Upton: BP backs down

Published 10:18 pm Friday, August 24, 2007

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Niles Daily Star
NILES – "I have great news. This morning BP finally threw in the towel," U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., of St. Joseph, announced Thursday afternoon in the Niles Daily Star newsroom.
"They knew the hammers would keep coming," he added.
In the works were letters to the BP stockholders from both Democrats and Republicans, with also the possible loss of tax incentives, Upton added.
"I feel very good about where we are at. There is nobody here that this didn't impact," he said.
There were more than 70,000 signers to petitions opposed to the company's request to increase the amount of pollution it dumps into the Great Lakes, Upton said.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management with approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had issued a permit to allow the Whiting refinery to release 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more sludge into Lake Michigan.
Ammonia promotes algae blooms that can kill fish and prompt beach closings. The sludge contains toxic metals such as mercury, lead and vanadium.
Congress, with Upton's support, voted 387-26 July 25 in favor of a resolution to urge the EPA to reconsider issuance of the permit.
After a month of withering criticism, British Petroleum announced Thursday it won't dump more pollution into Lake Michigan.
In a statement posted on the oil company's Web site, BP pledged to continue to meet its previous pollution limits once it completes a $3.8 billion expansion of its Whiting, Ind., refinery, three miles southeast of the Illinois-Indiana border.
This decision came after extensive pressure from many Great Lakes region communities, citizens across southwest Michigan, local municipalities and Congress.
Cass County's congressman has been a leader in the fight on Capitol Hill against BP's plan to increase dumping.
"Today's announcement is a tremendous victory for all of us," Upton commented. "I applaud the efforts of every citizen who stood up in support of our treasured lake. As a result of our efforts, BP ultimately came out of their bunker and waved the white flag. I'm relieved that BP finally came clean. Their plan to dump harmful chemicals into Lake Michigan was ill-conceived – and very ill-received.
"BP has expressed a willingness to develop and utilize new, clean technologies to make their expansion possible – a path I advocated from the beginning," Upton said. "The voices of the people were heard loud and clear – and BP rightfully dumped their plan."
BP, which aggressively promotes itself as an environmentally friendly company, obtained a new permit this summer from Indiana regulators that allowed the refinery to significantly increase the amount of ammonia and suspended solids released into Lake Michigan.
Few complained about the permit while it was under consideration earlier this year, something critics said could be attributed to a lack of public outreach.
But following a Sunday Chicago Tribune story July 15, opponents gathered more than 100,000 petition signatures and a bipartisan group of politicians and celebrities urged BP to back off.
On July 19, Upton phoned Gov. Mitch Daniels to express his grave concern over Indiana's state environmental permits offered to BP.
The Chicago Tribune story pointed out that the permit marked the first time in years that a company has been allowed to release more toxic waste into Lake Michigan, a magnet for sport fishing and the source of drinking water for Chicago and scores of other communities.
As recently as Wednesday, the company justified more pollution by noting the expansion would create 2,000 construction jobs and 80 permanent jobs.
Critics didn't let up in arguing that BP's new permit would undercut years of progress cleaning up the Great Lakes.
"Ongoing regional opposition to any increase in discharge permit limits for Lake Michigan creates an unacceptable level of business risk for this $3.8 billion investment," BP America Chairman and President Bob Malone said Thursday in a prepared statement.
"We will not make use of the higher discharge limits in our new permit," Malone said, adding that the company could be forced to cancel the expansion project if it cannot meet the more stringent standards. Upton wrote to Malone Aug. 10.
BP is seeking to upgrade the 118-year-old refinery to process more heavy crude oil from Canada, which is seen as more dependable than sources in the Middle East.
Extracting petroleum products from the thick, sandy goop is a dirtier process than conventional methods.
When BP secured its new water permit, federal and state regulators agreed there wasn't anything the company could do to keep more pollution out of Lake Michigan.
The permit allows BP to put an average of 1,584 pounds of ammonia and 4,925 pounds of suspended solids into the lake every day.
The amount of solids – tiny sludge particles that pass through water treatment filters – is the maximum allowed under federal guidelines.
Based on past performance, company officials said, the refinery likely would release less pollution than allowed.
State Reps. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, and Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, also praised BP's decision.
"Residents of the Great Lakes region have sent a strong message that Michigan is committed to the preservation of the Great Lakes and the public's health and safety," said Proos. "I commend the leadership at British Petroleum its efforts to produce energy for the Midwest while making the protection of our most significant natural resource a top priority."
Earlier this month, Schuitmaker and Proos introduced legislation in opposition to BP's plan to increase its pollution output into Lake Michigan.
"This is a true victory for the millions of people who enjoy our Great Lakes – not to mention the tourism and fisheries industries that rely on them," said Schuitmaker. People can be proud knowing their voices were heard, and this decision will insure a better quality of life for all Great Lakes-area residents for generations to come."