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Price for BP's rewards is far too high

Jul 29, 2007

South Bend Tribune Columnist

Some rewards aren't worth it.

BP, the oil giant, promised to reward Indiana with 80 additional jobs at its refinery in Whiting, Ind., as it obtained approval from the appreciative Indiana Department of Environmental Management for upgrading the facility to process heavier crude oil from Canada.

Numbers are important here.

Just think, 80 additional jobs.

Just think, the approval permits BP to dump an average of 1,584 pounds of ammonia in Lake Michigan daily. Daily, as in every day.

Just think, approval permits BP to dump an average of 4,925 pounds of suspended solids in the lake daily. Daily, as in every day.Just think.

Ammonia can promote algae blooms that kill fish and threaten water quality. So what if the domestic fish supply is curtailed. We get oodles of safe seafood from China.

Suspended solids are such things as lead and other metal particles that escape water treatment filters. So what if they could affect the 30 million Americans who obtain their drinking water from Lake Michigan. Let them buy bottled water.

In fairness, it should be noted that BP went beyond citing 80 jobs in promoting the Whiting upgrade.

BP said it would invest more than $3 billion there to increase gasoline and diesel production by 15 percent, or 620 million gallons a year. This will encourage more gas guzzling, discourage energy conservation and enhance BP profits.In fairness, it should be noted that the Environmental Protection Agency at the federal level also said the deal was OK. So what if the EPA protects the environment about as effectively as FEMA assists hurricane victims.

Counting on the EPA and IDEM these days to protect the environment is kind of like counting on Michael Vick to protect your dog.

In fairness, it should be noted that BP wasn't ballyhooing glories of more tons upon tons of ammonia and suspended solids in Lake Michigan when it convinced Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to hail the BP Whiting upgrade. It was portrayed to him, and then by him, as a landmark project in an Indiana economic comeback.

Hey, 80 jobs are important.

So are the Great Lakes.In a remarkable display of bipartisanship and quick action, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 387 to 26 Wednesday for a resolution citing the value of the Great Lakes, the largest surface freshwater system on earth, and deploring the IDEM approval of a permit for the BP increase of daily dumping of ammonia and suspended solids.

Of the congressmen representing Michiana, Democrat Joe Donnelly, of Indiana's 2nd District, and Republican Fred Upton, of Michigan's 6th District, voted for the resolution. Congressman Mark Souder, the Republican representing Indiana's 3rd District, was among the 26 voting "no." Also in the tiny minority voting "no" were three other Indiana Republicans who perhaps felt the need to protect their Republican governor.

The need is to protect Lake Michigan.

Politics should be set aside in this, and it was by 162 Republicans who voted for the resolution, joining with all of the Democrats -- 225 -- who voted.

The flowing Great Lakes waters are as valuable to the future of our Midwest as flowing oil is to the future of any Mideast nation.In fact, water is more valuable than oil. There is no substitute for water, so precious as demand for it grows in this crowded world. There are substitutes for oil as a source of energy. And they can be developed and utilized if we ever get serious about it.

Although the House resolution does not carry the force of law, it sends a clear message to BP. And BP is listening.

The Chicago Tribune reported that BP executives got an earful from Illinois lawmakers from both parties at a meeting in Washington. The oil giant's president for American operations heard what they said and heard also the message from the resolution. He is to get back by Sept. 1 with word on whether something can be done to reduce the dumping.

BP just reported a quarterly profit of $6.087 billion. Maybe it could afford to use a little of that to carry out its Whiting upgrade in a more environmentally friendly fashion. Maybe it will if it really means what it claims in ads about its concern for the environment.

Could this uproar endanger the promised reward of 80 jobs? Probably not. But what if it does? Evaluate rewards carefully. Rewards like what a basketball referee gets for affecting the point spread. Or farther back, 30 pieces of silver. Or now, 80 jobs. Some rewards aren't worth it.    


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