House urges review of permit letting BP dump in Lake Michigan

By Dennis Conrad

WASHINGTON – The House voted Wednesday to urge Indiana to reconsider its approval of a permit allowing an expanded BP Amoco refinery to dump more pollutants into Lake Michigan.

The resolution passed 387-26 on a roll call vote.

“This Congress will not simply stand by while our Great Lakes are treated like a dumping zone,” said Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic Conference and the bill’s chief sponsor.

All of Illinois’ 19 House members voted in favor of the measure except Peoria Republican Ray Lahood, who was absent.

Indiana’s nine-member delegation was divided along partisan lines on what was generally a bipartisan vote. Four Democrats backed the resolution _ one, Julia Carson, who was a sponsor, did not vote. The four Republicans opposed it.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has issued a permit allowing BP to increase its daily dumping of ammonia and silt into Lake Michigan as part of the company’s plan to expand its Whiting, Ind., refinery. Officials have said the amount still would fall within federal guidelines.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican and former Bush administration official, defended the permit, saying it was in compliance with state law.

“We’ve got thousands of jobs that would be at risk if it doesn’t move forward,” he said.

Daniels added that the plant’s increased capacity, projected to be 15 percent more by 2011, could help lower gas prices and thus help drivers in both Indiana and Illinois.

“I don’t think it should be held up without a good scientific reason – and none has been provided,” he said.

Great Lakes-area lawmakers had voiced concerns Tuesday about what more ammonia and silt would mean for a major source of drinking water.

Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk, from Chicago’s affluent northwest suburbs, accused fellow Republican Daniels of having made a “big mistake” and said the Indiana Environmental Protection Agency failed in its duty.

Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., argued in Indiana’s defense, saying the state had coordinated with the U.S. EPA to ensure federal clean-water requirements were met.

“We must have clean water and clean air, but if we are going to have a political reaction without the hearings, without the information, we shouldn’t make these kinds of decisions on the floor of the House,” he said.

BP officials told Illinois lawmakers after a Tuesday meeting at the Capitol that they would meet with them again in September after reviewing their expansion plan further for possible ways for dealing with environmental concerns.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said state officials would consider legal action if Indiana doesn’t rescind the permit.