Activists demand Indiana cut BP mercury discharges
INDIANAPOLIS — A handful of Indiana and Michigan residents concerned about Lake Michigan’s water quality delivered a petition Thursday to Gov. Mike Pence’s office that urges environmental regulators to require BP PLC to cut its mercury discharges into the lake.
The petition signed by 450 people urges Indiana and federal regulators to “act aggressively to protect our nationally treasured Lake Michigan” by mandating BP to reduce mercury releases at its Whiting refinery.
Before bringing the petition to Pence’s office, the activists stood outside the Statehouse displaying signs; one read “Dear Indiana, Don’t Let BP pollute our great Lake Michigan.”
BP received Indiana’s permission in 2011 to discharge mercury into the lake at levels nearly 20 times the federal Great Lakes standard. Such mercury variances are allowed under Indiana law.
But environmentalists, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, have expressed concern that a wastewater permit awaiting state approval for the newly expanded refinery fails to require the oil giant to implement technologies it developed that could help reduce its mercury discharges.
Blair Stewart of Michiana, Mich., drove to Indianapolis with his wife and two Michigan City residents to deliver the petition. He said Indiana’s variance for BP is effectively allowing the company to delay taking action to cut its discharge levels.
He noted that mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can accumulate in fish. Expectant mothers and children are warned not to eat tainted fish because mercury can damage fetuses’ and youngsters’ developing brains.
Stewart said Indiana needs to be tougher on BP in light of the new mercury-removal technologies the company co-developed with Purdue University Calumet and Argonne National Laboratory.
“An indefinite waiver just simply does not give anyone any incentive to clean up their act,” he said. “Lake Michigan is the lake that we — people all around the lake — get our water from and it’s an incredible national resource.”
Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said the governor’s office had received the petition but hadn’t yet looked at it. She said the office would review the petition and its concerns.
BP spokesman Scott Dean said Thursday that the company is still working to refine the new mercury-removal technologies.
“While these technologies appear promising, we need to conduct more testing to learn how they will work year-round under a variety of weather and operating conditions alongside the new, improved water treatment equipment that is part of our many upgrades to the refinery,” Dean said.
He said at least 2,000 pounds of the heavy metal enter Lake Michigan every year from various sources and that the Whiting refinery contributes less than one-third of a pound of that amount.
Dean said BP is “actively seeking ways to make our extremely small mercury discharge even smaller.”
The Whiting refinery is nearing completion of a $3.8 billion expansion that will make it a top processor of heavy crude oil extracted from Canada’s tar sand deposits.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is still reviewing public comments on BP’s wastewater permit for the expanded refinery and is considering changes to the document.
“We’re taking the concerns we’ve heard very seriously,” Bruno Pigott, IDEM’s assistant commissioner of water quality, said Thursday.
Pigott said in June that the state agency planned to revise the permit to include a provision that BP implement mercury-removal technologies that have been shown to work at the refinery and to set a time frame for installing them.