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IEPA says it won’t do anything about polluting refineries

Monday, Feb 6, 2023 - Posted by Rich Miller

* WTTW last week

Oil refineries are discharging toxic pollutants into our waterways and the Great Lakes with little oversight from regulators.

Three of the very worst polluters are refineries right here in the Chicago area — BP’s Whiting Refinery in Indiana, Exxon Mobil’s Joliet refinery, and Citgo’s refinery in Lemont.

That’s the finding of a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit group that advocates for enforcement of environmental law that analyzed toxic discharge data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Most of the pollution from refineries isn’t subject to any federal standards at all under the Clean Water Act, which is pretty alarming since the Clean Water Act is more than 50 years old,” said Eric Schaeffer, co-founder and executive director at the Environmental Integrity Project. “The few federal standards that we have apply only to a subset of pollutants. They don’t cover some of the more dangerous toxins that refineries discharge. They don’t cover nitrogen, they don’t cover sulfates and chlorides. … And so, not surprisingly, there’s a lot of that pollution coming out of refineries and Illinois has some of the worst in terms of the pollutants we looked at.” […]

Democratic state Rep. Ann Williams, who currently chairs the Energy and Environment Committee in the Illinois General Assembly, described the report as “concerning.”

“I thought the report was really well done and it does seem to me like everything kind of falls into two categories,” said Williams. “First of all, do we need — and it certainly seems like the answer is ‘yes’ — to update our emissions standards for waterways on a federal level, number one? And number two, are we adequately enforcing the regulations that we do have? And that applies at both the state and federal level.”

The report is here.

* Courthouse News Service

The report found that together these refineries injected over 1.8 million pounds of dissolved metals into Illinois waterways in 2021 alone, with the Phillips 66 plant also discharging close to 69 million pounds of dissolved sulfates and chlorides. But despite the high levels of wastewater contamination, it’s unlikely that any of the refineries’ corporate owners will face consequences for their polluting any time soon, much less change how they operate.

How can they, when multiple state, county and municipal authorities say they have no power over how the refineries’ environmental impact?

“There’s no real environmental regulations at the county level,” said Mike Theodore, Director of Communications for the Will County Executive. “The county doesn’t have any regulatory power there.” […]

Theodore and Juday’s claim was echoed by multiple other authorities Courthouse News reached out to, including mayors, representatives from state and county public health departments, and local public administrators. All said that authority over the offending refineries rested with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Problem is, the Illinois EPA isn’t going to do anything about it either.

“With respect to Exxon Mobil’s Joliet refinery, Illinois EPA reviewed the… data carefully and further discussed with USEPA the nature and significance of the data,” an IEPA spokesperson said in a prepared statement. “That review and follow up discussion… did not indicate enforcement since the data did not show exceedances of monthly averages.”

The statement did not specify what “monthly averages” meant in terms of wastewater pollutant discharge. The IEPA did not respond to requests for clarification on this point. However, the same statement did make it clear that the agency is not overly concerned with selenium in the Chicagoland area’s drinking water either.


  1. - ArchPundit - Monday, Feb 6, 23 @ 12:22 pm:

    There are a number of challenges that Illinois is going to face with this. First, the Supreme Court has largely gutted the ability to add pollutants through the administrative process though I’m not sure how well that could happen through the Clean Water Act anyway–it’s very different in form from the Clean Air Act.

    Add to that, if Illinois attempts to regulate these chemicals on their own, I would not be surprised if the Court claims the feds preempt the ability to regulate point sources.

  2. - Anyone Remember - Monday, Feb 6, 23 @ 12:38 pm:

    Semi-serious question: Does IEPA have enough staff, even if they wanted to do something?

  3. - very old soil - Monday, Feb 6, 23 @ 12:43 pm:

    When are their NPDES permits up for renewal” That is where the monthly averages are specified.

  4. - ArchPundit - Monday, Feb 6, 23 @ 12:50 pm:

    ===When are their NPDES permits up for renewal

    How I read the article is that there are pollutants not covered by the NPDES permits. So, yes, the NPDES permit could be updated on some of these, but the biggest problem are pollutants not covered.

  5. - bungalowhistorians - Monday, Feb 6, 23 @ 1:31 pm:

    Anyone Remember—— No, the IEPA has been seriously understaffed for several years. Many retirements due to the pandemic. When they can hire new people, many use the jobs as a way into the private sector that pays more and only stay a year or two. There has been a big brain drain at the agency.

  6. - Lake villa township dem pc - Monday, Feb 6, 23 @ 2:23 pm:

    Stop ethylene Oxide pollution in Waukegan-Gurnee.

  7. - Rudy’s teeth - Monday, Feb 6, 23 @ 2:47 pm:

    BP Amoco (formerly Standard Oil founded in 1889 in Whiting, Indiana) has polluted Lake Michigan water and soil for over 100 years.

    The IDEM ( Indiana Department of Environmental Management) does very little to preserve air and soil quality for current and future generations.

    Refineries and steel mills in Northwest Indiana not only provide jobs but also are major polluters to Lake Michigan, the soil, and the air.

    The area called “The Region” is also referred to as the armpit of Chicagoland.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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