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[ Tar Sands ] On the Great Lakes

December 2nd, 2010 No comments

via [ Sierra Club ] Toxic Tar Sands: Indiana

Carolyn Marsh, Whiting Indiana

Carolyn Marsh’s house in Whiting, Indiana, just southeast of Chicago, sits within walking distance of both Lake Michigan and the BP Whiting Refinery. One is beautiful and the other, Marsh says, looks like “a death trap zone.” Now BP is pushing to expand the capacity of its refinery to process tar sands crude.

The synthetic heavy crude produced from tar sands is laden with more toxins than conventional oil. If the expansion goes through, people like Marsh, who live in the shadow of these refineries, will face increased exposure to heavy metals, sulfur, and carcinogens like benzene.

After learning of BP’s plans to pump tar sands pollution into the air and her community, Marsh was galvanized to action. She joined a legal challenge to the oil giant’s air permit.

Marsh believes BP’s permit application dramatically underestimates the potential air pollution from their tar sands expansion. The company understated the amount of toxic gases vented from flares, claiming they would only be released occasionally. But flaring will only increase as the refinery handles more of the world’s dirtiest oil.

Flaring is only one part of the refinery’s massive polluting process, and air pollution is not the only threat that Marsh fears from the tar sands expansion.

“We don’t want Lake Michigan to become another oil industry sacrifice zone. Quality of life here in Indiana should not suffer for foreign oil profits.”

The refinery is already one of the largest sources of mercury pollution in Lake Michigan. Mercury is a

Tar sands crude spells disaster for clean water in every step of its life cycle. If tar sands operations continue to expand in America, Lake Michigan will be exposed to the same types of contamination spreading through the once pristine water sources along the Athabasca River in Alberta, where tar sands are mined.

A recent study published by leading Canadian scientists found elevated concentrations of toxic heavy metals including arsenic, lead and mercury around and downstream from tar sands mining operations, suggesting a strong correlation between tar sands mining and toxic discharges to water resources.These poisonous impurities are released in refining as well, and discharges from BP’s tar sands expansion will bring the pollution of the Athabasca directly to Lake Michigan.

Marsh believes the citizen struggle to stop the tar sands expansion is her community’s best line of defense, and she has committed to the fight. She has little faith in state regulators, whom she believes are too complicit with toxic conditions created by BP’s refinery. Marsh knows what’s at stake.

Lake Michigan, which provides drinking water for 10 million people, will be exposed to new levels of contamination from particulate emissions and huge increases in ammonia and other discharges into the water from the refinery’s tar sands expansion.potent neurotoxin that causes severe fetal damage, impaired motor function, and kidney and respiratory damage in humans. “We don’t want Lake Michigan to become another oil industry sacrifice zone. Quality of life here in Indiana should not suffer for foreign oil profits,” she says.

Local Politics: Tilting Power In My Precinct

April 22nd, 2010 1 comment

THE MONEY IS FLOWING AGAIN IN E.C. POLITICS

Yesterday, I produced some campaign literature for our precinct committeewoman.

Hopefully, I’ve been successful in communicating how contentious politics can get here. This year’s off-cycle election is especially interesting. Besides a few important county wide offices, this election will be remembered for the East Chicago committee person races. Everyone is expecting our Mayor, the Honorable George Pabey, to be found guilty sometime this summer, which would mean that the precinct committee people will appoint the next Mayor. So everyone is either getting into a race or trying to stack the races. Pabey is trying to stack the precincts with people loyal to him as is Hammond Mayor John McDermott and Mayoral hopefuls John Aguilera and Anthony Copeland.

<Interesting fact>

The Federal Prosecutors Office has had a central roll in initiating the last three changes in power here in East Chicago. Why such intense interest at the Federal level? Could the largest inland oil refinery and steel mills in the country have anything to do with that?

I wonder if this is how Oil and Steel get to vote in local politics?

– Just Asking

</Interesting fact>

Categories: East Chicago, Local

Info Graphics: Advocacy Ads

April 21st, 2009 No comments

I’m doing an advocacy Ad mockup for an Elected School Board in East Chicago, using my daughter as a model. Besides the blurred picture, the need for young models that reflect East Chicago’s population and a little word smith-ing, I think this could be pretty cool. I can graph any data into the hands of our children, including graduation rates and pollution levels – etc. If necessary, I can also do comparisons with other communities.

