Chicago Still Fighting For Future Of Lake Michigan..And Cheap Gas

We TreeHugger writers are sometimes advised that society 'can't buy its way out of climate change' solely by shopping for green "stuff" and reshaping individual lifestyles. Similarly, the folks are Grist are fond of saying that the prospect of runaway climate change means we need 'big solutions.' Fair enough from both quarters. We'd like to add third prerequisite for achieving a better environment: bare knuckle politics are a necessity when vested interests 'lay down in front of the progress bus.' For a contemporary example of this point, we turn to a U.S. City with a long standing reputation for high skills in this area: Chicago.

"Chicago city vehicles would no longer use BP-issued gas credit cards until the company backtracks on plans to dump more pollutants into Lake Michigan [pictured] under an order drafted by Ald. Edward Burke (14th)..."

Context: this issue relates to plans for increasing the capacity of the BP owned Whiting Refinery south of Chicago. The proposed upgrade will enable this very old refinery...located on what was once a marsh continuous to Lake Michigan..to handle large quantities of Alberta Tar Sands crude. On the one hand, Lake Michigan water will have to assimilate the waste products of refining increased volumes of Alberta "sour" crude. On the other hand, Chicago is one of the few American cities with a sustainable and clean water supply, plus numerous extensive beaches adjacent to the city center. (Chicago and many of its suburbs obtain their drinking water from Lake Michigan intakes located a scant few miles from the Whiting refinery discharge, which is on the southwestern tip of the Lake.)Cards are on the table. Chicago wants to have cheap plentiful fuel and a bountiful high quality lake front and water supply. BP wants a secure, affordable supply of feedstock and a place to dump its waste after processing according to the letter of the law. (Nothing illegal was proposed by BP.) However, unless BP accepts the need for capitalizing a higher level of waste treatment, which would ultimately make the City of Chicago and it's citizens pay more for fuel, Lake Michigan, and, eventually, everyone in its watershed, will have to pay the price of turning away from Saudi Arabia as the US' major supplier.

The value of Lake Michigan's water may soon exceed that of oil. Would citizens accept the "China-fication" of the Chicago area's water resources? Apparently not.

"Burke, chairman of the Finance Committee, said he would also like to take an extra step and bar three major banks -- who he said share corporate directors with BP -- from city bond deals unless the oil company changes its plans...The order to cut off the gas-card business was approved unanimously during a joint public hearing Thursday of the Committees on Energy, Environmental Protection and Public Utilities, and Parks and Recreation. The measure will go to the full City Council in September." Via::Chicago Tribute

There is an opportunity still for BP to green it's global legacy at this flagship US refinery. Are they up to the challenge?

See also Lloyd's post on "BP"

Image credit:: NASA, Lake Michigan, visible earth.

Image note: there are virtually no available aerial images of the Whiting Refinery to be found on the internet. This is the 4'th largest refinery in the US and one of the oldest. This lack of imagery has to be the result of Homeland Security purge requests.

Tags: BP | Chicago | Illinois

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