Environmentalists have said the discharges would go against the intent of the Clean Water Act to virtually eliminate discharges into Lake Michigan.

Under Indiana law, IDEM can allow additional pollution if it leads to significant social and economic benefits, and if the company has shown it needs to discharge more to process larger amounts of raw material.

Construction to reconfigure the refinery was supposed to start as early as this fall and be complete by 2011. It would create about 2,000 [temporary] construction jobs and 80 jobs at the refinery.

Dan Hinkel of the NWI Times had this story that began:
WHITING | BP Whiting Refinery officials weren't doing "damage control" Wednesday when they invited television crews and newspaper reporters into the refinery to discuss oil, ammonia and the meaning of the word "sludge," said Spokesman Ron Rybarczyk.

BP officials wanted an "accuracy adjustment" on press reports of the loosening of permits governing the refinery's release of ammonia and other wastes into Lake Michigan, Rybarczyk said.

Chicago and Indiana newspapers, including The Times, have been reporting on the permit changes. BP officials specifically cited a Sunday Chicago Tribune article as inflaming controversy over a project that would boost the plant's capacity, but also pump more pollutants into Lake Michigan.

Meanwhile, BP has another permit request pending. The Times reports, in a story today headlined "BP seeks air pollution exemption for Whiting refinery":
WHITING, Ind. - An exemption from clean air rules would allow BP PLC to emit more pollution from its oil refinery along Lake Michigan than normally permitted.

The company has asked the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for permission to emit more particulate matter, which forms when gases burnt in stacks are released into the atmosphere, cool down and condense.

The reason for the request is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has revised its estimates of how much particulate matter is emitted from gas. The estimates are twice as high as they used to be, which means that BP would have to reduce its emissions by about 50 percent to comply with current limits.

"There's been no change in the emission that we're talking about," BP spokesman Ron Rybarczyk said. "This is a change in the way the emissions are calculated and the variances are made in accordance with that."

IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly issued an order approving the company's request, saying the additional emissions "will not result in environmental harm to air quality in Lake County." The order takes effect Monday unless a petition for review is filed before then.

The order will allow certain refinery units to emit more than four times their current limit. That's because they're burning gas that was previously burnt at refinery units that have been shut down, Easterly said.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 19, 2007 07:39 AM
Posted to Environment | Indiana economic development