Archive

Archive for the ‘View Outside My Window’ Category

To The Holiday Potluck:

December 11th, 2009 No comments

View Outside My Window:

May 20th, 2009 1 comment

Is often obscured

View Outside my Window

March 30th, 2009 2 comments

ArcelorMittal drops friendly chats | By Gitte Laasby, Gary Post Trib

For more than 12 years, ArcelorMittal has met regularly with residents and other stakeholders to discuss how the company can improve its environmental performance and address concerns about anything from noise to permits.

But information might be less available as a result of a class-action lawsuit that Crown Point dad Ron Kurth filed March 25 against Lake County’s 11 biggest polluters, including ArcelorMittal. The lawsuit says the pollution causes increased risk of lung cancer, mental disabilities and other illnesses for Lake County students.

Read more

View Outside My Window

March 15th, 2009 1 comment

03-14-09 @ 8:00 am

View Outside My Window

February 28th, 2009 No comments

02.28.09 :: 6 am

02.28.09 :: 6 am

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.

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 ]

View Outside My Window

January 25th, 2009 No comments
10 am

10 am

7 pm

7 pm

7:30 pm

7:30 pm

2 am

2 am

From this view it looks like we are literally cooking ourselves.

A Prologue to Black Holes

Even a “Black Hole” has a location, and to most Americans East Chicago is a black hole. It is not among the many places they visit or are aware of. It is a place of distant images and vague emotions. East Chicago is a gap area in America’s geography. There is nothing new about the presence of gaps in ones awareness. Americans are famous for their limited awareness, but usually we associate those limits with what is happening in the rest of the world, not five minutes for one of its great cities.

I am amazed at how thorough and comfortable Americans are at maintaining and preserving this black hole. Millions transverse the area daily. Commuters who travel between Chicago and the East witness the conditions from high up as they cross the Skyway, and Cline Avenue bridges.

Black Holes are perfect places for making things or people disappear. They also provide cover for stomping out civil unrest and fracturing organize opposition.

So who occupies our black hole.

East Chicago is home to BP (the largest oil refinery in Midwest and second in the nation), Mittal Steel (largest integrated Mill in the country), U.S. Steel, and many other large legacy industries. They own much of the land (>80%) and most of the value in this city.

I cannot help but think that all this smoke represents an intentional failure of civil society to protect its citizens. To who’s benefit? And who benefits from a fractured civil society?

Under the Plumb of Industry:
Included under the plumb of industry are social and environmental costs. In addition to the large industries, East Chicago is also home to some of the poorest census tracts in America. Some of these census blocks have a medium household income less than $11,000. Yet, these same residents pay among the highest property taxes in the country at 8.43%. This is literally the most regressive taxing structure in America. You can’t make this stuff up. And yet, these numbers don’t give an accurate picture of poverty in East Chicago. They are skewed to the high end due to lack of reporting in this population and high city government employment rates. And yes, all this was accomplished under local Democratic leadership.

To make matters worse The Mayor and the East Chicago City Council recently provided BP with a $164 million tax abatement (with out a single public hearing – an illegal act in itself) on the promise of 70 new jobs. These new highly technical jobs will require an advance education that East Chicago residents simply lack. When BP and IDEM held the public hearing last spring on the air permit in Hammond and not East Chicago, BP employees and contractors came out in great numbers. However, less than 3% of them live in East Chicago under the plumb of BP. Too often we identify BP with Whiting, but 2/3 of this new project is presently being planned for East Chicago.

The City of East Chicago is also the single largest employer of East Chicagoans, with 18% of the Workforce employed by the city and city related taxing districts (corporate City, School City, Library, Sanitation, etc.). That translates into ~28% of households receiving a paycheck from the city.

The School District is also the lowest performing district in the State of Indiana, despite having the highest per student investment.

I could go on…

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. This high ranking in pollution is attributed to BP, Mittal and U.S. 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.

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.

If the by-products of industry were included into products and sold on the market, they would be recalled. But since they are freely distributed in communities like East Chicago, the citizens can absorb their benefit. Under such complex plumbs it is almost impossible for a resident to associate a health condition with a source, and yet that is exactly what is being requesting of them to gain standing in the permitting process. A process that needs to be scrapped.

Amazingly, East Chicago no longer has an Environmental Department to guard the health and welfare of its citizens. This too was accomplished under local Democratic leadership. With such glaring impairments you have to ask yourself why there are NO environmental groups doggedly fighting to clean this environment. You would think East Chicago would be a poster child for all kinds of humanitarian and environmental causes. Has this not happened because, I am just wrong in my assessment? That my data conveniently supports a false picture? Or that I do not include any important gains in recent years?

By all measures this area is frozen by 19th century steel-town politics. It is easy for the delicate nature of a post-industrial society to look away from the damage that these industries continue to reek on segments of our society. The NIMBY instinct (not in my back yard) is an attack on the Health and Welfare of our weakest citizen’s.

It may be now be an appropriate time to review the incremental approach environmental groups have adopted in the last two decades and access their achievements. Yes, we can say this approach has delivered some benefits in improving the overall environmental health in our region. yet, it has become overwhelmingly clear that these gains have not met the minimum requirements necessary to sustain a healthy community. East Chicago is a case in point. In fact, it has become apparent, that the incremental approach has failed miserably to meet the requirements necessary to sustain human life on this earth. Granted, the world is large and there reach is limited. Still, we clearly need a new regime, one which maintains the level of trust with industry that the incrementalist have forged, and moves this relationship forward to actually meet the minimum requirements for a healthy sustainable community in East Chicago and elsewhere. There is a lot of work to be done, legislation to be adopted, and 3.4 billion small steps to be made.

Someday, I hope to look out my window and see a green inspiration.