 

 

On the issue of Elected School Boards:

It appears to me what we are seeking is a system that locates accountability better and more efficiently. Currently, just seven major cities have full mayoral control of education. There has been a nation wide trend toward more centralized control into the hands of chief elected officials e.g., President, Governors and Mayors. This places a greater interest in these central figures making it more difficult to remove them for poor performance or abuses of power in any single sector of their concentrated power. When you keep multiplying areas of responsibility under a single figure you diffuse accountability in any one area and increase opportunities for patronage. Sure this my make for a more stable system, and mitigate against dead-locked disputes, but it also insulates these figures from accountability and removal from office. 

We can look at the Bush administration as a recent example of concentrating power in a chief executive and the problem of seeking accountability, but lets instead look at a smaller example. East Chicago has had a Strong Mayor system with all of its abuses clearly expressed since the beginning of time. With an unemployment rate well above 20%, 28% of its households, or nearly 40% of the electorate, receive a paycheck from the Mayor. This single fact makes it impossible to remove the Mayor from office using the electoral process – too many workers with their jobs on-the-line will not risk voting against the Mayor no matter how tyrannical his behavior is perceived.

The only other alternative for removal would be for prosecution of abuses. And yet, with a justice system so fully politicized as we have in the U.S., the Federal prosecutors office has become a barter system between up-stream political cultures. At the local level Federal prosecutors seem to have been relegated to identifying discontent and collecting whistle blower information on behalf of public executives. Instead of being an arm of the peoples justice they have become an arm of entrenched power. Instead of investigating improprieties rumors have it that they share this information with these executives and only offer mere verbal slaps on the wrist. Unless you have a reach into the oval office this alternative does not appear very realistic. 

Based on my fatalistic example of East Chicago, it appears to me that locating accountability in a strong chief executive is not the way to go.  

But then their are those who would beg to differ. 

  1. Bloomberg:

“Schools Can’t Be ‘Patronage Mills Or ‘Run For The Benefit Of The People Who Work In Them… And when you have these school boards that are fundamentally controlled by special interests, the truth of the matter is the students come last, if at all.”

<wtf>
The irony in this argument is that it is machine politics that is known for taking advantage of patronage. Such as in East Chicago.
</wtf>
 

  1. Matt Yglesias 

“I think this is part of a larger issue about getting democracy right in the United States. There was an assumption, at one time, that you could make government more democratic and accountable by, in essence, multiplying the number of elected officials.

In retrospect, I think this was based on flawed logic and faulty assumptions that forgot to account for the fact that people have a limited amount of time they’re realistically going to spend monitoring public officials. If you live in New York City you’re voting for the President of the United States, two United States Senators, one member of congress, the Governor, the state Attorney-General, the state Lieutenant Governor, the state Comptroller, a mayor, a District Attorney, a city Comptroller, a Borough President, and a city council member in addition to a variety of state and local judges. And that’s entirely typical for the United States. Add a school board member into the mix and the situation gets even more out of control.

The result of this sort of process is the absence of meaningful accountability rather than its presence. The result is that special interests—the people with strong self-interested motives to pay attention—wind up exerting wildly disproportionate influence.

Needless to say, special interests get a lot of influence one way or another. But when it comes to a President or a Governor or a Mayor it is realistic to expect the broad mass of people to form a meaningful opinion and register it at the polls. When you keep multiplying offices and diffusing responsibility, you play into the hands of folks looking to game the system and make it hard for voters to understand what’s happening. I think part of the answer is that states should probably adopt unicameral legislatures and consider cutting down on the number of independently elected statewide officials. But cutting down on the quantity and influence of hyper-local electeds and putting responsibility in the hands of visible figures like the mayor and city council is crucial.”

Although I would generally agree with Matt about the difficulty for citizens to actually participate in the democratic process in any meaningful and informed way, I think the actual loss of accountability in any single area and the potential for abuses of power far outweigh information overload on the part of the citizen. Granted America lacks a good education system and thus a well informed citizenry, but to propose that America needs structural changes that concentrates more power in a few leaders as the answer is beyond me.

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.

