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Great Lakes Blog

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Congress Disapproves IDEM Permit

Jul 26, 2007

By Gitte Laasby, Post-Tribune staff writer

BP's buffeted plan to increase pollutants discharged into Lake Michigan from its Whiting refinery took a hit in Congress on Wednesday, but found a friend in Gov. Mitch Daniels.

In a 387-to-26 vote, Congress passed a resolution that disapproves of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management's issuance of the permit that allowed increased discharge of ammonia and suspended solids. The resolution was sponsored by Chicago Democrat Rahm Emanuel and Michigan Republican Vernon Ehlers.

Daniels' statement in defense of IDEM and BP came in response to criticism from Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, lawmakers from Illinois and Michigan, and environmentalists, who said that IDEM was too lax should look toward reducing pollution in the lake, rather than increasing it.

Blagojevich on Tuesday threatened legal action if Daniels didn't rescind the permit.

Daniels pointed out, at a news conference, that BP's permit is in compliance with Indiana law, and its new discharge levels are below federal limits and have the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"And so to me, the public interest says that should go forward. We've got thousands of jobs that will be at risk if it doesn't go forward. And I would only point out that people who are upset about $3 gas now know why it's that high," Daniels said.

BP's revised wastewater treatment plan is part of its $3 billion construction project at the 118-year-old plant that will allow it to process heavy-crude Canadian oil.

"The No. 1 reason for $3 gasoline is the lack of refinery capacity in this country," Daniels said. "And here's one of the biggest steps forward for the Midwest and really the whole nation, and I don't think it should be held up without a good scientific reason, and none has been provided."

BP America President Bob Malone said in a statement that BP's reconfiguration to process more Canadian crude oil will increase the nation's fuel supply by 1.7 million gallons per day.

BP clarifies position

Illinois and Michigan lawmakers met with BP officials Tuesday on Capitol Hill. After the meeting, legislators said BP officials agreed to look at "feasible alternatives" and come back for another meeting Sept. 1.

BP spokesman Tom Keilman on Wednesday clarified the company's position.

"I don't think we said we've agreed to come forward with alternatives," Keilman said. "The commitment was that we'd take a look at alternatives and meet back with them in September."

Keilman told the Post-Tribune on Wednesday that BP officials discussed alternatives with IDEM during the permitting process, but didn't find a better one.

"Essentially, BP had a technical review team that reviewed best available technology as required by the IDEM regulations. In terms of the cost, cost is not an issue. It was a matter of technology that was a fit with our process conditions, and if the technology employed was commercially viable on a scale that was based upon our anticipated operations of the wastewater treatment plant," Keilman said.

"Technology also needs to demonstrate that it works and is reliable. None of the technologies that were evaluated were determined suitable for reducing ammonia at the Whiting refinery. So therefore, we employed the technology we have submitted for the permit. That included additional investment in sour water strippers as well as the proposed construction of an additional feed stabilization tank."

Keilman couldn't give specific cost figures for alternative solutions, but pointed out the company has reduced its discharge of suspended solids by 40 percent over the past four years.

Congressional disapproval

Meanwhile, the vote on the congressional resolution in-cluded yeas from Democrats Pete Visclosky and Joe Donnelly.

The resolution expresses disapproval of IDEM's issuance of the permit. It also urges Indiana to reconsider the permit and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency not to allow increased dumping of pollutants into Lake Michigan.

IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly said in a statement Tuesday that he won't revoke BP's permit.

"IDEM's wastewater permit for BP's Whiting refinery fully complies with the federal Clean Water Act and assures the full protection of Lake Michigan. The permitted levels will not affect drinking water, recreation or aquatic life," Easterly said.

     
     

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