« Ind. Gov't - Indy Star opines on ethics and the General Assembly | Main | Ind. Decisions - Yet more on: Impact of Fort Wayne Disability Center ruling in other areas of state? »

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Environment - The outrage over Indiana's pollution of Lake Michigan continues

The outcry began three weeks ago, following a front-page story in the Chicago Tribune (see this ILB entry of that date). Rather than quieting, the outrage appears to be mounting.

The Indianapolis Star today, finally, has weighed in on the story, with this front-page report by Kristina Buchthal, headlined "Chicago cries foul over Indiana wastewater: State has said oil refinery can pour more pollutants into Lake Michigan." Some quotes:

Since word broke that BP America's Whiting Refinery had received a permit to release more waste into Lake Michigan, Chicagoans have been railing at BP and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which issued the permit.

"We get our water from Lake Michigan, we swim in its beaches, we eat fish out of the lake," said Sadhu Johnston, commissioner for the city of Chicago's Department of the Environment. "We were not approached by BP or IDEM. We are a big neighbor to the north, and I would have hoped we'd have been reached out to."

While Chicago has led the way, officials from Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan have joined the protest. * * *

"We've got thousands of jobs that will be at risk if it doesn't go forward," [Indiana Governor Mitch] Daniels told the Gary Post-Tribune last month. "And I would only point out that people who are upset about $3 gas now know why it's that high." * * *

Despite the protests, a spokeswoman for IDEM said the agency doesn't have plans to reconsider issuing the permit. She said the substances are not "sludge," as critics maintain.

"Sludge has a very specific environmental definition. Sludge is something removed from wastewater in the treatment process and does not come back in contact with the water," said Sandra Flum, a spokeswoman for IDEM.

"There is some perception that we have given BP a break or been more lenient with them. That is simply not true."

[U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, a Democrat [ILB - no, a Republican - see here] whose district includes 10 communities on Illinois' north shore of Lake Michigan,] said Indiana and BP have earned their reputation in Chicago as polluters, arguing that Indiana has approved the permit because "they don't drink Lake Michigan water." He said federal regulators should remove Indiana's authority to approve such a permit.

David Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, an advocacy group, also said IDEM has too much power in the permit decision.

"IDEM is saying everything is safe, but I don't think they can say that with that degree of confidence," Ullrich said. "The fundamental problem with what BP is doing is that they are going to increase the pollution load to Lake Michigan and, more broadly, to the Great Lakes." * * *

Landlocked residents of Central Indiana just don't have an appreciation for the importance of keeping Lake Michigan clean, said Jack Darin, director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental group.

"Where does Indianapolis get its drinking water from? It's not the Great Lakes, and that's what is at the heart of the matter," Darin said.

"People remember when Lake Michigan was polluted and not a reliable source of drinking water. Everyone around the Great Lakes is doing everything they can do to comply with tougher standards," he said. "And it strikes people as odd -- if not infuriating -- that one of the richest corporations in the world isn't willing to do what it takes to install the best possible pollution controls to protect our drinking water."

The NY Times beat the Star to the punch, with a major report on the BP story on July 31st, complete with photos of children frolicking in the waters of Lake Michigan, headlined "Chicagoans Protest as Indiana Lets a Refinery Add to Lake Pollution."

The Gary Post-Tribune has taken the lead in reporting the story in Indiana. The ILB has posted quotes from many of the P-T stories in earlier entries, all reported by P-T staff writer Gitte Laasby. Here is another, from Aug. 1st, headed "Environmentalists contend BP answers contradictory." It concludes with this:

Tom Anderson, executive director of Save the Dunes, said BP's own experts indicated more treatment was possible when they told environmentalists and state officials that additional treatment would take 12,000 square feet of space for larger wastewater vessels.

"They told us they needed more space for larger vessels - for denitrification. It was not a technical issue. This seems to be a contradiction. According to what they told us, it was a money issue because they couldn't find the space," Anderson said. "I don't understand why they can say it's not feasible to treat ammonia. It's very feasible to treat ammonia. That's according to their own engineers."

Anderson said that's the spin the company and government officials are putting on the issue. He said people are outraged because the company is allowed to increase its discharges to Lake Michigan after efforts to clean up the lake --regardless what is discharged.

"They can explain it away and say, 'The process is this' but it comes down to, are you adding more pollution to the lake? You're going to benefit, we're going to lose. People are saying, 'You can't do this anymore,' " Anderson said.

According to IDEM Commissioner Tom Easterly:
[T]he recent controversy over a discharge permit issued to the BP Amoco refinery in Whiting has prompted other people whose permits were in the process of being renewed to ask that they be put on hold.

