After many months of working closely with South Side residents who are choking daily on petcoke, the dirty byproduct of tar sands crude being piled ever higher in the Calumet area, we were pleased to hear Governor Quinn put his foot down and make the case for a moratorium on new and expanded facilities. Speaking at a press conference announcing an emergency rulemaking on Monday, both the Governor and his Illinois EPA Director Lisa Bonnett effectively made clear that they did not want to issue any new petcoke facility permits given the very serious public health issues associated with the facilities we already have. Governor Quinn stated, “We’re not going to be a dumping ground for any of this fugitive petcoke dust that can harm people’s lives and health,” and Director Bonnett reiterated, “We have permit transactions before us today and you’ve heard me speak before where the Governor asked us to take a time out on permits as we look at the impact of petcoke.”
The emergency rule proposal, filed yesterday by Illinois EPA with the Illinois Pollution Control Board, is a good start in some respects, but unfortunately it does not include the moratorium that the Governor and Director have called for. The rules, which will be effective for 150 days following their adoption by the Pollution Control Board, take some steps toward curbing dust pollution from both petcoke and coal piles. They require that facilities be totally enclosed within two years, and that in the interim they submit fugitive dust plans and cease operations during wind events, when the dust is most likely to be blown offsite. They also include setbacks from property boundary lines and water sources, and various rules governing operations.
All of this is well and good and important. But sadly, it does not meet the Governor’s goal of a moratorium on new infusions of dirty petcoke into our communities. The state’s emergency rulemaking power was tailor made for bold action of that nature to protect the public. Both the Governor and Illinois EPA have made clear it is what they want. So there should be no obstacle to an additional emergency rulemaking, following today’s, making that happen.
Certainly, finding ways to deal with our state’s currently existing coke and coal piles may not be simple, since it involves multiple government players addressing complex technical issues. Pretty much everyone except the Koch brothers has now recognized the severity of the problem, and is starting to take steps to address it – many of which will need some serious refining and improvement via the public comment process. We sent a list of proposed improvements yesterday to Illinois EPA concerning the draft emergency regulations (on which there is no formal public comment), some adopted but most not. We will be submitting a much longer set of comments to the City of Chicago on its proposed fugitive dust ordinance. The Governor also indicated at the press conference that a General Assembly bill will likely be in the mix as well.
But as Governor Quinn and Director Bonnett have recognized, there is nothing complicated about dealing with enormous piles of dusty toxic filth that don’t exist yet. You simply ban them, full stop. It’s time to do that now.