Purge

February 18th, 2006 No comments

Every so often I come back to this and become frustrated with the undeserved arrogance. I am convinced that E.C. would be a year ahead and finalizing its Comprehensive Plan. With the election of George Pabey to Mayor of East Chicago came a new ruling class and the purging of the intellectual class reminiscent of the great purges in Russia. For the past year this new ruling class, taking on responsibilities they lack qualifications, has been desperate to show progress. They have focused their attention on physical evidence in the built environment for expression their moral superiority over the past regime. This has essentially created a environment where all outside the ruling class laid vulnerable to redevelopment. Throughout the year eminent domain could be heard regularly in the conferences of this small group, while project after project was proposed without the engagement of professionals, authorities or the input from stakeholders such as industry or the public. This ruling class scoffed at their views and recommendation. They even attempted to move forward without a vision. Their first expression came with the teardown of the Historic Bank building for a Walgreen’s. later this first year, in an attempt to move the cities ideas for a Port forward I set up a meeting between the Cities Economic team and JRR and SEH, the planning consultants for the Congressmen’s Marquette Plan. I have never seen such complete disrespect in meeting. They just ignored them and huddled around their own plan. Taking the professionals out of the plan. Fortunately for East Chicago they have had many setbacks and have not had much of a chance for a second act.

Categories: Local

Open Letter to the City, dated January 10, 2005

August 21st, 2005 No comments

The following is a memo found in the papers left behind by ex-City Councilmen Frank Kollintzas from a resident of his district.

To: Mayor Pabey
CC: East Chicago City Council Members

Subject: Coordinating efforts

I encourage East Chicago to adopt the Marquette Greenway Proposal as a master framework for the redevelopment in East Chicago and from which all future projects and opportunities address. This is a great regional initiative offering vision and opportunities for East Chicago as it enters into a period of transition. This will require amending East Chicago’s Five Year Consolidated Plan, East Chicago’s zoning practices and the coordination of several primary city departments including: The East Chicago Planning Commission, Building and inspection, Housing and Redevelopment, and most importantly Business Development. This is a historic proposal that is infinitely doable and you are in the right place at the right time to prepare the groundwork.

For more than a century East Chicago has benefited from the steel economy and survived its adverse externalities. East Chicago has survived the technological advances that increase productivity but also translated into employment downsizing. It survived globalization that made this industry more competitive but translated into shipping jobs oversees. And it is surviving pollution, poverty, crime and corruption that translated into damaging the quality of life for all who live here. Since the first signs of decline in the steel industry in the early 1970’s East Chicago developed a diet for bottom feeding on the American economy, attracting the nations most undesirable industries in an effort to keep the community viable. It hasn’t worked. What it has brought about are decades of increased levels of pollution, poverty, crime, continued erosion of land for future development, and again lowering the quality of life for those who live here.

Our future depends on how we manage our way through this transition, including how we remember and forget the past. Before all else we need a coordinated plan and we need to work in concert to ensure that no one governing entity trades against this shared vision – knowingly or unknowingly. This also means that East Chicago involves itself more aggressively in regional initiative such as the Marquette Greenway Proposal, and the Gary/Chicago Airport. I worry that the lack of East Chicago evolvement of in the Gary/Chicago Airport will not only leave East Chicago out of opportunities but also bring the main runway up against Prairie Park. This would destroy any future plans we would have for the neighborhoods in the Harbor. Along with planning we need to be vigilant.

East Chicago has several great assets to build on as we manage our way through this transition. We still have a viable steel economy, although contracting as it may. We have our location on Lake Michigan. We have the reason this region was first exploited by industry – our juxtaposition to Chicago. We have a truly diverse culture. And we have our place in the historic heritage of the Calumet Region. A good start.

Thank you,

Categories: East Chicago, Local

Issue Post 4: Relationship of Property Taxes to the Local Tax Levy

August 21st, 2005 No comments

Place Holder for information relating to property taxes and the local tax levy.

– From Marcia J. Oddi’s “Indiana Law Blog”
– A times article by Ruthann Robinson, Finance study fosters ‘world-class government’
– A link to the Lake County Government Finance Study

PDF of the East Chicago Section of the Lake County Government Finance Study 

Categories: Local

Issue Post 2: Abrade Technologies inc.

August 21st, 2005 No comments

Place Holder for information on the issues surrounding Abrade Technologies inc.

A times article by jim Masters

Categories: Local

Issue Post 1: The CDF and the Dredging of the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal

August 21st, 2005 No comments


I decided to set up categories of issues. This area will house information on the CDF and the dredging of the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal.

Useful Links:
IDEM hazadous Waste Sites

Categories: Local