The Chicago Tribune wants to kill jobs in Indiana and does not need facts to do it. In typical politician/journalist fashion, The Chicago Tribune has taken up a fight started by Barack Obama during his short tenure as a US Senator-that BP in Whiting is dumping mercury into Lake Michigan. Obviously, if this is true it is cause for alarm for all of us. The Lake Michigan ecosystem is vital to life as we know it in Northwest Indiana.
Those are the things on which we agree. Without citing any sources, The Tribune article claims that
“Since 2005, BP has reported that the Whiting refinery’s treatment plant discharged between one-tenth of a pound and 2 pounds of mercury into the lake annually, according to state and federal records.”
I began my research with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The NRDC is a respected environmental organization that has pressured BP over releases of Air contaminants. In fact, the NRDC was instrumental in a recent enforcement action that resulted in a fine of nearly $800M and promised upgrades by BP costing $400M or more (http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/caa/bp-whiting.html). The NRDC praises the tribune article as “investigative journalism” but says little else about it. In fact, the NRDC fails to point out that the Tribune article is neither investigative nor journalism. As NRDC points out: “The news this time around is a mixed bag. BP, to its credit (and our pleasant surprise), made good on its 2007 promise not to use the additional leeway in its 2007 permit for ammonia and solids discharge, and IDEM granted the company’s request to revert to the previous permit levels for those pollutants. . .The other sort-of good news is that BP contracted with Argonne National Laboratory and the Purdue-Calumet Water Institute in the intervening years to do some research on cutting-edge technologies to control the discharge of mercury to Lake Michigan.”
Despite several blog articles repeating the Tribune claim, I could find no reports indicating a 2 lb. discharge of mercury. In fact, in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, BP reported a release of .125 lbs of mercury. Keep in mind that any amount of mercury is not good. Nonetheless, more mercury enters our waterstream from CFL lightbulbs which environmentalists love.
So Why Is The Chicago Tribune pushing this story? I would suggest the answer is complex. First, the Chicago Tribune received awards and accolades from environmental groups and politicians for the 2007 article regarding BP. Mass boycotts of BP put pressure on the company to make changes to the expansion plans even before the consent decree. The Chicago Tribune rode the wave of that popularity. Second, the expansion at the Whiting BP refinery is intended to enable BP to refine tar sand crude at that site. Tar sand crude like that which will come from the Keystone Pipeline. You remember the Keystone, that pipeline that environmentalists insist will cause the earth to boil over?