Due to the torrent of public outcry over Indiana’s permit allowing British Petroleum to expand its Whiting facility on Lake Michigan, the foreign oil company graciously backed off its plans to increase ammonia and sludge production at the refinery. Instead, BP plans to move forward with the expansion but promises to keep discharges at the current, lower levels afforded by the company’s previous wastewater permit.
“We will not make use of the higher discharge limits in our new permit,” said BP America Chairman and President Bob Malone in a press release. “If we determine that post our Canadian heavy crude oil project we cannot operate the refinery and meet the lower discharge limits in our previous permit, we will 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.”
That was loud and clear!
Congratulations to residents, state and local representatives, Congress and other advocates on a successful job of influencing BP – Malone said it was such efforts that forced the company to rethink the permit – “…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.”
When newspapers publicized Indian’s decision to permit BP to dump 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more sludge – including mercury – into the Lake Michigan (a source of drinking water for approximately 4 million people) constituents began contacting their representatives. The U.S. House passed a “sense of the Congress” urging Indiana to reconsider the permit and calling on the EPA to take better care of the Lakes. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) called for hearings on the issue. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels a proponent of the decision buckled under the mounting pressure and called for a review of the permit decision, and the Great Lakes Alliance filed a petition requesting that the state Office of Environmental Adjudication block the permit and give groups a chance to appeal it.
We can only hope that this incident has opened Congress’ eyes to the need to back the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act, comprehensive restoration legislation that has been idling since 2006. It will be a huge disappointment – and a black eye for our public officials – if knee jerk reactions cause us to lose sight of comprehensive change.
If we could generate the same kind of public demand around the Great Lakes restoration package it would be much more difficult for Washington to ignore one of our nation’s most precious resources. Let’s use this experience with BP as a model for change across the Great Lakes region.