How To Encourage Change: A Look into Changing Corporate Perspective
Living in Northwest Indiana, there are many ecological problems that have forced us citizens to become more aware of our environment. These problems can be either how wildlife is affected by the hand of man, or by how man is affected by the hand of man. In this paper, I am going to focus on the latter. In this region, there have been many instances of pollution that have worried us: for instance, we all are aware of the amount of air pollution coming out of the smoke stacks at the steel mills along the southern coast of Lake Michigan. But, unfortunately, there is an area that not many people usually think of first when they think of pollution, and that is the pollution damage we are letting happen to the Great Lakes, mostly in this case Lake Michigan, at the hands of industrial companies.
In this paper, I focus on British Petroleum or BP as they are better known, and how they have been a major polluter of Lake Michigan within recent decades, and most notably within the last few years. Over the past couple years, I have seen many articles in regards to the issue within my local paper. These articles went from just informing about the situation, as well as portraying how ordinary citizens in the area have also been standing up to BP in order to stop the pollution.
This paper reports information about the subject, and then evaluates what this all means. Then I discuss what we as a community, which is directly affected by this pollution, could do in order to stop the mass polluting of one of our most valued resources: Lake Michigan. I discuss how other areas have been dealing with similar issues, as well as thoroughly discuss the problem at hand. Then I discuss what we as a society could do to help combat this particular issue, as well as any technological fixes that may help suppress the amount of pollution being dumped in to our most valuable resource, our water supply. It is my hope that paper will provide a very good understanding of the topic, and will also persuade people to stand up to companies that put massive amounts of substances into our lakes and rivers.
Water is the most significant substance needed for life to succeed on our planet. There is water in virtually everything we consume, use, and need in order to survive. Without water, life on this planet would cease to exist. This is why we need to stop destroying our water sources with excessive amounts of pollution. We would like to think that pollution has actually been kept in check in the past couple decades, which in some areas may be true, but along the southern tip of Lake Michigan, this is definitely not the case.
The damage that pollution can cause to these ecosystems can also have an extremely negative effect on humans as well. With the harmful effects of pollution, many fish species are dying and becoming endangered, and in some cases becoming extinct. This is very detrimental to our existence, because we use these fish for food as well. With fewer and fewer fish in our lakes, the less food we can have in order to sustain our own existence. One may not realize it, but a lot of species live within these water ecosystems.
According to the book entitled, Blue Gold, “Twelve percent of all animal species, including forty-one percent of all recognized fish species, live in less than one percent of the earth’s surface that is fresh water. Yet over the last several decades, at least thirty-five percent of all fresh water species have become extinct, threatened, or endangered…Fresh water animals in North America are five times more likely to be at risk of extinction than animals that live predominantly on land” (Barlow and Clarke, 2002).
Accordingly if we continue to damage these fresh water areas, we are going to eventually destroy many different species of animals, and these ecosystems are going to become endangered or even extinct very quickly.
Companies along the southern coast of Lake Michigan have been given a break on their pollution levels, and have been allowed to dump more harmful pollutants in the lake. Two of the largest polluters in the region are the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana, which will be the central focus of this paper, and also US Steel located in Gary, Indiana. One reason that these companies have been able to pollute more and more is because in 2007, the state of Indiana relaxed their laws on pollution regulation, and allowed these companies to pollute beyond their previous levels. The state even allowed US Steel to continue operating under an expired permit since 1994, which is a violation of the federal regulatory Clean Air Act (Chicago-Tribune, Oct. 12, 2007).
In the summer of 2007, British Petroleum’s refinery plant in Whiting, Indiana, was planning to expand and upgrade its refinery so that way they would be able to handle the more crude oil coming down from Canada .The entire project would cost approximately $3.8 billion. This would in part create approximately 80 new jobs that could help the region. The downside to this is that BP, which is already the largest polluter of Lake Michigan, could be allowed to dump fifty-four percent more ammonia, and thirty-five percent more sludge into the lake. The ammonia released would promote algae blooms which could kill fish, and the sludge is composed of many different types of heavy metals, which does not take a rocket scientist to understand that it could be extremely harmful to the ecosystems that rely on these water sources. The company is now allowed to dump the maximum amount of ammonia and sludge into the lake as allowed by federal regulations (Chicago-Tribune, July 15, 2007).
