Judge Will Hear Case Against BP Lake Michigan Pollution Permit

CHICAGO, Illinois, August 24, 2007 (ENS) - A judge has agreed to hear a petition by the Alliance for the Great Lakes challenging water pollution discharge permit issued by the state of Indiana that allows fuel giant BP to release more pollution into Lake Michigan from its refinery at Whiting, Indiana, near Chicago.

The judge’s decision to set a hearing for October 30 came earlier this week, days before BP announced Thursday that the company will adhere to its previous pollution limits rather than take advantage of the new, higher allowances afforded by Indiana regulators for a $3.8 billion refinery expansion.

"The petitioner has stated sufficient facts to raise legal issues regarding whether a legal exception applies in this instance," Judge Catherine Gibbs wrote in her order.

This decision means that the Alliance can make its case that an appeal of BP’s permit should be allowed despite the expiration of the pre-established appeal period.

Filed August 15 with Indiana's Office of Environmental Adjudication, the petition questions the state's handling of the discharge permit it granted BP to expand its Whiting, refinery. It seeks both a stay of the permit and a re-opening of the public appeal process.

While he is pleased with BP’s announcement that it will not increase discharges into the lake, Alliance President Cameron Davis said the Alliance will continue its legal challenge to ensure that commitment is locked into place.

"Citizens have a right to ensure that government decisions affecting the Great Lakes use the best policy, technology and efforts," Davis said. "The real story here is that people want a new standard of care for the Great Lakes. They don’t want to see the absence of more harm. They don’t want to see the status quo. They want to see the region’s waterways proactively restored."

BP wants to modernize the Whiting refinery so that it can process more Canadian heavy crude oil. The company has obtained regulatory approval to increase average daily discharge limits for ammonia from 1,030 to 1,584 pounds per day and for total suspended solids from 3,646 to 4,925 pounds per day.

An outcry from Congressional, state and local politicians and the general public arose when the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, IDEM, granted the higher discharge limits in June. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels supports the BP expansion, which will bring billions to his state, and has called the Alliance's position "horsefeathers."

The Alliance's lawsuit claims that IDEM shut the Alliance and other stakeholders out of the formal appeal process by failing to notify them that a final permit had been issued.

The agency now says the 15 day period in which the public could appeal the permit – a period that starts as soon as interested parties receive notice of the permit – has already expired.

BP America President Bob Malone said Thursday the company will seek new technology to allow the increase in capacity while maintaining the lower discharge limits.

"We're not aware of any technology that will get us to those limits but we'll work to develop a project that allows us to do so," he said. "If necessary changes to the project result in a material impact to project viability, we could be forced to cancel it."

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