Smoke rises from the Whiting refinery now owned by BP. Federal regulators are questioning BP's permit process.
Evidence that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management did a slipshod job in approving a construction permit for the BP refinery is mounting. Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is amending its citation against the Whiting oil refinery for clean air violations.
The EPA is adding a complaint to a November 2007 violation notice to the refinery. The new allegation: BP violated the Clean Air Act by failing to get a permit when it modified the plant in 2005. According to the EPA, the agency "now has information suggesting that BP may have begun a project to process Canadian crude oil at the refinery in 2005 without the proper permit."
IDEM approved the construction permit on May 1. BP sought it to expand the oil refinery along Lake Michigan so it could process Canadian crude oil. The Canadian crude is heavier, and the refinery needs to refine it into lighter products, such as gasoline.
But refining heavier crude oil involves significant increases in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter emissions. The emissions are harmful to the environment and to people, especially those with respiratory illnesses, such as asthma.
State regulators in Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration welcomed the $3.8 billion refinery expansion and asked too few questions in granting the permit. Many residents and environmental advocates are questioning the permit process and believe the state made a huge mistake in granting it in the first place.
The additional charges from the EPA add to an already questionable decision from IDEM.
BP has 30 days to request a conference with the EPA to begin resolving the concerns. It is possible BP will be able to resolve the complaint either by providing additional information that convinces regulators that no violations occurred or by reaching an agreement with the EPA for additional pollution controls as part of the expansion.
At least Indiana residents can take some comfort in knowing that federal regulators are monitoring the situation and working with BP to ensure the expansion doesn't irreparably harm air quality in Indiana. But it appears that Indiana regulators don't want to bother to make that same needed effort.
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