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Journalist Criticizes Bitumen Mining

April 30th, 2009 No comments

The BP project in East Chicago has many ramifications not only for the health of local residents who live under the plumb of BP, but also upstream political cultures who trade on the investment of BP. The political elite are very much aware of the increase risk factors and the data that reveals local residents losing additional personal wealth due to this project. In a era that has become ever more sensitive to increased risk factors due to environmental pollution, the thought of increasing toxic releases will suppress even further the future assessed values of properties in this very poor community, leaving East Chicagoans in even weaker position to compete in the future economy.

In addition to the loss of health and personal wealth the residents of East Chicago, who pay the highest property taxes in the state, are expected to provide $165,000,000 in charity to BP for a tax abatement. The construction phase of the project has already begun, but for some reason East Chicago and whiting businesses and restaurants are not seeing new business from construction workers. It appears BP is staging workers in Lancing Illinois and frequenting their businesses and restaurants.

I am discussed in local environmentalist who speak on behalf of such projects because of job creation. What do they know about economic development. 40% of East Chicago’s Adult population are considered functionally illiterate, with less than 2%  obtaining a collage degree required for one of the ~70 jobs at BP. I think my circle of friends skew this.

Nikiforuk called it comparable to “mountaintop” coal mining in the Appalachian region. Moreover, the industry has made ripples in America’s energy policy, he said. Canada’s tar sands have been touted as a sustainable alternative to oil fields in Saudi Arabia. Canada has become the No. 1 oil source for the U.S., a trend that likely will continue, he said.

“You’re trading bloody oil for dirty oil,” he said. “Which is like shifting your mortgage from Countrywide to Bear Stearns and hoping it’ll solve your problems.”

The expansion of refinery capacity at BP brings with it questions about future air quality and emissions, Nikiforuk said. So far, BP has not adopted the stringent standards in place at refineries in the San Francisco Bay Area in California.

nwi.com: Journalist criticizes bitumen mining.

The Ride to School on Route 41

February 17th, 2009 No comments

Yesterday I took this series of photos, on the ride to my kids school. You may find a blurring in the foreground, as the vehicle was often moving. The trip brings them from East Chicago to Hyde Park daily – through some of the heaviest industries (past Mittal Steel, past SafetyKleen, and through BP). This is the usual scene for anyone traveling north on route 41 (what Lakeshore drive turns into south of Hyde Park) to Chicago from Northwest Indiana. I didn’t include all the tank farms, the combine disposal facility, casinos, the industries in Hammond (Cargil, Lever Bothers), or images of Hyde Park. At some point I actually had to drive. My Children stratal many radically different worlds.

There are two things that strike me about these images.

  1. Everyone is releasing something into the air-shed and contributing to the aggregate air problems.
  2. The vehicles seem to be from a bygone era. They date the images as the past.

E.C. Archives: BP & Taxes

February 15th, 2009 1 comment

Back in 2007 again, and coming at environmental advocacy from a different angle. The negative impacts are not all environmental they were also financial. In a community with the poorest census tracks in the state, yet paying the highest property taxes in the state at 8.45% this give-away to BP (without any job creation for East Chicagoans) is insane.

In fact we know that the project will lower residential property values and cap incremental increases in the future.

Environmental Archives: BP

February 15th, 2009 No comments

Pulling Stuff Forward: 2007 all over again

At some point when an entire regional establishment is behind an apparent train-wreck and you can not find anyone to help you understand the situation or step forward with you, you try to take tentative steps to create a space for dialogue. And then, if you receive a visitor to your office who goes into detail the history of “Political Assassinations” in East Chicago for much smaller things – you ask yourself WTF. So you can see I am not quite over this…

In response, I did these designs during the local Mayoral election. I produced them as postcards, but couldn’t finance any billboards. I am still trying to figure out what is the best way to go about this kind of advocacy here in East Chicago and NWI. With this population visual communication is very important to getting your message across. I intended to draw a direct equation between our politicians and the result of their actions. Many local opposition leaders and environmental types liked the images but recoiled from the directness of the attack. Perhaps the visitor to my office explains why.  I considered doing projections on buildings and street art, but abandoned the ideas do to the amount of commitment they would take. 