In November 2007, BP decided to adhere by the regulations of their previous water permit that was stricter, due to heavy pressure from locals to curb their pollution into Lake Michigan. They were doing this despite trying to upgrade their facilities so they could refine the Canadian crude oil. The locals were trying to get BP to adhere to more strict pollution controls. BP has heard the locals, and has tried to make concessions so that they would be able to still get funding for their $3.8 billion upgrade. But, they are still allowed to pollute the maximum under federal guidelines and would not be fined if they fell within these limits. “Environmental groups also want BP to make its promise legally binding by changing the permit, a step the company steadfastly refuses to take because it would require a new set of public hearings and comments.” The public does not want more pollution in Lake Michigan (Chicago-Tribune, Nov. 19, 2007).
Apparently, it was not only the public that was getting in on BP. The locals in Indiana got on BP’s want to increase pollution into the lake, as well as politicians from Illinois, and even the Congress of the United States got involved as well. According to Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who was a co-sponsor of the proclaimed resolution from Congress stated, “This Congress will not simply stand by while our Great Lakes are treated like a dumping zone.” Illinois politicians were the first to pounce on BP, after the state of Indiana granted BP their new water permit, to increase their pollution into Lake Michigan (Journal Sentinel, 2007).
Upon doing research for this paper, I had tried to focus some aspects on how other parts of the world have been dealing with the same types of issues, and what they have done in order to combat and fix the issue. One of the main reasons why we have such a problem with pollution in the United States is because we are not very strict on enforcing our laws regarding pollution. We allow companies such as BP to buy up unused pollution credits from other countries so that they can pollute more than we should allow them too.
China, for example, has been enforcing extremely strict pollution laws on their companies. Water pollution is one of China’s most important concerns, and is at the top in terms of environmental concern. These laws have already produced an impact in a very short period of time. China is making sure that these companies are held liable for the damage that they have been causing. For example, companies in China are required to pay thirty percent of all direct losses from pollution that they cause, and twenty percent for those that the government determines to be of medium consequences. The companies that have caused the biggest harm to the environment because of their pollution are being fined up to half of their income for the previous year (BBC, 2008).
Since China has passed these extreme regulations, they have seen a decrease in pollution levels. In a release in June of 2008, it was shown that China has had a decrease in three of their largest pollutants. In the release, it states that, “emissions of sulfur dioxide, mainly from coal-fired power plants and the primary cause of acid rain, declined 4.66 percent last year, and emissions of organic pollutants into waterways, as measured by tests of chemical oxygen demand, declined by 3.14 percent last year. Industries reduced their discharges of solid waste into the air and water by 8.1 percent.” Which is all great news, but, the article also states that pollution along the coastlines had actually risen, “25.4 percent last year, from 24.3 percent a year earlier” (NY Times, June 2008).
China is not the only area that has gotten strict when it comes to the issue of water pollution. The European Union, for example, has also gotten into the act. All countries within the European Union are required by law to have approximately ninety-five percent of their rivers in good condition by 2015. This is obviously put in place in order to help clean up the pollution that has already taken place within these countries. But not all the countries in Europe are living to these standards. Britain, for example, is expected to have more than three quarters of their rivers fail the European Union’s new standards and regulations. According to an online article, among the 6,114 rivers in Britain, only about five of them are in pristine condition. Under the European Union’s regulations, Britain could be wide open to unlimited fines by the European Union, unless Britain gets their rivers up to the new regulated standards. As of the date of the article, it states that the government of Britain has failed to meet any of the European Union’s standards (The Guardian, Sept. 22, 2009).
British Petroleum has been under fire by the locals in Northwest Indiana and Chicago, because BP has been allowed to pollute at an even faster rate than they have in the past. BP claims that this excessive pollution into the lake is needed in order to undergo their $3.8 billion upgrade that they need in order to refine crude oil that is being brought down from Canada. Locals have been in protest of the state of Indiana granting BP the ability to dump more waste into Lake Michigan.
