"Daniels makes Indiana a pariah

I spent the weekend on the beach at Lake Michigan. Friends from both coasts — and Central Indiana, for that matter — who visit this place for the first time say you have to see Lake Michigan to believe it. Even then, you have to look at a map to understand the scale of this vast, fresh water sea. It is surrounded by four states, one of which, Indiana, has decided to use it as a toilet.

That’s because Gov. Mitch Daniels and Thomas Easterly, the so-called “head” of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, have given the British Petroleum refinery in Whiting their blessing to increase the amount of toxic waste — mercury, benzene, ammonia, toluene and suspended solids containing lead, nickel and vanadium — that BP flushes into the lake.

For the better part of 30 years, the states around Lake Michigan have been working within the context of the Clean Water Act to gradually clean things up. There has been general agreement that when it comes to such a valuable natural resource, the idea should be to pollute less, not more. Lake Michigan is not only a magnificent recreation destination, it is the primary source of drinking water for millions of people.

But making nice with BP means more to Daniels than fouling the nest for people in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. He and Easterly claim that BP’s wastewater poses no threat to people or marine life and that the increases in dumping will still fall within limits regulated by the Clean Water Act. But, according to an exclusive report published in the Chicago Tribune, if BP were to meet the federal standard already set for the Great Lakes, “It would take the refinery 25 years to put the same amount of toxic metal into Lake Michigan that it does now in one year.”

What’s more, IDEM documents filed with the permit allowing BP to increase its pollution admit that levels of mercury and lead detected in the refinery’s waste water “show a reasonable potential” to violate water quality standards.

At least two things need to be kept in mind. The first is Daniels and Easterly talking about the Clean Water Act is like Nero talking about the cooling effect of violin music. Daniels and Easterly both know their special friends, George Bush Jr. and Dick Cheney, have gutted the Clean Water Act like it was a Coho Salmon, cutting enforcement, dropping fines for environmental violations and avoiding prosecutions whenever possible.

Add to this the fact that for all its citrusy PR about being green and caring for the environment, BP has been responsible for at least two of the most egregious acts of corporate irresponsibility perpetrated in recent memory: the Texas City refinery explosion in March 2005 that killed 15 people and, a year later, the Prudhoe Bay oil field spill in Alaska that dumped up to 267,000 gallons of crude oil, a spill exceeded in Alaska only by the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.

BP says that dumping more poison into Lake Michigan will enable it to expand its refining capacity to 620 million gallons of gasoline a year, which is less than twice what Americans use in a single day. Although BP’s profits are down this year, the oil giant posted profits of 26 and 25 percent the past two years. You’d think they could use some of that money to find a better way to dispose of their waste.

Daniels wants to save them that trouble. Exhibiting the penchant for playground overstatement we’ve come to expect from members of the Bush inner circle, he has called this permit “one of the biggest steps forward for the Midwest, really the whole nation.” He touts the 80 jobs he says this expansion will bring.

Meanwhile, Indiana finds itself the butt of the kind of derision once reserved for characters portrayed in comic strips like ’Lil Abner and Snuffy Smith. Tens of thousands of people around the lake are signing protest petitions. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 387 to 26 to urge Daniels and Easterly to reconsider the permit. “This company and this state are undoing years of work to keep pollution out of our Great Lakes,” said one of the bipartisan resolution’s sponsors, Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, adding, “Fifteen years ago, they may have been able to pull this off … Nothing surprises me at this point about what Indiana is allowing them to do.”

If there’s a ray of hope here, it’s that Daniels has been saved from himself before. He wanted to build a cheesy hotel in Dunes State Park and people stopped it. He wanted to drill in a wildlife refuge and people stopped that, too. If you think letting BP use Lake Michigan for a toilet is a bad idea, let the governor know. Call him today and leave a message at 317-232-4567 or e-mail him by going to www.in.gov.



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