70,000 protest BP’s planned dumping into Lake Michigan

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U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16) voted for resolution condeming BP’s dumping permit

CHICAGO—Environment Illinois presented BP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials with more than 70,000 signatures from Great Lakes region residents demanding a halt to BP’s umprecedented expansion of pollution into Lake Michigan.

Max Muller, environmental advocate at Environment Illinois, said: “This is the swiftest and strongest support we’ve received for a petition drive. I think people are motivated by BP’s hypocrisy. How can a $216 billion company, which claims to be the most environmentally responsible firm in its field, think it can get away with this? Shouldn’t the company that is ‘beyond petroleum’ also be beyond polluting our waters?”

The petition has garnered more than 70,000 supporters. Twelve-thousand have also signed a boycott pledge to BP that reads, “I’m going to buy gas somewhere else today, and every day until you agree to avoid any increase in pollution into Lake Michigan.”

The petitions are in response to a pollution discharge permit granted in June by Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). The new permit will allow BP’s oil refinery in Whiting, Ind., to increase its discharge of ammonia to 1,500 pounds and sludge particles to nearly 5,000 pounds every day into Lake Michigan.

“Lake Michigan is our gem, our drinking water and our way of life,” said Muller. “After years of clean-up, BP’s new permit is setting a precedent that threatens to ultimately ruin this shared resource. Indiana and U.S. EPA officials might be willing to let this go on, but we’re not. The world’s eighth largest company does not need exemptions from laws meant to protect children and restore our Great Lakes. We’re calling on BP to avoid any increase in dumping into Lake Michigan.”

BP’s new permit runs counter to decades of Great Lakes clean-up efforts. It is the first time in years that any company has been allowed to increase toxic dumping into Lake Michigan.

Federal “anti-degredation” rules prohibit pollution increases unless the polluting activity is deemed a necessity and alternatives not feasible. BP drew criticism for claiming that avoiding increased pollution is not feasible because the 1,400-acre facility, they say, lacks space for a 0.28-acre waste water treatment plant. Publicly available documents do not indicate whether IDEM or U.S. EPA verified BP’s claim that the increase is unavoidable.

Increased ammonia under BP’s new permit threatens the lake’s ecology because ammonia’s nitrogen feeds fish-killing algae blooms. Suspended solids, also allowed to increase under the new permit, contain concentrated mercury, seleni and other toxic-heavy metals. IDEM will also permit BP to use Indiana’s first “mixing zone,” a practice by which contaminants in excess of safe limits are legally discharged for dilution in lake water.

Environment Illinois’ petitions reflect broader outrage visible throughout Illinois. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and representatives Rahm Emanuel, Jan Schakowsy, Mark Kirk, Daniel Lipinski and others in Congress moved quickly to criticize the permit. July 25, the U.S. House passed Emanuel’s resolution condeming the permit by a vote of 387-26. Our own Congressman, U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16), voted for the resolution.

State representatives Patti Bellock, Karen May, Barbara Flynn Currie, Elizabeth Coulson, Patricia Lindner, Harry Osterman and many others championing House Resolution 620, which passed two House committees and awaits a full House vote, and state senators Susan Garrett and John Millner introduced Senate Resolution 299, which passed the full Senate Aug. 8.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D) and Illinois Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn (D) have spearheaded their own petitioning efforts, while Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) issued a statement calling on Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) to rescind the permit.

Muller said: “Our legislators stood up to say that Illinoisans won’t tolerate increased pollution. Outrage is cutting across party lines and state geography. We thank Illinois’ elected officials for working to protect Lake Michigan.”

from the Aug. 22-28, 2007, issue

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