Since this story was first printed in the local papers and the Chicago-Tribune, BP has actually started to back off this excessive pollution due to strong local opposition. According to the Journal Sentinel, “company officials say that public criticism has been so overwhelming that they will not take advantage of a permit that would allow them to increase the amount of ammonia and suspended solids dumped daily into the lake” (Journal Sentinel, 2007).
Within the same article, it is also stated that due to the overwhelming criticism of BP’s pollution efforts, the US House of Representatives passed a “toothless resolution that called for an end to dumping in the Great Lakes. It was good political theater, but the reality is that the outrage never matched the threat; the amount of pollution BP planned to add to the lake wasn’t even a dribble compared with the toxic insults the lake has suffered historically and continues to suffer today.” Illinois House representative Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who I mentioned earlier in this paper stated, “Philosophically, this is a great discussion, but if people are going to get really excited about protecting the lakes, then let’s look at the whole array of issues facing them. Let’s say BP pulls out-for everybody to declare victory would be a real tragedy, because there are a lot of issues going on in the Great Lakes that need to be dealt with that go beyond this BP permit (in reference to Indiana allowing BP to pollute more than they are allowed to under their old permit)” (Journal Sentinel, 2007).
There are many people who claim that BP could still upgrade their facilities to handle the crude oil from Canada, and still keep from putting as much pollution into Lake Michigan. Tetra Tech Inc. for instance, stated in a report that there are many refineries throughout the United States that are already using technologies that dramatically reduce ammonia and suspended solid particles from escaping through water treatment filters. A ConocoPhillips refinery in Borger, Texas for example, upgraded their wastewater tanks with equipment that promotes the growth of ammonia-stripping bacteria. Another refinery in Los Angeles uses a form of reverse osmosis, which they force wastewater through a membrane that limits the amounts of solids and other pollutants. Tetra Tech estimates that BP could make these similar upgrades at the Whiting refinery for less than forty million dollars, although BP officials have remained skeptical. BP has hired their own consultants from the Argonne National Laboratory and even Purdue University (Chicago-Tribune, Nov. 19, 2007).
Although, BP has also looked into upgrading their facilities with more efficient pollution controls, but according to a Chicago-Tribune article from July 2007, “state and federal regulators, though, agreed last month with the London-based company that there is not enough room at the 1,400-acre site to upgrade the refinery’s water treatment plant” (Chicago-Tribune, July 15, 2007).
In a September 2007 article from the Northwest Indiana Times newspaper, it is also stated that BP could control their water pollution by adding a forty million dollar upgrade to their facilities. It also states the same information about the Argonne National Laboratory and Purdue University acting as consultants to BP in order to find new, affordable, and efficient technologies that can cut down on their water pollution levels. According to Howard Learner, the executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, BP’s options should allow it to move ahead with the expansion. He also stated that, “the projected $30 million to $40 million cost of the wastewater upgrade would represent less than 1.5 percent of the refinery expansion and the highly profitable company could easily afford the upgrades” (nwi.com, Sept. 4, 2007).
We can easily see that there is a very big difference between what is being done locally to combat this issue versus what other parts of the world have done in order to combat the very same problems. As I mentioned above, other places in the world seem to have grown stricter in their laws and regulations regarding companies that pollute.
Again, China has become so strict to the point that they will massively fine any company that is deemed responsible for causing any damage due to their neglectful actions; these companies in China could be fined upwards to half of their previous year’s income for their actions. I find this to be absolutely astonishing that a government would fine their companies this much money.
And in the European Union, countries can be fined an unlimited amount if they do not get ninety-five percent of their rivers in good condition by 2015. And it seems that Britain is doing a very poor job at cleaning up their rivers and may in the future get fined by the European Union. So, as it seems, other countries seem to focus more on punishing those who do not wish to be responsible for their environmental actions. .
Here in the United States, most notably in the Great Lakes region, we are constantly talking about technological fixes, and allowing these companies to go unpunished for neglectful environmental actions. At least this is mostly the case as it appears when we look at our politicians’ actions regarding pollution. The public does try to stand up and hold these companies responsible, but in reality it seems like we more and more just point fingers and place blame at others instead of trying to work the problem.
