City to Fight BP Over Pollution Waiver
By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Tribune staff reporter. Tribune staff reporter Gary Washburn contributed
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.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday after a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Kennedy-King College in Englewood, Mayor Richard Daley said increased pollution from the refinery would work against the city's long-term efforts to clean up the lake.
"We are very concerned about that," Daley said. "We protect the Great Lakes. ... That is our drinking water. That is our economic development. That is our recreation."
Indiana officials exempted BP from state environmental laws, allowing the refinery to move forward with plans for a $3.8 billion expansion to process more heavy Canadian crude oil.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which steps in to oversee permits and enforcement, did not object to Indiana regulators' decision in the case.
Chicago's Environment Commissioner Sadhu Johnston said neither state officials nor BP had informed Chicago officials of the refinery's plans. Instead, he said, city officials read about it in Sunday's Tribune.
"They really didn't do any outreach," he said. "Since they are expanding in this community, they should have told us of their plans and what that would do to the lake."
Johnston said he thinks increased pollutant levels could be addressed if BP added more modern technology to the site.
Ald. Ginger Rugai (19th) said she plans to introduce a resolution calling for a City Council hearing on BP's project.
At a Chicago Park District news conference Wednesday, Rugai and other city officials and environmental leaders gathered to announced a petition drive this weekend along the city's lakefront. Parks Supt. Tim Mitchell said he hopes to deliver tens of thousands signatures to the governor of Indiana, asking him to reconsider the decision to allow BP to move ahead on its plans.
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.
Also on Wednesday, BP officials invited journalists to tour the refinery and its water treatment site and downplayed reports of increased pollution related to the expansion project.
Company representatives said they will be spending $150 million to modernize their water treatment plant. They disputed the Tribune's use of the term "sludge," saying the discharged elements would be tiny particles, one-tenth the thickness of the human hair, called "total suspended solids."
They said the refinery would discharge ammonia and these particles at lower amounts than the permit allowed most of the time. The refinery asked for the higher levels for "operational upsets" such as heavy rainfallor problems at the refinery, plant manager Dan Sajkowski said.
It's an argument the city wasn't buying.
"Whether it's sludge or particulate, either way it's a pollutant and it's going into Lake Michigan," Johnston said.
Park staff will collect signatures for the "Save Our Lake" effort at 14 lakefront locations including beaches, Navy Pier and the Museum Campus.
For a petition, see Illinois PIRGs new website: