News: ELPC Leads Letter Calling for Petcoke Standards

The following is re-posted from Midwest Energy News.

Advocates Blast Illinois EPA For Passing On Petcoke Oversight

by Kari Lydersen

Petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” is still a problem in Chicago despite city regulations, and it could quickly become a problem in other parts of the state if there are no limits or rules on storage of the toxic powdery byproduct of oil refining.

That’s the message of groups that sent a letter to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) on June 11, decrying the agency’s decision not to pursue making such statewide rules.

In January 2014, the IEPA had asked the Illinois Pollution Control Board for permission to make emergency rules regarding the storage of petcoke and other bulk materials in the state.

The move was sparked by controversy over petcoke storage on Chicago’s Southeast Side, including by the Koch Industries subsidiary KCBX Terminals. In asking for rules the IEPA cited fugitive particulate matter air emissions and run-off from petcoke storage piles into water.

At the time the Illinois Pollution Control Board denied the IEPA the authority to make an emergency rule, but said “the rules governing bulk terminal operations for petcoke and coal could be improved,” and urged the IEPA to go ahead with a standard rule-making procedure.

A docket was opened and over the following months the IEPA told the pollution control board it was conducting outreach and meetings with stakeholders. But, as the pollution control board indicated in its April 16 final opinion, the IEPA repeatedly asked for stays of the proceedings and appeared to be making little progress. In January the board warned the IEPA that the docket could be closed if a rule wasn’t proposed within 90 days.

In April, the IEPA informed the board that it would not pursue new rules on bulk storage, stating simply that: “The Agency has updated the new administration regarding this matter. Further, the Agency has considered the effect of the City of Chicago’s recent promulgation of an ordinance addressing petcoke-related operations in the City, as well as pending litigation related to petcoke activity in the City.”

The groups called the IEPA’s decision “unreasonable and contrary to the public interest.” The letter indicated that Chicago’s regulations do not do enough to curb petcoke pollution, and that Chicago regulations do nothing to protect residents outside the city. The letter also said they do not consider the new administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner to be “an excuse” not to move forward with the rules.

“This is a health problem, regardless of who’s sitting in Springfield,” said Rachel Granneman, associate attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the lead signers of the letter. “IEPA has the responsibility to communities to protect them from this health threat. We don’t think that’s changed in any way.”

The IEPA did not respond to a request for comment.

Calling for prevention
While petcoke so far has not been an issue in Illinois outside Chicago, environmental and health advocates note that extensive petcoke storage could easily happen in other parts of the state. That’s especially likely given the city regulations prohibiting new petcoke storage and placing limits on existing facilities.

“It’s just unconscionable to think Illinois EPA had enough concern to call for emergency rules last year but now is essentially saying the city took care of the problem for the entire state?” said Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, which signed the letter. “That just doesn’t make any sense at all. I just don’t understand why the Illinois EPA now thinks that the rest of the state doesn’t deserve the same protections people in Chicago are getting.”

Chicago-area industrial waterways, including the Calumet River, which is the artery for the KCBX facility, also run outside Chicago city limits. There are also locations along rail lines or rivers including the Mississippi River that could be convenient for storing petcoke.

Advocates say state rules are imperative to pre-empt situations like that which played out in Chicago. Granneman said it is ironic that the IEPA cited lawsuits by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan regarding petcoke as a reason state rules are not needed. Rather, the lawsuits are evidence that rules are needed to prevent such situations elsewhere in the future, she said.

“You can have lawsuits, but that’s after the fact, just dealing with that specific issue at that specific location,” said Granneman. “You really need very specific prescriptive regulations dealing with how wet the coke has to be, what to do to shut it down if the wind picks up. There aren’t these types of regulation in place [statewide]. We don’t want to have the whack-a-mole situation” dealing with problems once they arise.

KCBX spokesman Jake Reint said state rules are not necessary.

“For the products we handle at KCBX, we continue to believe further regulation isn’t necessary given what we know about the effectiveness of the existing requirements and our own bulk material handling practices,” he said.

Other companies and trade associations representing coal, oil, shipping, chemicals and manufacturing also opposed state rules on bulk storage, which would affect other commodities along with petcoke.

Chicago regulations not enough
Local residents and advocacy groups say state rules on petcoke are also needed for Chicago, because they don’t believe the city’s regulations are strict enough or being enforced enough to adequately protect residents.

KCBX was granted some variances to rules issued by the city health department. And company officials have repeatedly said they cannot meet a city deadline of June 2016 for enclosing petcoke piles. The company had essentially been in a standoff with city officials over the matter until just before February elections where petcoke was a campaign issue; then KCBX promised to remove petcoke piles by the deadline.

Reint said that is still the plan.

“By next summer there will be no petroleum coke or coal piles at either of our terminals, as the city’s rules require,” he said.

But given the company’s statements and record in the past, residents are not convinced KCBX will keep its promise. Meanwhile they are also worried that even if KCBX eventually builds an enclosure, serious air pollution could still occur if high volumes are delivered on barges and rail cars, which do not have to be covered. The letter also points to problems in recent months, despite KCBX’s investments in dust suppression.

“Even with the City of Chicago regulations in effect, facilities in Chicago are still failing to comply with national air pollution standards that US EPA set to protect public health,” said the June 11 letter, whose signers included the Southeast Chicago Coalition to Ban Petcoke, State Representative Barbara Flynn-Curie, the Sierra Club Illinois, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Southeast Environmental Task Force, Blacks in Green, the National Nurses United labor union and other community and regional organizations.

The letter noted:

“As recently as February 14, 2015, the 24-hour average concentration of particulate matter less than ten micrometers in diameter (PM10) at the southeast monitoring site at KCBX’s North Terminal was 175 micrograms per cubic meter, while the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for PM10 is 154 micrograms per cubic meter.2 The City of Chicago regulations are unable to ensure compliance with national standards; they certainly provide no acceptable basis to forgo state regulations.”

Reint countered that the company’s monitoring and soil testing show that the company is not causing pollution.

In January, the City Council passed an ordinance ordering the Department of Planning and Development to set limits on how much petcoke or coal can be passed through a facility. The ordinance included a deadline of March 31 for the limits, but so far none have been set. A Department of Planning and Development spokesman did not respond to requests for comment or information.

Residents say this apparently missed deadline is among the reasons they don’t trust the city administration to effectively regulate petcoke, despite tough talk from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other officials. And if powerful politicians like Emanuel don’t do enough to crack down on companies that store petcoke, they ask how residents in low-income and/or rural areas without such political clout will fare.

“Other smaller local governments where petcoke is or might be stored may be bamboozled or threatened into forgoing local health protections by the powerful corporations in this business,” said Urbaszewski. “Some may not even have the ability to set strong local rules to protect their own residents. People living in Illinois should be protected from corporate actions that put their health at risk, no matter where they live in the state.”

ELPC, NRDC and other signers of the letter to the IEPA are members of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.

Midwest Energy News: Chicago council committee moves to limit petcoke transport

The battle over storage of petcoke in Chicago continued Tuesday with the City Council’s zoning committee passing an ordinance that would order the city planning and development commissioner to set limits by the end of March on how much petcoke can be moved through KCBX Terminals’ facility on the Southeast Side.

Alderman John Pope, who represents the neighborhood, and environmental leaders and community activists testified in support of the ordinance, while KCBX’s president and two environmental consultants hired by the company testified that dust from the facility is not harming local residents and that stricter limits are not needed.

If the ordinance is passed by the full City Council, it remains to be seen how strict the limits will be, and how rigorously they will be enforced.

Public health department rules that took effect last year limit the footprint of petcoke storage facilities and require enclosure of operations and dust-suppression measures. But local residents are upset that KCBX has requested variances allowing them exemptions from those rules. Most notably, the company is requesting an extra 14 months to enclose the petcoke piles, and the company has said they cannot complete the enclosure more quickly.

At the hearing Tuesday, local residents and attorneys with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Law & Policy Center all called for limits of “zero” petcoke through-put, a de facto call to shut down or freeze the operations.

“Science shows there is no safe point other than zero” for emissions of fine particulate matter like petcoke dust, testified Brian Urbaszewski, environmental programs director of the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.

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From AP: Pollution Board Rejects Emergency Petrocrud Rules, Fight Continues

AP News

Pollution board denies Quinn’s petcoke regulations

By Tammy Webber January 24, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) — An Illinois pollution panel on Thursday rejected proposed emergency rules to control piles of petroleum coke along Chicago shipping channels, saying Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency failed to prove there was an imminent threat to public health and safety.

Instead, any new ordinances must go through the regular rulemaking process to provide more time to consider what protections are needed, the Illinois Pollution Control Board said.

Residents on Chicago’s southeast side have complained about growing piles of petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” saying they fear it can cause respiratory and other health problems and pollute waterways. Their complaints gained attention from city and state officials in August, after petcoke blew into a neighborhood and a park.

The grainy black substance is a byproduct of oil refining, used as fuel in coal and cement plants or in products such as bricks and cement. The piles have been growing as nearby refineries process more oil from Canadian tar sands.

Quinn proposed rules last week to require terminals that store the petcoke to immediately install dust-suppression systems and prevent storm water runoff. He also wanted operators of petcoke and coal terminals throughout Illinois to fully enclose piles within two years.

But industry officials called Quinn’s action “regulatory overreach” because Chicago’s health department and aldermen already have proposed rules and petcoke handlers have taken steps to prevent the material from blowing around again. Plus, at least one handler already has said it’s willing to build structures to enclose its piles.

What’s more, they said, Quinn’s regulations would have applied to all bulk storage areas — including downstate coal terminals — that haven’t drawn complaints and could force some to temporarily shut down.

Industry officials also complained they had only a few days to respond to the proposal.

“You hardly have time to get your arms and your head around what the issues could be,” said Tom Wolf, executive director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce’s energy council. “Put facts on table and let’s go through (the rulemaking) process.”

Quinn’s office issued a statement saying it was disappointed with the board’s decision but is “reviewing alternative options (to) ensure that nobody has to live with harmful dust blowing into their community,” but did not say what those options are.

A Quinn spokesman did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking details on the options.

Environmental groups and residents, some of whom wanted a halt to all petcoke operations until the piles were enclosed, said petcoke continues to blow around and endanger residents.

Though drafted quickly, the rules were needed “to address what we do believe is an emergency situation, so we’re disappointed that the board chose not to address them that way,” said Jennifer Cassel, an attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

But she said she’s glad that there eventually will be permanent rules; emergency rules would have expired after 150 days.

Chicago officials have proposed city-specific regulations that include calling for storage facilities to enclose materials like petcoke. Proposed ordinances pending before the City Council include a ban on the substance, although Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said such a step isn’t likely.

Quinn said the pollution board’s process would help inform whether a ban on storing petcoke was necessary.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, which helped file lawsuits against the companies, has said it is drafting statewide legislation on petcoke regulation, which could be taken up later this year.

Midwest Energy News: Loopholes in City Petro Crud Standards Concern Neighborhood Residents

Re-posted from Midwest Energy News with permission.

In Chicago, neighbors say petcoke rules full of loopholes

by Kari Lydersen

Chicago elected officials have vowed to crack down on the growing piles of petcoke stored by a subsidiary of Koch Industries and another company along the Calumet River on the city’s far southeast side.

But at a public hearing Monday night, local residents made clear that they don’t trust the City Council or Mayor Rahm Emanuel to take meaningful action on the issue.

They think the city’s proposed storage regulations  – crafted by the public health department at the mayor’s behest — would allow piles of petcoke to keep growing and polluting in their neighborhood.

Alderman John Pope, who represents the Chicago neighborhoods most affected, and Ed Burke, a powerful alderman with an interest in clean air, have proposed two ordinances related to petcoke. One favored by Burke would ban petcoke storage in Chicago. The other, pushed by Pope, would impose site-specific regulations.

Emanuel last month rejected the idea of a citywide ban on petcoke storage, saying a state or federal solution is needed. On Monday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn proposed emergency rules on petcoke storage statewide.

The proposed city rules would cover storage of solid bulk materials including petcoke, coal, ore and other materials used as fuel. Piles of salt, construction and demolition debris, waste and recycling material would not be subject to the regulations.

After the hearing Pope described the regulations as “some of the most aggressive and comprehensive” in the nation. But every resident who spoke at the meeting, and representatives from major environmental and health groups, described the regulations as dangerously full of loopholes and caveats. Many residents also said they think the regulations are a way for city officials to avoid considering a ban on petcoke, which residents at the hearing unanimously said they want.

Pope, like Mayor Emanuel, said a ban could mean a costly and ultimately unsuccessful court battle. As for the ordinances calling for a ban or regulations, Pope said, “we’ll try to decide which one makes sense. We might do them together, or just one or the other.” In Chicago ordinances almost never pass without the mayor’s support, however, so a ban appears highly unlikely.

A ‘Swiss cheese’ proposal

Resident Olga Bautista described the proposed regulations as “Swiss cheese” rife with holes.

The strictest regulations would only cover large new operations that receive more than 10,000 tons every five days or store more than 100,000 cubic yards at a time. Such operations would have to enclose their piles in buildings with door flaps to ensure no dust escapes.

However, existing smaller operations would not be subject to the strictest regulations and could continue storing petcoke outdoors. They would be required to have wind barriers around the piles, spray water and/or chemical sealers on piles and run at least four dust monitors on the perimeter. Piles could not exceed 30 feet high. Loading and unloading would still have to be done in an enclosure.

Residents said the breaks for smaller, existing facilities are unacceptable.

“The Koch brothers will create 10 smaller companies tomorrow and spread it all along the river,” said Carl Camacho, 33, who has lived his entire life in the neighborhood.

“Do they know how wind works?” added Bautista after the hearing. “Those barriers won’t do anything.”

Critics also blasted the fact that the regulations would be crafted and enforced by the city’s health department, which is already considered under-staffed and resource-strapped. The environment department was eliminated in 2011.

The regulations as proposed by the health department would not need City Council approval to be instituted. And most disturbingly to many critics, the regulations provide for variances that can be approved by the department – giving companies exemptions from the rules — without input from residents or City Council oversight.

Representatives of the Environmental Law Policy Center (ELPC), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago (RHAMC) criticized the regulations at the hearing and promised to submit detailed comments by the deadline, January 24.

NRDC Midwest advocacy director Tiffany Ingram said the timeline for compliance is way too lenient, giving companies 90 days to come up with a “dust plan” and install monitors, one year to install conveyor belt covers and wind barriers around outdoor piles and two years to build enclosures.

ELPC attorney Jenny Cassel said that the allowance for variances “would allow companies to get out of almost every single one of the regulations here, and gives discretion to the commissioner to grant those variances without any input from community.”

She also took exception to the laxer regulations for smaller operations. “There’s no basis in public health why these smaller facilities don’t pose as much as a threat as the larger ones,” she said.

The ELPC and NRDC are members of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.

The city attorney cited an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study showing no specific illnesses related to petcoke. But RHAMC environmental health programs director Brian Urbaszewski stressed that blowing petcoke is particulate matter, which the EPA, World Health Organization and other agencies have found to have serious health effects.

“Science shows there is no level where you do not see a health impact,” Urbaszewski said.

Critics were also furious that the regulations do not include penalties for violations. The city attorney who summarized the regulations noted that violators would be subject to the existing city fines for air pollution violations – between $1,000 and $5,000 per day. But residents said they were skeptical that fines would actually be levied.

Alderman Pope said that if the regulations are passed, residents will play a major role in enforcing them. “They are our best eyes and ears,” he said.

The regulations require that trucks, barges and trains carrying material in and out of storage facilities have their loads covered, and that trucks go through a wheel wash so they don’t pollute roadways. The regulations also require street-washing and vacuuming machines to clean up any residue. But many residents decried the requirement for trucks specifying that only half the load must be covered.

“The whole regulation is half-you-know-what,” said Lorraine Ashby, a retired attorney, after the hearing where she had made a comment on behalf of the area’s retired union Steelworkers.

“The rules seem more designed to quiet us and help people sell tarps than address the issue,” said resident Anthony Martinez, who helped spark public outrage by posting a photo on Facebook of massive dust clouds blowing from the piles last summer. “Environmental justice is at the root of this issue.”

Or too tough?

Not a single person at the meeting commented in favor of the regulations. While about 30 residents and advocates blasted them as too lenient – and many more in the audience held signs or called out offering similar sentiments —  representatives of the Koch subsidiary KCBX and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce criticized the regulations as too stringent.

Illinois Chamber Energy Council executive director Tom Wolf is concerned about the effect the regulations could have on products and industries unrelated to petcoke. And he opposes the “prescriptive nature” of the regulations – mandating specific practices.

“Regulations work best when they give companies goals they can find creative ways to meet,” Wolf told Midwest Energy News. “It’s goals versus tactics – there can be different solutions for different areas of the city.”

Mike Estadt, KCBX operations manager, said the company would not be able to meet the setback requirements included in the regulations – that bulk storage be at least 660 feet from a childcare center and 300 feet from residences – limits that are already enshrined in city regulations regarding landfills and other operations. The setback requirements “would cause closure of our facility,” he said.

The regulations also call for suspending operations when the wind is blowing at 15 miles per hour or higher — unless dust can be controlled. Estadt said that Chicago’s average wind speed exceeds that level 40 percent of the time, hence the restriction would “effectively prevent us from operating.”

Estadt said that in the past year the company has spent $10 million on dust controls, including about 40 water cannons that automatically respond to wind direction in determining how to spray the petcoke piles. He said that the company took 69 soil samples in the surrounding area this fall, which “showed no unusual dust particles.”

A summary of the study notes that the samples in the neighborhood around the piles found the same soil composition as Chicago soil as a whole, based on federal and state surveys. And they did not find PAHs or “signature metals” of the type linked to petcoke and coal.

“It seems like our systems work,” Estadt said, drawing jeers from the crowd.

A larger struggle

The fight over petcoke taps into a larger ongoing struggle on the far southeast side. This was once the thrumming hub of the region’s steel industry, with up to 40,000 people employed in well-paying union jobs. The mills closed in the 1980s and 1990s, other industries left as well, and the area fell into economic and structural decline.

The southeast side lost population, but the families who remained retain a fierce sense of pride in their home turf. The past few years have seen an increase in proposals for locating new heavy polluting industries or waste-related operations on the southeast side. Meanwhile aproposed upscale development on the old U.S. Steel Southworks site to the east has caused many residents to feel they are being saddled with undesirable operations while being passed over for desirable investment.

The prospect of becoming a massive petcoke dumping ground affiliated with a multi-billion-dollar company epitomizes their worst fears and suspicions.

“Once the petcoke comes there will just be even more garbage sent here,” said resident Richard McGraw, a retired accountant who would like to see solar farms and solar panel manufacturing on the brownfields of the southeast side. “Petcoke will speed the decline of the East Side – we’ll slide into oblivion.”

Rita Campbell thought the closing of the steel mills – where her husband worked – would provide clean air. But now even that silver lining is tarnished.

“You can have all the regulations in the world you want – something’s going to break down, someone’s going to make a mistake…and we are going to suffer for that,” said Campbell, who has lived in the area for four decades. They need to go somewhere else where there isn’t housing and people living nearby.”

Camacho had the last word of the evening, urging people to join a nascent coalition of local groups and citywide environmental justice organizations bent on banning petcoke.

“Take a drive through my neighborhood– where I live, where I build friendships,” he told the city officials, noting that he used to play baseball and football – with the Gallistel Elementary Rams — just blocks from where the petcoke piles now stand. “We want to stay here – that’s why we want these petcoke piles gone.

“The reality of it is we can’t count on Rahm Emanuel. Put your faith in politicians, you’ll be there alone. All we have is each other – our community.”

Comments regarding Chicago’s proposed bulk storage regulations can be submitted through January 24 at or by mail to the Chicago Department of Public Health, Attn Environmental Permitting and Inspections, 333 S State St Room 200, Chicago IL 60604.



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