This Aug. 30, 2013 cell-phone image provided by Chicago resident Anthony Martinez shows a dust cloud rising from piles of petroleum coke during a storm near residences on the southeast side of Chicago.Anthony Martinez, via AP
Chicago environmentalists are reeling after an Illinois government panel rejected proposed rules to regulate piles of petroleum coke along Chicago’s shipping channels, which nearby residents and activists say can cause environmental and health problems.
Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had filed a request with the Illinois Pollution Control Board to craft emergency rules to regulate the piles of petroleum coke, also known as petcoke. Petcoke is a powder-like byproduct of crude oil production that’s often shipped overseas for use in energy production or in concrete or brick construction.
Residents of Chicago’s southeast, where the petcoke is located, have been petitioning the government for years to do something about the piles, which they say blanket their neighborhood with noxious dust on windy days. Their complaints gained attention from city and state officials in August, after petcoke was documented by residents blowing into a neighborhood and park.
Quinn proposed last week that the byproducts’ owners be required to immediately store their petcoke, use water-suppression systems to capture dust and take measures to prevent water runoff.
But on Thursday the state pollution board ruled 4–0 that Quinn and the EPA had failed to show there was an imminent threat to public health posed by the piles, and that the governor and his allies would therefore have to go through the normal rulemaking process of passing ordinances or laws to deal with the petcoke.
That decision sent petcoke opponents back to the drawing board.
“There was so much opposition from industry that they basically considered industry over people,” said Peggy Salazar, the executive director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force. “The Illinois EPA has (alleged) violations. They saw a need for action. We’re just surprised the Pollution Control Board would ignore all that.”
Several large oil and gas corporations, and even coal corporations that don’t own petcoke facilities, petitioned the pollution board to not implement Quinn’s suggestions, arguing that the rules were a regulatory overreach. They said the industry had already taken measures to ensure the piles weren’t polluting the surrounding area.
“There’ve been no additional problems since that one incident in August,” said Mark Denzler, vice president and COO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. “And then suddenly the governor came forward with these rules that will cost an extreme amount of money for an industry that’s been operating for 70 years with no problem.”