Environmentalists: BP report shows state pollution rules need improvement
By Patrick Guinane
Northwest Indiana Times
Published December 7, 2007
INDIANAPOLIS | Environmental groups expressed hope Thursday that Indiana will move swiftly to implement tighter Lake Michigan water pollution regulations recommended by an independent review of BP Whiting Refinery's controversial wastewater permit.
As The Times first reported Thursday, the four-month review by Indiana University professor James Barnes concludes that neither aquatic life nor drinking water would be threatened by the more lenient BP permit the state approved this summer.
But Barnes found fault with the regulations that guided the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to allow BP to release 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more suspended solids -- silty materials left over after wastewater is treated and filtered.
Barnes, a former deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, cites "critical gaps" in Indiana's antidegradation policies, which are intended to prevent the worsening of Lake Michigan water quality.
The rules did not require BP to submit an analysis of how it could prevent the pollution increases, but the state sought one anyway. Barnes said the result was an insufficient analysis of why BP couldn't hold the line on pollution.
"The company did not know exactly what it had to submit," Barnes said in an interview. "It didn't submit quite what IDEM told it to, and what IDEM ended up working with was short of what you really needed for the kind of decision that would have had credibility with the public."
Joel Brammeier, vice president for policy at the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said he hopes the report will spur Indiana to strengthen its protections against Lake Michigan water pollution increases.
"It was pretty clear that BP complied with the letter of the law," Brammeier said. "But when the law got a good hard look from people around the region, things didn't hold up, and professor Barnes came to that same conclusion."
Thomas Anderson, executive director of the Michigan City-based Save the Dunes Council, said a working group of environmental and industry leaders spent nearly three years working toward new antidegradation rules, but the effort was halted when Gov. Mitch Daniels took office in 2005.
"Obviously this administration has to take responsibility for that," Anderson said. "Those issues had been debated -- and we thought were virtually resolved -- three years ago, and yet that effort was suspended."
IDEM spokeswoman Sandra Flum confirmed that the water pollution regulations had been under discussion. But she said it's wrong to blame the administration for the stalled effort.
"Essentially there was lack of consensus. Each side (industry and environmental) was screaming at the agency," she said. "We were getting a lot of push back from all sides early in the administration. You have to have something that (you can implement) -- that both sides support and that serves the public as well."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA will hold to public hearing Tuesday on its objections to the new wastewater permit the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has proposed for U.S. Steel's Gary Works facility.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
3:00 to 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 to 8:30 p.m.
3400 Broadway Avenue