Issues:

  • Political Corruption and the Corruption/Contamination of our Environment
  • The tight relationship between certain environmental organization, industries, non-profits, media and government
  • Who are environmentalist to judge issues of economic development and jobs, and why do they do it?
  • Is there a better way to include other measurables, such as environment and culture, in a cost/benefit analysis?
  • Is there a way to marry development opportunities with addressing environmental or cultural impairments?
  • Should this be the end of the incrementalist approach to environmental management?

 

Case Study: The BP Expansion in East Chicago – Lessons Learned

This is an example of the enormity of an issue that East Chicagoans face and are unprepared to deal with. In most part, the region is also unprepared to deal with the enormity of this kind of issue. Of the many tremendous impairments in this industrial region and in East Chicago specifically, the severe degradation of the environment stands as one of it most important issues, and triggers an array of environmental justice issues. For any well intended and brilliant individual, the complexity and depth of any single issue requires an almost lifetime commitment, enduring long periods without success – as in the eight years of the Bush administration. 

Let me state from the get-go that my opinion on the BP project is NOT framed by a desire to Shut them down. I am more interested in evaluating what occurred against a clear need to reverse the environmental tread in this area and use every project to advance an agenda to address the serious impacts a hundred years of Industrial development has had on the immediate area. When evaluating the permitting process for the BP expansion project in East Chicago, I am concerned first and foremost about what happened in the environmental community. In an adversary process I expect Industry to work to maximize its interests, but I do not expect to hear nothing from the environmental community. So what happened?

  • How and why did the environmental community fail to vigorously participate and advocate for the environmental health and welfare of the community?
  • Has years of industry organizing opposition to its own projects completely neutered the environmental community?
  • Are our local environmentalist out-numbered, out-skilled, and out-spent by industry?
  • Are legitimate environmental voices marginalize by the process or lost in the noise?
  • Does the process marginalize some environmental voices or concerns over others? if so which and why?
  • Has the region, which is dependent on heavy and enormously dangerous industries, compromised and severely weaken the environmental community?
  • Does the environmental community need to rebuild its capacity to serve as a legitimate voice on environmental issues? 

Despite the hidden fact that the permit was in clear violation of the Clean Water Act, the debate surrounding the expansion of BP Refinery in East Chicago did not occur in Indiana and it did not occur prior to IDEM and the EPA approving the NPDES (water discharge) permit. The debate occurred in Illinois and elsewhere after the permit was approved. I guess BP just forgot to pay-off members of the political establishment on the other side of the boarder. So Dick Durbin and Rahm Emanuel orchestrated a very public petition drive. And so the politician in Illinois got something. 

So why was there so little opposition to the project in Indiana? Few people were even aware of the application for the permit, let alone concerned about the levels of discharge and the increased negative impact on the environment. On the political side, Mayor Pabey and the Director of Redevelopment both articulated that BP had promised to do a lot for the East Chicago. The only problem was that the promises were not in a any formal document I have seen by anyone. BP had already got the buy-in of prominent environmental groups (Lee Botts, Tom Anderson of Save the Dunes, the Hoosier Environmental Council, and Dunelands Sierra Club) long ago, or at least until Illinois made a fuss over it? Once that occurred Lee Botts went on the radio, and penned several defenses on her actions, and Tom Anderson joined in the petition drive against the permit. 

What is important is where were the Environmentalist before the permit was approved? We know they were at the table and informed on the project by Kay Nelson of the Northwest Indiana Forum. So, if they had any concerns about the permit before it was approved, why didn’t they inform the public?    

So why did the Save the Dunes, the Hoosier Environmental Council, and the Sierra Club remain silent during the permitting process?

  • Lee Botts: considered one of the most important environmentalist in the region, an expert on the Great Lakes and the environmental representative on the State Water Pollution Control Board, never made a public statement about the project.
  • Tom Anderson: Director of Save the Dunes and the environmental representative on the State Air Pollution Control Board, also never took a public position against the project.

What were Lee Botts and Tom Anderson doing prior to the approval?

– Lee Botts says she tried to get the word out to the public. But where and when did she speak or write anything. When their is an issue she wants speak up on she has no problem penning a guest column in the Local papers. 

– Tom Anderson was involved in re-designating the region as an attainment zone for sulfur dioxide just months prior to the announcement of the BP permit. This was an important designation for BP because they were looking to refine a high-sulfur product coming out of the tar-sands in Alberta Canada and needed access to more of the air-shed.

