Feds Organize BP Coddling Session

Mary Gade, the Great Lakes regional administrator of the United States' Environmental Protection Agency, personally convened a special summit today in Chicago to present the suits at British Petroleum with a series of recommendations on how they can "minimize" the irresponsible environmental consequences of expanding their oil refinery on the shores of Lake Michigan in Whiting, IN.

In a press release issued by her office, Ms. Gade said she felt compelled to hold the meeting "to get beyond the headlines and emotion" sparked by BP's controversial proposal.

Apparently the thought of private corporations obtaining government permission to dump millions of pounds of pollution and waste annually into Lake Michigan makes people, well, angry.

That emotion, in turn, generates headlines. The Detroit Free Press became the latest big city newspaper to editorialize on the issue: "[BP's] permit paperwork acknowledges the plant's mercury discharges 'show a reasonable potential to exceed water quality standards,' a slackness that shouldn't be tolerated when the health of Lake Michigan is at stake," the paper writes.

And that kind of publicity motivates action. After intially hoping the controversy would blow over, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has ordered a full review of his state's environmental permit process.

Now the feds are sponsoring high level sit downs "to begin a more practical discussion" about protecting Lake Michigan, according to Ms. Gade.

It's not entirely clear to this taxpayer why a government facing spectacular programatic shortfalls and funding deficits is spending scarce resources to hold the hand of a fabulously rich private company in an effort to help them "go beyond compliance," as Ms. Gade puts it.

Nonetheless, here are the stunningly obvious pollution reduction strategies government regulators brought to the attention of BP in today's powwow, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

  1. Finance projects that reduce pollution from other companies that discharge into the Grand Calumet River or Lake Michigan.
  2. Divert all or some of the refinery's wastewater to nearly municipal treatment plants.
  3. Pay for sewer upgrades in neighboring towns to keep sewage and storm water out of Lake Michigan.
  4. Set aside money to filter pollution that seeps into the lake. Projects could include wetlands, shoreline restoration or storm-water retention ponds.
  5. Make additional upgrades at the refinery's water treatment plant to reduce the amount of pollution flowing into Lake Michigan.
  6. Spend more money to dredge contaminated muck from the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal.
  7. Join Indiana to pay for other projects that remove contaminated sediment in the Grand Calumet River.
Finding innovative ways to ensure BP bears the true cost of their operation - specifically the expensive pollution - makes sense. But let's not lose sight of the most cost effective strategy that government leaders apparently are not willing to support: prohibit industrial water pollution in the Great Lakes in the first place.