Indiana Clings Tight to Rust Belt Ways

The economic benefits of expanding British Petroleum's refinery on the southern shore of Lake Michigan include thousands of jobs - most of them temporary construction work - and more gas.

But the dramatic environmental costs of the increasingly controversial proposal continue to be exposed. And with each breaking story the proposed project falls further and further out of alignment with any reasoned agenda to promote a 21st century development strategy for the greater Great Lakes region.

After breaking the story that the State of Indiana relaxed discharge regulations on ammonia and solid waste for the company's expansion plans in Whiting, the Chicago Tribune now reports state officials also intend to exempt the global oil company from rules to limit mercury protection. (This at a time when fish in a majority of the lakes across the region come with consumption advisories due to decades of heavy mercury pollution).

There's a consensus emerging across the region that clean, healthy waterways are essential to promote a high quality life, attract and retain young workers, and compete in the knowledge economy. So restoration of the Great Lakes, not gradual and ongoing degradation, is the new goal.

That's why activists are circulating petitions against BP's proposal.

That's why Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich called on Indiana to reconsider its decision.

That's why the United States House of Representatives, in a 387-26 vote, called on Indiana to reconsider its position.

And that's also why a broad, bipartisan, and growing coalition of Great Lakes lawmakers are showing up on beaches, the nightly news, and You Tube to push back against the proposal and promote a more sustainable business model.

"British Petroleum has plenty of money to spend to do this right," Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin says in the above You Tube post. "In the last three years this oil company has had profits of $60 billion. They've got enough money to put the wastewater treatment plant in place to make sure that this lake is protected."

Meanwhile, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels finally broke his silence on the matter only to say that his state will stick to its guns. The refinery expansion means jobs and cheap gas, he said, and Indiana will stand by its decision to allow the BP refinery to increase pollution because it complies with state law.

And therein lies the central challenge. BP's expansion plan and the stunning disregard for environmental cleanliness on the part of state and federal regulators certainly are troubling. But the real source of the problem is Indiana's outdated water law and, according to higly respected environmentalist Lee Botts, the public's overall lack of interest in changing it.