Once the debate began, third party environmental groups (The Great Lakes Alliance – Affiliated with Lee Botts, and National Defense Fund) mobilized to negotiate a terms between BP and some undefined “PUBLIC.”

View Outside My Window II: A Primer on East Chicago

February 7th, 2009 No comments

I realize I have yet to properly introduce people to East Chicago. It would be too easy to write a book but I will try to keep this post to a minimum. To the

East Chicago is an industrial fiefdom. There is no other city in the country that is home to the world’s Largest integrated Steel Mill, the second largest Oil Refinery in the country and lies on the the world’s greatest fresh water resource managed by international treaties. These facts along make addressing the unique issues facing East Chicago that much more difficult. To manage the affairs of East Chicago is to be familiar with the intricacies and needs of advanced industrial processes and concerns, while being intimately versed in the details of environmental law and the ways of the USEPA and IDEM. It is also to know that East Chicago has the greatest negative impact on the world’s greatest fresh water resource – Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes, and being willing and able to participate in national and international efforts, laws and treaties to protect this fragile resource. It is to also deal the massive amounts of contamination already in our land, water, and air left by 100-years of industrial and environmental mismanagement.

To manage the affairs of East Chicago is to finally address the social wrongs wrought on a severely weakened, fractured and distrustful civil society.

NEIGHBORHOODS (click to enlarge)

East Chicago is known as the twin city – East Chicago & the Harbor.

East Chicago has an pattern of heavy industry cutting through, dividing and isolating what remains of 14 residential neighborhoods. 80% of E.C. is zoned “heavy Industrial” with about 50% of this land out of productive use and considered heavily contaminated, e.g. a brownfield. City Administrations, including the present Pabey administration, treat the city as an industrial park with scattered housing. I remember walking into a meeting between City officials and CenterPoint Properties, with the city proposing to executives of CenterPoint to clear-out the Northside neighborhood for an inter-modal park (because of the good rail access). As a testament to CenterPoints’ character, you could tell they thought the city was insane to consider such a proposal. To a certain degree this pattern is a remnant of 19th century steel town thinking, but to characterize it as past thinking is not to knowledge what continues to exist through a series of grandfather clauses, legacy practices of industrial exploitation, and group think today.

Just twenty years ago an entire neighborhood was bulldosed for the construction of a new industry – Pollution Control Industries (PCI). PCI manages hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal. Most people may remember them for planning in the late 1990’s to ship napalm across the country by rail to dispose in East Chicago. After a public outcry from communities which would have seen these trains going through their communities, the plans were scrapped. Today, due in part to this episode, the public is not made aware of what goes through their communities. PCI serves many industries, among them the Chemical (including pharmaceutical, petrochemical, Paint and coatings and Plastics) and Printing markets. Since opening it has been a great noisense to homeowners. This neighborhood sat between two main east/west streets (Columbus Dr. and Chicago Ave.) and adjacent to land that was intended to serve as a Central Park of the Twin City. It is now occupied by Praxair a producer of industrial gases.

Also twenty years ago part of the West Calumet neighborhood, a Federal Housing Project, was built on the site of the old U.S. Lead Foundry property. This occurred well after the creation of the USEPA, and our knowledge of the dangers Lead poses to children. Today the entire Calumet neighborhood is a superfund site.  It goes without saying that the Children in this neighborhood do present with high levels of lead. Besides taking years to characterize the conditions and hosting a public meeting, the USEPA has done NOTHING to clean the area, protect the residents or children who continue to live on site. Since the discovery of high levels of Lead U.S. Lead Foundry has been allowed to escape responsibility through bankruptcy, and the housing commission, who built the homes, has never been held responsible.

You will notice in the above map not only does industry cut-off neighborhoods from each other but it also cuts-access to Lake Michigan. As a lakefront community East Chicago only has a hundred linear feet of public beach snuggled between steel mills and casinos. There is no way to get to the beach from any neighborhood by foot or bike.

