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Protesters rally in Marktown against BP

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Updated: June 23, 2014 11:05AM



EAST CHICAGO — Michelle BarlondSmith of Battle Creek, Mich., has been living with the aftereffects of the Enbridge oil spill for three years, nine months and 24 days, and her community is still not whole.

Smith, who attended Northwest Indiana’s first-ever rally against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in Marktown Park on Saturday afternoon, told the crowd of more than 175 people who attended that she has lost friends to cancer and friends who have lost everything because of crushing medical bills. What none of them have yet, she said, are answers from the company responsible for the 1 million-gallon spill that traveled 40 miles down the Kalamazoo River.

“These (oil) companies don’t care who they trample on,” she said. “We have to start standing up, because this stuff will kill anyone.”

Organized by 350.org, Citizens Climate Lobby, the Sierra Club’s Chicago and Indiana chapters, Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands, National Nurses United, Southeast Environmental Task Force, Tar Sands Free Midwest and the Calumet Project, among others, protesters gathered in the shadow of the $3.8 billion BP tar sands facility. It’s the second-largest tar sands processing plant in the country, and the London-based oil company’s largest.

Damage from a spill, such as the one two months ago from the Whiting refinery into Lake Michigan, can’t be cleaned up, said Debra Michaud, founder of Tars Sands Free Midwest. That spill could have affected the drinking water of 7 million people, she said. And that hardly compares with the amount of toxic pollution the company is allowed to release, Michaud said.

“(BP) is allowed to dump seven times the federal limit of mercury a day into Lake Michigan. It’s a toxic spill into the lake every single day,” Michaud said. “And the agencies who’re supposed to be protecting us are the ones who are allowing it.”

Michaud said BP won’t admit that tar sands were dumped into the lake, even though the new plant is processing 80 percent to 90 percent tar sands. Nor will it talk about why the new facility was evacuated twice in April.

“BP has to answer the following questions: What chemicals were dumped (in the March accident)? What type of oil it was — conventional or tar sands? What has the company checked for in the water and what have they found?

“This lake belongs to the people and all the life it sustains, not a few executives looking to make a bonus.”

The Rev. Charles Strietlmeier, pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church in Hobart, said he’s recently had his eyes opened about tar sands. He had heard about a movie where birds skimmed water that had been tainted by tar sands. The birds died on contact.

“Look how dangerous (tar sands) can be as they’re shipped; there are railcars going up like bombs,” he said, referring the Lynchburg, Va., train explosion. “I know we’re still in transition with energy and we need to find oil, but we need to find other sources of safer, renewable energy.”

And BP needs to find another community to eliminate, because Marktown residents, who saw some of their neighbors’ houses fall to the wrecking ball earlier this week after the company purchased the properties, now have the support of other groups in keeping the company from wrecking it all.

“I know they’re saying they won’t pressure anyone, but every time a house falls, it is pressure,” precinct committeewoman and Marktown activist Kim Rodriguez said. “They’re one step closer to Marktown.”



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