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Response from Alliance For the Great Lakes

Cameron Davis 21 September 2007 One Comment

Dear Mr. Powers:

I’ll ask your readers three questions. First, is it OK to authorize increased pollution to Lake Michigan?

Thank you for asking us to respond to your open letter to the Alliance for the Great Lakes ( http://cdobs.com/our-columns/open-letter-to-the-alliance-for-the-great-lakes/, September 8), especially in light of some 233 million gallons of wastewater that discharged to Lake Michigan from recent heavy rains.

If your readers answered “no,” they’d get an A+ for the right answer to your question and the above question. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management gave BP’s Whiting refinery a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit allowing increases pollution levels of ammonia and Total Suspended Solids over the previous permit. When Congress passed the federal Clean Water Act in 1972, it was with one overriding goal in mind: to reduce pollution levels to the nation’s waterways over time. Reduce, not increase. And this is a goal we can all be proud of: while our Great Lakes face a rapid-fire procession of threats – everything to invasive pest species to habitat loss to runoff from agricultural fields – we can at least say that we’ve cut back on industrial pollution. That is, until IDEM granted an increase in BP’s pollution levels.

So here’s the next question for your readers. What’s the middle name of a permit that state agencies grant for pollution discharges? ” Elimination.” The purpose of the NPDES permit is to eliminate pollution over time, in keeping with the purpose of the overall Clean Water Act, not to increase pollution over time. That was the problem with BP’s permit and why we had a significant problem with it. The Alliance has never objected to BP refinery expansion. We’ve objected to an authorization for increased pollution because that’s what federal law rightfully requires. And for those who suggest that we need increased pollution to keep gas prices from rising, let’s make it a fair trade so that it works in the opposite direction, too. How about if for every new measure of pollution per day that BP discharges from Whiting, it commits to knocking off $1 per gallon of gas that same day for all of us Midwesterners who live with some of the highest gas prices in the country? Don’t hold your breath. The fact is, pollution treatment technology is readily available so that BP can expand its refinery without increasing its pollution to Lake Michigan. Higher pollution to the lake that is our drinking water supply does not need to mean higher gas prices. The public is smart enough to know that’s a false choice.

I remember growing up near the shores of Lake Michigan, when MWRD river reversals were a fact of life. It wasn’t unusual to see them occur several times in one year. Now we see them once every few years, as we unfortunately saw with the recent release of 233 million gallons of wastewater. And the Alliance is working to ensure Chicago River water quality is better so that when reversals occur, Lake Michigan doesn’t get hit as hard (we’d welcome the Observer’s coverage of those efforts, too; see http://www.greatlakes.org/news/071707.asp ). These overflows are decreasing over time. I wish we could say the same for Indiana’s “pollutant elimination” permit, which in fact does the opposite of what the name says it should do.

In thanking the Observer for drawing attention to the need for greater Lake Michigan protection efforts, I’ll leave your readers with one more question: which would be harder for you to survive without for three days, oil or clean water?

Cameron Davis


Alliance for the Great Lakes


One Comment »

  • Dan Kelley (author) said:

    Illinoisians endure one of the highest per gallon gasoline prices in the USA because of excessive taxation. In addition to federal, local and county taxes, the State of Illinois hits consumers of gasoline twice with a per gallon tax and a sales tax on the total purchase. In summer months, a special environmentally friendly gasoline blend has to be sold in the Chicago metropolitan area and that increases the price also.

    No one wants to pollute the water, the air or the soil, but at some point people have to live also. The automobile is a fact of life and there is no turning back the clock. Davis complains about agricultural run off fouling the waters. Does this mean that we ought to abandon farming or that all forms of fertilizer and pesticides must be eliminated?

    It is almost impossible for new refineries to be built in the USA at the present time and drilling cannot take place in the remote Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve, so mosquitoes and warbler flies are protected in a frozen wasteland where the nearest town is the aptly Dead Horse, Alaska (population 12). That the Alaskans want oil production to take place matters not to the hard core Greens, who are thousands of miles removed from the Arctic Circle.

    Maybe we could save the planet by eliminating the human race or returning to horse drawn carriages.

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