CHICAGO (July 9, 2008) – The ongoing fight against excessive pollution in northwest Indiana and Chicago advanced today as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a federal challenge to air permits given by the state of Indiana to BP’s controversial refinery in Whiting, IN. The permits were recently awarded by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) despite significant concern from the public, environmental experts and elected officials.
“IDEM and BP did not learn their lesson after the public outcry over water pollution permits last summer. They had an opportunity to do things right this time, and they didn’t take it,” said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney at NRDC. “The permits simply do not protect the public and do not live up to the law. The failure of Indiana and BP to take the public interest and the law seriously has forced the issue and required that this case be brought before the federal courts.”
The case argues that BP and IDEM have not properly accounted for increases in dangerous pollution that will result from the refinery expansion. The increased pollution requires that the refinery control its pollution more effectively, and operate under a more stringent, “major source” permit. NRDC is assisting as legal counsel in a similar case being brought by Indiana environmental groups in a state administrative forum.
NRDC successfully raised similar objections recently in a challenge that sent ConocoPhillips’ air permits for the Wood River Refinery in Roxana, IL back to the drawing board. NRDC has repeatedly demonstrated in that case that the Clean Air Act requires all emissions from the facility to be fully accounted for and minimized, including the pollution from flares. Flares are large torch-like structures used to burn gases and release pressure in the refinery, and which in the San Francisco Bay area and elsewhere have been shown to emit thousands of tons of harmful air pollutants a year. The expansion in Whiting will add three new flares, but the company’s pollution analysis assumed that these new flares would never even be used.
“Flares are enormous sources of pollution. It’s not an option for BP and IDEM to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that the problem does not exist---the problem endangers the public and the law requires it be addressed,” said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney with NRDC.
Environmental groups have pointed to flare controls in California refineries where emissions have been greatly reduced with, among other things, redundant equipment and responsible operating practices. The Clean Air Act requires the use of “best available control technology” on expansion projects of this scale.
“The law entitles residents of Gary, Hammond, Whiting, and the rest of Northwest Indiana to the same protections as those enjoyed elsewhere in the U.S. The law says that a refinery on the shores of Lake Michigan should have the same control over its pollution as a refinery in California,” said Alexander. “In the ConocoPhillips case, the environmental review board at US EPA sent a message to oil refineries around the nation that it is time they clean up. We believe that the federal courts will support that precedent.”
NRDC is challenging the facility’s construction permits in the Hammond Division of the Northern District of Indiana federal court.