MERRILLVILLE -- A group of Northwest Indiana residents intends to sue BP Whiting for illegal air pollution and seek up to $30 million in fines.
The Hammond-based Calumet Project sent a letter to BP officials Wednesday stating it intended to sue because BP failed to get a proper permit before beginning construction on its expansion to process more Canadian crude oil.
The letter dovetails with a notice of violation that the U.S. Environmental Protection sent to BP in November 2007, which said BP illegally boosted air pollution by making modifications to various units without proper emission controls. EPA said violations date back to 2005.
The residents hope BP will be willing to meet with them, but say filing suit will at least give them a seat at the table during ongoing meetings between EPA and BP to settle the issue. It will also support EPA in enforcing against BP.
"This is a classic case of BP going ahead with their huge tar sands project, illegally, in order to avoid public review and tougher pollution controls," said Bessie Dent, program coordinator for the Calumet Project and a BP refinery neighbor. "BP's disregard for the law is an open act of environmental injustice to their neighboring communities who are already suffering from asthma, cancer and premature death due to excess pollution."
The Calumet Project group has already appealed BP's air permit in court, but the new suit would be in federal court and largely leave the Indiana Department of Environmental Management out.
"This is a serious escalation beyond the permit fight," said Denny Larson, executive director for the Global Community Monitor, which is also part of the suit.
He said the groups reviewed EPA documents and discovered that BP also failed to control 2.2 tons of hydrogen sulfide emissions from a sulfur pit at the refinery between October and November 2006. The substance smells like rotten eggs and can cause eye-, nose- and throat irritation and difficulty breathing for asthmatics.
Global Community Monitor has fought cases against other refineries in the past. One of them was an Exxon refinery in Louisiana, which was required to pay a fine, install more air pollution control equipment and install air monitoring.
The legal notice comes after EPA announced Tuesday that BP emitted benzene without proper pollution controls at its treatment plant for nearly six years.
Larson said if regulators had taken air samples near the facility, officials would have discovered there was a problem.
"If they were doing their jobs, this stuff would have been discovered from the beginning, but they rely a lot on self-reporting," he said. "The company will report a lot of things and that builds this illusion that works pretty well... Industries as big as BP, you do have to rely to a degree on self-reporting, but that doesn't prevent agencies from checking on those self-reports and making sure it's accurate and that regulations are being followed."
The groups are against refining tar sands and hope that if BP is required to spend millions on additional pollution control equipment, the company may decide to switch to another crude stock or develop more renewable energy instead.
Contact Gitte Laasby at 648-2183 or firstname.lastname@example.org.