Here are the latest developments on the British Petroleum waste discharge plan for Lake Michigan this year. See previous articles at L.A.W. for complete historical facts and figures.
DEVELOPMENT: Wednesday August 15th
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Mary A. Gade convened a Lake Michigan Summit meeting in Chicago in order to provide an opportunity for major officials and interested parties to present BP representatives with their suggestions on minimizing discharges to Lake Michigan from the company's Whiting, Ind., refinery. Region 5 representatives showed up such as; BP Vice Chairman of America Stephen Elbert, Illinois representatives Biggert & Kirk plus Senators Durbin & Obama, Indiana officials such as Bay & Visclosky and Mr. Anderson from the Indiana Save The Dunes Council, Michigan representative Upton, Wisconsin representative Russ Feingold and a number of other interested individuals of environmental groups.
Due to the enormous amount of negative press, local resident petitions and congressional pressure against the dumping move, BP and Indiana regulators agreed Wednesday to reconsider a permit that allows the Midwest's largest oil refinery to significantly increase
the amount of toxic waste dumped into the lake. In order to keep the pressure in place, an environmental group called the Alliance for the Great Lakes also filed a formal appeal in Indiana asking a state environmental judge to block the permit from taking effect.
As reported in a detailed article last week by staff writer Michael Hawthorne of The Chicago Tribune, seven different ideas were given by the EPA to counter the current dumping measures at this meeting:
Finance projects that reduce pollution from other companies that discharge into the Grand Calumet River or Lake Michigan.
Divert all or some of the refinery's wastewater to nearly municipal treatment plants. The Hammond Sanitary District, East Chicago Sanitary District and Gary Sanitary District are options. Pay for sewer upgrades in neighboring towns to keep sewage and storm water out of Lake Michigan. Set aside money to filter pollution that seeps into the lake. Projects could include wetlands, shoreline restoration or storm-water retention ponds. Make additional upgrades at the refinery's water treatment plant to reduce the amount of pollution flowing into Lake Michigan. Spend more money to dredge contaminated muck from the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal. Join Indiana to pay for other projects that remove contaminated sediment in the Grand Calumet River.
Divert all or some of the refinery's wastewater to nearly municipal treatment plants. The Hammond Sanitary District, East Chicago Sanitary District and Gary Sanitary District are options.
Pay for sewer upgrades in neighboring towns to keep sewage and storm water out of Lake Michigan.
Set aside money to filter pollution that seeps into the lake. Projects could include wetlands, shoreline restoration or storm-water retention ponds.
Make additional upgrades at the refinery's water treatment plant to reduce the amount of pollution flowing into Lake Michigan.
Spend more money to dredge contaminated muck from the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal.
Join Indiana to pay for other projects that remove contaminated sediment in the Grand Calumet River.
Few in the meeting voiced any support for these creative proposals to offset the additional BP waste discharge pollution with other projects that would help clean up Lake Michigan. The group stayed focused on the need for BP to meet the long-standing goal of reducing and eventually eliminating pollution in the Great Lakes, the world's largest source of fresh surface water. Federal and state regulators contend they have no legal authority at this point to rescind the permit. Although the meeting showed all sides willing to take a look at things, neither BP nor the state of Indiana would commit to a specific solution at this time.
Chicago officials said they've found several technologies in use at other refineries that dramatically reduce ammonia and suspended solids. They pressed BP official Elbert to explain how more water treatment equipment couldn't fit on a site as large as the Whiting refinery. This was a question the Vice Chairman said could not answer at this time.
All left the meeting last week feeling warm and fuzzy, but with no definitive changes noted.
News flash to this week...
DEVELOPMENT: Thursday, August 23rd
BP announced today that it won't dump more pollution into Lake Michigan.
In a statement posted on British Petroleum’s web site, BP pledged to continue to meet its previous pollution limits once it completes a $3.8 billion expansion of its Whiting, Ind., refinery, 3 miles southeast of the Illinois-Indiana border. BP America today promised to operate its Whiting refinery to meet the lower discharge limits contained in the refinery's previous wastewater treatment permit.
BP America Chairman and President Bob Malone notes the following in today’s press release, “We have participated in an open and transparent permitting process with the State of Indiana and obtained a valid permit that meets all regulatory standards and is protective of water quality and human health. Even so, ongoing regional opposition to any increase in discharge permit limits for Lake Michigan creates an unacceptable level of business risk for this $3.8 billion investment." Malone flew to Chicago to deliver the news personally to Mayor Richard Daley, one of several politicians who said the company's initial plans were unacceptable to people who rely on Lake Michigan for drinking water and recreation.
During the next 18 months, BP advises citizens it will continue to seek issuance of other permits, continue project design and explore options for operating within the lower discharge limits. Furthermore, at the request of US Representatives Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Pete Visclosky (D-IN), and with the support of BP America President Bob Malone, scientists at Argonne National Laboratory and Purdue University Calumet will explore emerging technologies that could address wastewater treatment affecting the Great Lakes.
BP America notified the State of Indiana of its decision late yesterday afternoon and reiterated its dedication to the proposed refinery expansion.
"We are committed to this project. It is important for the nation, it is important for the Midwest, and it is important to BP and to the thousands of BP employees in the State of Indiana," Malone said. "We are going to work hard to make this project succeed.” He also noted, “We will not make use of the higher discharge limits in our new permit. We're not aware of any technology that will get us to those limits but we'll work to develop a project that allows us to do so. If necessary changes to the project result in a material impact to project viability, we could be forced to cancel it."
The exact press release letters by the Vice Chairman, President and congressional representatives can be viewed at: www.bp.com.
So fellow citizens of River City, West Michigan and the Great Lakes, a temporary victory appears to be in order. There will be no change in the refinery discharge to Lake Michigan until at least 2011. BP appears to be working toward new technologies that will lower their discharges before their permit is up for renewal in 2012 (their wise President might have wanted to consider that before the firestorm erupted earlier, but who says he gets paid for looking ahead, right? They’re advertised as “green” after all, not “brilliant visionaries”). There was no discussion about reducing the current limits of discharge still being allowed by the lakes largest polluter - good ole' BP. Current discharge levels, ok. Increased discharge levels, thumbs down. Reduced discharge levels, not an item up for discussion. One step at a time people, one step at a time.
Many will ask what happens after 2012? Well, that story is still to be written.
So, fish, swim, boat, drink the water and enjoy the bounty we have in our backyards. Lake Michigan is secure from BP additional waste discharge…for now.
Editor, The Local Area Watch