Chicago cries foul over Indiana wastewater in the
Cannabis Cafe forums; State has said oil refinery can pour more pollutants into Lake Michigan
By Kristina Buchthal
CHICAGO -- This is a ...
Chicago cries foul over Indiana wastewater
State has said oil refinery can pour more pollutants into Lake Michigan
By Kristina Buchthal
CHICAGO -- This is a city that uses border collies to shoo seagulls from its shoreline. It tried to ban smoking at beaches to keep butts out of the sand.
Now, in the fight to protect Lake Michigan, Chicago has a new enemy: Indiana.
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.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is threatening legal action, and the U.S. House, by a 387-26 vote, passed a nonbinding resolution last month disapproving of Indiana's issuance of the permit allowing increased discharge of ammonia and suspended solids, small particles of solid pollutants that float on the surface of the water.
Indiana's House members were divided along party lines. The four Republicans opposed the resolution; four Democrats supported it. Julia Carson, a sponsor of the resolution, didn't vote.
The new permit and a $3.8 billion expansion of the Whiting Refinery will allow the BP plant to make an additional 620 million gallons of gasoline from Canadian crude oil, a process that will cause BP to release 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more suspended solids into Lake Michigan.
The permit eventually will limit the amount of mercury BP releases into the lake but does not do so immediately. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declined to block the BP wastewater permit and has not yet considered BP's request to emit more particles into the air.
BP says that the additional ammonia and suspended solids wouldn't be pollution, arguing that these amounts fall below federal maximums. A spokeswoman for BP America said in an e-mailed statement that the "project is safe for the lake."
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has said much the same thing. He has also noted the permit is needed as part of the expansion, which will bring about 80 new permanent jobs and about 2,500 temporary construction jobs.
"We've got thousands of jobs that will be at risk if it doesn't go forward," 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."
But that argument isn't playing well in Illinois.
"I would like the head of IDEM to be required to feed only drinking water from the BP outfall to his children," said U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, a Democrat whose district includes 10 communities on Illinois' north shore of Lake Michigan.
Kirk has rallied fellow congressmen and suburban mayors in his district to oppose BP.
Even the city's parks department has rallied to fight BP's plans. Park workers have collected more than 45,000 signatures, held protests at beaches and BP filling stations, passed resolutions and organized hearings.
Their concern mostly hinges on the safety of drinking water from Lake Michigan, which serves as the chief water source for 6 million people in northeastern Illinois, and more in Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.
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."
Rep. Kirk 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."
Chicago's battle with Indiana comes at a time when the Windy City fancies itself as a green city.
Officials, for example, recently revamped Chicago's high-profile recycling program to ensure more recyclables don't get processed with other garbage.
Last June, the Chicago City Council considered legislation to ban smoking at city beaches to counter the cigarette-butt litter there. The Chicago Park District also runs packs of border collies along the beaches to keep seagulls away. Seagull excrement has been blamed for increased E. coli bacteria in water along the Lake Michigan shore.
Those actions and others have many Chicagoans keenly aware of their lakefront.
Ivy Clough signed two petitions concerning BP's permit at her office, a downtown Chicago law firm where she works as a paralegal.
Clough, 30, said although she hasn't followed the issue closely, she worries about pollution in the lake.
"The general consensus in my office is that this is bad, and they (Indiana and BP) are trying to spin it," Clough said. "I don't know how you could dump more pollution in the lake and have it be a good thing."
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."
Chicago cries foul over Indiana wastewater | IndyStar.com
"Dissent is the Highest form of Patriotism" -- Howard Zinn
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