Overall, in regards to the issue of BP’s continuing dumping of ammonia and sludge into Lake Michigan, there have been some strides in the right direction in order to limit the amount of pollution being dumped into the lake. Mostly I feel that the way that the public stood up and expressed their opinions about the matter was a great step into the right direction in terms of getting the public behind any type of policies to combat pollution. This is a better method then what we usually see on any newscast or opinion page, where all we see is people pointing fingers at each other exchanging blame, and nothing is ever done to help the situation. By, making a public stand and getting people together, we are causing our politicians to listen to our opinions instead of telling us what we need to know.
I feel that some of the ways that these other countries have been going about combating their pollution issues are, in a way, a extreme. I feel that the massive amounts that China is fining these corporations for their pollution is in a way slightly extreme. But then again, in a way they are not extreme. This reason I feel a little torn on the issue, is because these fines are very useful in coercing companies to clean up their act. On the other side, these massive fines are also detrimental because this is money being taken away from the companies that they could use to advance their technologies in order to minimize pollution.
As far as the European Union’s methods for trying to combat these issues, I feel that they have taken a small step towards a big goal. What I mean by this, is that, by just trying to get the rivers clean, they are trying to make a huge impact on making their environment a better place.
I propose that we need to get together as a society and figure out a way to limit pollution without causing our companies to result in massive layoffs. We need to get our politicians to enforce our pollution regulations more strictly so that incidents such as BP being allowed to dump more pollution in the lake than they were previously allowed under their old water permit. We can make stricter laws for those companies that pollute with no regard for environmental safety. But in contrast, we currently give companies that try to take care of the environment tax breaks, so we can give companies that do make a serious attempt to be more “green” more tax breaks than are already available for those cleaner companies in order to encourage other companies to do the same. This would ultimately encourage all companies to want to take advantage of these programs, and clean up their excess pollution.
We can also try to explore more technological advances such as those that I briefly mentioned in regards to newer filtration methods in order to make the waste water that these companies do dump into the lakes safer and cleaner. We can also use the osmosis method that is being used in Los Angeles, which encourages the growth of ammonia-diminishing bacteria before dumping the waste into the lake. Both of these methods seem to be very simple upgrade that would not cost much in the long run.
Another thing that we can do, which I believe to be the hardest of all to accomplish, would be to just have people stop using oil as much. We can get them to drive less, buy products with less oil-based materials in them, such as plastic. We can try to use other methods for fuel, such as ethanol, or electricity. And we could also find other methods of producing energy, such as using more wind, solar, nuclear, or natural gas. Anyone of these would help knock down the amount of pollution, just by the fact that we would not need as much oil, which would lead to companies like BP not producing as much, which in turn would lead to less waste water.
In conclusion, the issue of BP polluting Lake Michigan at an exasperating rate is a very important issue to the public of Northwestern Indiana. We have seen the public criticize BP for their actions of claiming to need to create excess pollution in order to refine the oil being brought down from Canada. As we can all figure out for ourselves; water pollution is very detrimental to the ecosystems that depend on this freshwater supply in order to survive. If we want to stop corporations such as BP from polluting our water supply, then we need to stand up and let them know that we will not let them do it without a fight.
I have also discussed how some groups think that BP could decrease their pollution levels significantly, and still be able to upgrade their systems so that they could handle the crude oil from Canada. As I stated, it would only cost approximately another $30-$40 million more than their proposed $3.8 billion upgrade plans. We need to persuade these corporations to understand that it may not cost much more to make our environment a healthier one.
We can do this by voting for legislators that will get tough on these corporations and punish them for their neglectful attitudes towards the environment. As I mentioned earlier, other countries such as China, have gotten very strict when it comes to punishing corporations for their massive amounts of pollution. We could take some of their methods, and make it our own in order to get pollution levels under control.
If we can band together and do any of these things, we can begin to make our environment a better place for the future generations within Northwest Indiana. We could also make it so that we can continue to enjoy our way of life for many years to come. If we do not find a way to better things, we may not have enough time to reverse things once they get worse.
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