Sorry, Mitch, the BP permit issue is not going away, but then you know that don’t you? After a rather loud public outcry, including a spanking from the U.S. Congress, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has called for a review of the state environmental agency’s decision to allow British Petroleum to expand their Whiting Refinery on Lake Michigan.
While calling for a “credible, independent evaluation of the permitting decision and outcome” might lead readers to think the Governor may reconsider the permit, it is more likely he is looking for a heavy rubber stamp to squelch protests. BP spokesman Tom Keilman, told the Northwest Indiana Times that the independent review is an opportunity to “validate the permitting process, not a signal of wavering state support.” Although, Chicago Mayor Daley, an outspoken critic of Daniels decision, has interpreted the move a bit differently – as a slight nod to a demanding public.
At issue, is the state environmental agency’s decision to grant the foreign oil giant, BP a permit to expand its Whiting Refinery to develop an additional 620 million gallons of gasoline from Canadian crude oil, without requiring the company to increase its wastewater treatment process. BP expects to dump 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more suspended solids into the lake. Ammonia feeds algae which kills fish. Suspended solids are, well, gross, and they can contribute to disease, decreased oxygen and cloudy, unsightly water among other things.
While BP, Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management and the Environmental Protection Agency, have all argued that the oil company has followed all regulations set to protect the lake, those who will be drinking the water surrounding the plant have continued to call foul. Nearly 4 million people, in surrounding cities alone, rely on Lake Michigan for their drinking water. Incredibly, the new state permit allows BP to wait until 2012 to comply federal regulations regarding mercury – BP dumps about 2 pounds a year into Lake Michigan – federal standards demand less than one. Pregnant women and children have the most to lose from ingesting mercury-unborn babies are harmed as well as children’s nervous systems. The same facility also asked for permission to release more particles into the air than the law allows, which can cause respiratory problems for near-by residents. “BP has a moral and legal responsibility in regards to the quality of water in the Great Lakes. The standards that were set maybe 10 years ago, 15 or 20 – whatever it was – [are] unacceptable today…It will have a huge effect upon the water quality,” Mayor Daley told the Chicago Sun Times.
Unfortunately, this story keeps getting worse. It is discouraging that the Governor’s choice for a “credible, independent evaluation” is James Barnes, a former deputy administrator and chief operating officer for the EPA under President Reagan – a political appointee during a time when the EPA was, er, less than credible on the environment–who also served as general counsel to the EPA for twenty years. Barnes is currently a professor at Indiana University.