That’s preventing negotiations to reduce or modify discharges from taking place.

IDEM staff even fear it’s becoming impossible to issue a permit in Northwest Indiana, Easterly added, after officials in the State of Illinois, especially Chicago, are fighting both the BP permit and Indiana’s attempt to have a federal agency redesignate the air quality in Lake and Porter counties to “attainment".

That quote is from a story by Paulene Poparad in the 7/28/07 Chesterton Tribune. Chesterton is known as "The gateway to the Dunes." A letter to the paper dated July 31st includes this quote:
I have not heard anyone (in spite of our governor’s assertions) say that BP should not build their new plant, which would increase our nation’s oil supplies and provide jobs. What people are calling for is a clean plant - no increase of certain pollutants by 35-55%. Legal or not, these discharges will damage the Lake’s ecosystem and directly conflict with Indiana’s anti-degradation policies for protecting Lake Michigan.

Mr. Easterly, Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management Commissioner, tells us the firestorm surrounding BP’s permit has done “damage” throughout northwest Indiana. Other companies are halting their permit application processes because they don’t want to go through similar criticism.

How is this damage? Industry in northwest Indiana inflicted 50-75 years of unbridled pollution on our air, land, and water until the 1960s.

Today, water permits are supposed to be reviewed by IDEM every five years. BP’s permit had not been reviewed since 1989. Most other lakefront industries still haven't been.

Maybe the “damage” is a more informed, proactive public no longer willing to be dumped on by industry.

It’s a shame that BP’s permit was not dissected in the media prior to its issuance. But the public is engaged now, and I hope the “damage” will be more media coverage and public scrutiny of industrial discharges permits - during their review.

I’m not asking BP to shut down, but to use the latest technology in pollution controls just as they plan to use the latest in production methods.

Here is another letter, from Aug. 3rd, headed "BP should tell the whole story on Lake Michigan project."

Northwest Indiana's other big paper, the NWI Times, has moderated its reporting on the BP water permit. See this story, a retrospective by Andrea Holecek dated July 29th, headed "From hero to goat." An editorial from July 29th is headed "BP argument shows
amazing lack of logic,"
and ends with "If ever there was an issue clouded by media reporting, this is it. It’s time for the media and the politicians to get the facts straight and stop sensationalizing. It’s time for BP to get a fair shake."

The NWI Times has, however, had several stories on a related issue, where BP has run afoul of local building permit requirements, building a major "construction command center without city permission," according to a July 25th story, noted at the end of this ILB entry from that date. This Aug. 4th report from Steve Zabroski continues this important but perhaps overlooked story:

HAMMOND | City officials want answers to some tough questions before giving BP North America a green light to begin the first phase of its planned $3.8 billion refinery expansion.

A July 25 inspection of the trailer complex that would serve as command center for the four-year project to increase refinery operations in East Chicago and Whiting, as well as Hammond, found building and health code violations -- including raw sewage accumulating under some of the trailers from a leaking septic system at the site.

Refinery officials assembled the trailer complex without seeking required city permits, leading the Hammond Redevelopment Commission to withhold its approval for the center last month.

Concerns over BP's compliance with city health and safety regulations also led the Board of Zoning Appeals to postpone any approval of a $110 million asphalt production facility planned for North Hammond, which company officials said was the first step in the project to bring Canadian crude oil to its refinery. * * *

Of particular concern are plans to move the refinery's wastewater outfall -- recently approved by Indiana regulators to discharge increased levels of ammonia and particulate material -- 3,520 feet closer to Hammond's drinking water intake in Lake Michigan. [ILB emphasis]

Besides Hammond, the intake provides water for Dyer, Griffith and Munster, in addition to 10 communities in Illinois.

"The city was not given any information about the change in outfall location," Wielgos said.

The city is asking for "all documents, plans, drawings, and the supporting studies, calculations, assumptions and any other documents submitted to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management" for approval of the new water discharge permit.

Officials also want copies of all air emission permits, whether approved or pending, for the reconfigured refinery and a list of contaminants allowed to be emitted, along with their maximum concentrations.

Mercury is another BP permit issue. The Chicago Tribune led the way here too, with a lengthy July 27th story by Michael Hawthorne reporting:
Although the federal government ordered states more than a decade ago to dramatically limit mercury discharges into the Great Lakes, the BP refinery in northwest Indiana will be allowed to continue pouring small amounts of the toxic metal into Lake Michigan for at least another five years.

