Alliance for the Great Lakes
Aug. 7, 2007
BP Pollution Plan Stirs Outcry on Behalf of Great Lakes
Reacting to public outrage and calls for a federal investigation led by the Alliance for the Great Lakes, Congress has passed a resolution condemning an Indiana permit allowing oil giant BP to dump more pollutants into Lake Michigan.
The permit decision touched off an overwhelming public response in recent weeks, at last count generating a reported 45,000 signatures opposing BP's increased pollution to Lake Michigan resulting from its planned refinery expansion in Whiting, Ind.
"I haven't seen anything like this in 10 years," said Alliance President Cameron Davis. "People are waking up and saying we need to restore the Great Lakes, not turn back the clock to the days of increased industrial pollution."
A threat attracting more attention than any other industrial pollution discharge to the Great Lakes in years, lawmakers, the media and residents are turning to the Alliance as the leader on the expansion plan in light of the organization's written critique of the plan earlier this year and the expertise of its advisory team.
Called on to advise congressional leaders, state legislators and city council members as they respond to the public backlash and craft a strategy to halt the increased pollution, the Alliance has also been widely featured in stories by The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the CBS Evening News, among others.
The July 25 congressional resolution, introduced by U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), urges the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to reconsider its permitting of BP's refinery expansion.
Indiana regulators touched off the maelstrom in issuing BP a permit to discharge daily loads of nearly 1,500 pounds of ammonia and 5,000 pounds of suspended solids from treated sludge into Lake Michigan -- increases of 54 percent and 35 percent respectively. The permit also gives BP until 2012 to meet strict federal limits for mercury discharges. Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin.
In written comments submitted in May, Alliance technical experts -- headed by Alliance founder Lee Botts and including Howard Zar, Jim Filippini, Tom Murphy and Bill Muno -- were the first to offer constructive criticism of the plant's environmental impact. Though not opposed to BP's $3.8 billion plan to expand refining capacity in light of the Midwest's high gas prices, the Alliance registered concerns that such plans not unfold at the expense of the largest lake within U.S. borders.
"This is not a jobs versus environment issue," said the Alliance's Davis. "Nor is this the economy versus the environment. This is about BP and Indiana regulators failing to show how all alternatives to increased pollution were considered."
Normally taking years to re-issue permits, the Indiana agency issued BP's within about a month of the close of the public comment period, sparking calls by the Alliance and regional lawmakers for a U.S. EPA investigation.
In response, reports abound about people signing petitions, writing letters and even cutting up their BP gas cards. Davis said expansion opponents are pursuing legal and legislative avenues to block the plan, as well as the power of the purse - the possibility of rescinding federal subsidies for the oil giant.
The public continues to have a key role in the debate, he said, and encouraged those concerned about the health of Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes to write letters to the editor and contact their congressional representatives.
Even easier, they can buy their gas somewhere else.
"My family was on vacation recently and the low gas level warning light was on," Davis said. "We were in front of a BP station, but we made a decision to keep driving until we found a different station."
To get involved, contact Frances Canonizado, Alliance outreach coordinator, at 312-939-0838 x228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.