The medium home value in many of our neighborhoods adjacent to industry is <$15,000, before the housing crisis (national average before the housing crisis was $217,000, today it is $174,000).
And yet, with the State’s poorest citizens, East Chicagoan’s pay the highest property taxes in the state at 8.43%

INDUSTRIES

East Chicago is where BP operates the largest refinery in the Midwest. Known as the Whiting Refinery, it is the second largest in the county. E.C. is also the location of ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel – the largest integrated Steel-mills in the world. City government recently gave BP a $164 million tax-abatement for a $3.8 billion project without a public hearing. The BP project proposes to locate six new cokers directly across the street from a neighborhood. This project has drawn attention from environmentalist outside the region because of the proposed environmental permits were in clear violation of both the clean water and clean air acts. No regional environmental groups protested and the permits were awarded by IDEM (Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management) and the USEPA.

EMPLOYMENT

E.C. is experiencing >20% unemployment rate due to the present economic downturn. yet during the “good economic times” of the 90’s and early 2000’s African American males experienced ~17% unemployment while Hispanic males experienced ~11% unemployment. This can be attributed to Globalization and Technical advances in the steel industry. Toward the end of the 1970’s East Chicago employed nearly 100,000 people in steel and steel related industries. Today, that number is down below 6,000 employees. Yet production continues to climb. City government is now the largest employer of East Chicagoans with ~18% of the workforce working for the city. That translates into ~28% of households receiving a paycheck from the Mayor.

CORRUPTION

East Chicago has a long history of local government corruption and civil unrest. This is the place where if you have a job you work for the city and they pay you to vote. They also pay you to put up political signs, canvass neighborhoods, show up at rallies and work the polls. And if they can feel your Love they will pay you to TAKE-CARE of political enemies – That’s a lot of money and a lot of Love. What other Mayor of a city with a population of 30,000 has $1 million to spread around during campaign season? Pete Visclosky, the local congressmen doesn’t spend nearly as much in a campaign cycle to stay in office and his district is far more reaching. So Why so much political money here, in East Chicago?

  • Who benefits from local government corruption and a fragmented civil society? Why of course – Industry benefits. Some would argue these are externalities of industry. I used to think that. But now I tend to believe industry has a direct hand in local government corruption and weakening organized opposition.
EDUCATION
  • >41% of East Chicago’s adult population is considered functionally illiterate, with <2% having a college degree (national average is >20%).
ENVIRONMENT
  • Environment impacts due to Industry and a broken regulatory system.

Air Quality:
Based on EPA’s Toxic Release Inventories (TRI), Lake County is ranked as the 7th most polluted county in the country due to atmospheric releases. The source of pollution in Lake county is attributed three industries located in and around East Chicago and on Lake Michigan (BP, Mittal, and US Steel), all of which are concentrated on East Chicago’s lakefront and within a mile outside its borders. This would probably make East Chicago one of the most polluted cities in the country, if not the world. Still, this did not stop the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and the USEPA from recently re-designating the region as an attainment zone for sulfur dioxide, a convenient re-designation in light of BP’s decision to refine sour crude from the Canadian Tar Sands – a high sulfur product. The negative effects of industry are most intensely felt by the residents of East Chicago. They live at the pollution’s source.

Water Quality:
The indiana Harbor Shipping Canal (IHSC) is considered the most polluted waterway in America. It is the only “Area of Concern” on the Great Lakes that fails all measurable “Beneficial Uses.” After 30-years of the Clean Water Act not a single environmental project has been initiated to clean this waterway. The government may have initiated a few projects to stem some releases into the canal, and they may have issued a few fines, but outside of that no real progress has been made, not even the attenuation of time has significantly improved its condition. Today, the City of East Chicago continues to be the greatest violator in Indiana of its NPDES permits, and has not made any efforts to re-engineer its combine sewer overflow system.

  • About BP:
    • 25 years ago BP, then Amoco, moved its training facilities from Whiting to Naperville Illinois (which is a LEED certified campus, e.g. green) due to the lack of “Quality of Life” in NWI. BP is a major contributer to this lack of Quality of Life.
    • BP never held a single public meeting or hearing on this project in East Chicago. Not on the Tax abatement. Not on the permitting. Not on land use. The Residents of East Chicago never had input into the project.
    • About 10 days before the BP project was publicly announced, IDEM and the USEPA re-designated NWI from NON-Attainment to Attainment for Sulfur Dioxide. The Tar sands in Canada are high in sulfur content (a hazardous material).
    • About 7 days before the BP project was publicly announced, BP announces they will be moving their non-essential staff 2-miles away, and out of the “Blast zone.” This is in response to what occurred in Texas City in 2004.
  • 100 most dangerous chemical facilities [ Link ]