A little-noticed exemption in BP's controversial new state water permit gives the oil company until 2012 to meet strict federal limits on mercury discharges. In documents, Indiana regulators predict the refinery won't be able to comply and will ask to continue polluting after that date. * * *

The BP refinery and a power plant in nearby Chesterton, Ind. [the ILB believes that is the Bailly powerplant] , are the only two industrial polluters that still dump mercury directly into Lake Michigan, federal records show. Under standards adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1995, BP's annual discharge of the metal should be reduced to 8/100th of a pound. * * *

"With one permit, this company and this state are undoing years of work to keep pollution out of our Great Lakes," said U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), co-sponsor of a resolution overwhelmingly approved by the House this week that condemned BP's plans. "Nothing surprises me at this point about what Indiana is allowing them to do."

The story is spun differently in this NWI Times story of July 28th, that begins:
BP Whiting and environmental regulators say the Whiting refinery's new wastewater permit will result in less mercury being dumped into the lake by 2012.

"Over the next five years, BP will be working with regulators to make our small mercury discharges even smaller," said BP spokesman Thomas Keilman, on Friday. "We do not expect the modernization project or the processing of heavy Canadian crude to cause any net increase in mercury levels in our Whiting effluent."

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette had an editorial August 3rd on Lake mercury. Some quotes:
Indiana is being an incredibly bad neighbor.

Despite protests from the state’s neighbors, Gov. Mitch Daniels remains unapologetic about a decision from state regulators allowing an Indiana refinery to increase the amount of pollution it dumps into Lake Michigan.

Concerns about a permit the Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued to the BP refinery in Whiting continue to grow, with the U.S. House voting 387 to 26 for a resolution urging Indiana to reconsider. Much of the opposition concerned increasing the amounts of ammonia and silt the refinery can send to the lake.

Now, concerns are rightly being raised about the portion of the recent permit that allows the refinery to discharge more mercury into the water than federal regulations allow.

In 1995, the federal Environmental Protection Agency ordered states to severely limit mercury discharges into the Great Lakes – and for good reason. Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin. People can be harmed by eating fish contaminated with high levels of mercury. But the permit gives BP until 2012 to meet the federal mercury limits, effectively giving the refinery an extra five years to exceed the limit.

The federal mercury limit is 1.3 ounces per year. According to the EPA Toxic Release Inventory, BP releases about 3 pounds of mercury into the lake each year.

The inventory also shows that the refinery is the biggest industrial source of lead, nickel and ammonia pollution going into Lake Michigan. And it appears that state regulators don’t think BP will be able to toe the mercury line by 2012 and expect the company to ask for an extension to the mercury rule exemption. * * *

In addition to the congressional resolution, many thousands of people have signed petitions protesting the permit decision from Indiana regulators. But IDEM and the governor appear unmoved, giving neighbors in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan every right to kick us out of the water.

The J-G editorial also notes that "Air pollution causes the vast majority of mercury pollution in the Great Lakes." And in fact BP is also asking for an air variance. An Aug. 1st Gary P-T story headed "IDEM postpones hearing on air variance for BP" reports:
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has cancelled the public hearing about BP's air variance scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 9, in Merrillville.

"We did postpone the meeting. It will be rescheduled when we make arrangements for a time and location," said Amy Hartsock from IDEM.

"This permit hearing has to do with the variance and the commissioner's order. I think we recognize that people may think it has something to do with the wastewater permit or the air permit that's currently under review. We want to make sure folks know" that.

Finally, for now, this story from the Aug. 2nd NWI Times. Written by Christine Kraly, the story is headed "BP holding steady." Some quotes:
WASHINGTON | In the face of mounting criticism, BP is "moving ahead" with its Whiting expansion plans and use of a controversial wastewater discharge permit, the company told lawmakers Wednesday.

BP executives, including Bob Malone, chairman and president of BP America, met with members of Indiana's congressional delegation and Gov. Mitch Daniels' staff in Washington on Wednesday. * * *

Keilman said BP is not halting its plans for the Whiting plant, noting that its permit is valid.

"It's important that our congressional delegation understands that the process was an open process, with regards to public participation, and that BP followed all the regulatory requirements," [BP spokesman Tom Keilman] said.

The company is seeking approval for the first step in the project -- construction of a $110 million asphalt facility -- from Hammond's Board of Zoning Appeals at the end of the month.

Note that the proposed asphalt plant expansion and the concerns of the Hammond Board of Zoning Appeals was mentioned earlier in this entry.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 5, 2007 08:18 AM
Posted to Environment