VICE News has produced this 15-minute documentary on the controversy over storing petroleum coke on the banks of Chicago’s Calumet River.
Related content from Midwest Energy News:
First it was Detroit, now ‘PetKoch’ piling up in Chicago (Oct 14, 2013)
In Chicago, neighbors say petcoke rules full of loopholes (Jan 14, 2014)
Industry says ‘no emergency’ on petcoke, blasts Illinois rules (Jan 23, 2014)
BP faces tough questions from neighbors in Whiting, Indiana (Feb 14, 2014)
Petroleum coke piles along the Calumet River in Chicago in October. (Photo by Josh Mogerman via Creative Commons)
Representatives of Illinois’s coal, oil and gas, chemical, shipping and other industries on Wednesday denounced Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed emergency rules regarding the storage of petcoke – a byproduct of tar sands refining that is sold as fuel mostly to overseas customers.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency filed the proposed rules on January 16, and after an weeklong public comment period the Illinois Pollution Control Board will decide whether to adopt the rules. (UPDATE: The board rejected the rules on Thursday.)
On a press conference call, industry representatives blasted Quinn for invoking an emergency rulemaking process when they contend there is no emergency.
Southeast Chicago residents packed a hearing on the city’s petcoke piles on Monday night. (Photo by Kari Lydersen / Midwest Energy News)
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.
David Rotbard, left, developer of Coalition:Energy and Jeremy Adelman of the Energy Foundry break in a new co-working space in Chicago. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Adelman)
Look out the east side windows from the 12th floor of the historic Gage building in downtown Chicago, and you see Millennium Park and the glittering expanse of Lake Michigan.
Paradoxically, the view from the west side is also the lake’s blue waters. It throws the viewer for a loop, until you realize that you’re seeing the lake reflected in a neighboring sleek glass building.
This unexpected touch seems to symbolize the sense of unfettered possibility and imagination that developers are going for with this freshly painted orange and aqua space, that they hope will become a hive of entrepreneurship and innovation on the clean energy front.
It’s a former hat factory turned co-working space complete with minimalist offices and retro phone booths — lacking seats so that no one will linger inside too long. It’s meant to be something like 1871, Chicago’s hotshot digital co-working space and startup incubator.
Tom Shepherd, a neighborhood activist, worries about piles of petcoke building up along the Calumet River in Chicago. (Photo by Kari Lydersen / Midwest Energy News)
Community activists on Chicago’s Southeast Side are always on the lookout for signs of new pollution, dumping or other threats to the environment and quality of life in this heavily industrialized swath of the city.
In recent years community opposition helped torpedo proposals for a coal gasification plant, a police shooting range and new landfills.
So members of the Southeast Environmental Task Force were highly disturbed earlier this year when, on a boat trip to check out other potential pollution sources, they saw towering mounds of fine, jet-black material lining the banks of the Calumet River.
Coal, crushed limestone, slag from steel mills and other bulk materials have long been stored along the river, shipped in and out on barges. But these piles, they suspected, were petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” the byproduct of refining heavy tar sands oil.
In July piles of petcoke made bi-national headlines as dark clouds swirled over the Detroit River by the Ambassador Bridge leading to Canada. That petcoke was from the Marathon Detroit Oil refinery, which has expanded to process tar sands oil.
In August, Southeast Chicago residents saw similar clouds themselves. One local resident posted a photo on Facebook after an August 30 wind storm, showing a billowing thick black haze.
(Photo by Reto Fetz via Creative Commons)
There’s an adage attributed to self-help author Robin Sharma that “what gets measured gets improved.”
That’s the concept behind an energy efficiency bench-marking ordinance being considered in Chicago, similar to ones adopted in at least seven other major cities. The ordinance would require about 3,500 large residential, commercial, and municipal buildings to measure and report their energy use annually, with the information made public by the second year.
There would be no requirements that buildings improve energy efficiency, but studies have shown that taking measurements would likely result in substantial investments and energy efficiency improvements.
State Line power plant. (Photo by Eric Allix Rogers via Creative Commons)
A recent Environmental Protection Agency settlement seals the fate of a Chicago-area coal plant that’s already been shut down for more than a year, but residents will see additional benefits from other provisions.
The consent decree announced by the EPA April 1 mandates that Dominion Energy “permanently retire” the State Line power plant on the Illinois-Indiana border and install pollution controls on another coal-fired plant in Kincaid, central Illinois.
However, State Line has actually been closed since March 2012, because of competition from cheap natural gas and the impending cost of pollution controls required to meet new federal environmental regulations. There was never any indication it would reopen, and last summer it was sold to a Texas company that specializes in demolishing power plants.
But residents of northwest Indiana and the Chicago area should theoretically still see some improvement in local air quality, thanks to mitigation requirements in the consent decree that mandate Dominion fund investments to reduce diesel emissions from rail yards, trucks and buses in the Chicago area.
A rendering of a SkySpecs unmanned aircraft, which developers say can help with maintenance of wind turbines and other hard-to-reach places. (Photo via SkySpecs)
While the initial sheen of the clean tech industry may have worn off for investors, that’s not necessarily bad news.
At the Clean Energy Challenge last week in Chicago, experts including venture capitalist Ira Ehrenpreis and U.S. Department of Energy official Dr. David Danielson acknowledged the challenges and dropping investment clean tech has faced in the past year, due in part to the economy and political maneuvering.
But they indicated that while there is less giddiness over the sector, it is moving into a more mature phase that could result in important breakthroughs in batteries and other technology.
Heidi Lubin at networking session at the Industry Growth Forum in Denver in October. (Photo by NREL via Creative Commons)
Heidi Lubin has long been an avid outdoorswoman – she is a certified kayaking and skiing instructor — so she feels strongly about protecting the environment. And in 1999 she spent time in Nigeria with the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, seeing first-hand the violence and chaos that was in part fueled by the country’s oil resources.
These experiences and values are part of the road that has brought Lubin, at age 34, to be CEO of an award-winning start-up electric motor company.
The motors designed by Chicago-based Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technologies (HEVT) don’t use the rare earth metals that are a key component of most modern electric motors. While rare earth metals are not actually rare, their mining is concentrated in China (which provides 97 percent of the current world supply), and has caused serious social and environmental problems.
While much attention has been focused on the need to create better batteries to power electric vehicles, experts note that improved electric motors are also key.
The BP Whiting refinery looms over Marktown, a neighborhood in East Chicago, Indiana surrounded on all sides by industry. (Photo by Kari Lydersen / Midwest Energy News)
EAST CHICAGO, Indiana — Billowing plumes of white steam swirl around the towering steel matrix at the BP Whiting oil refinery, while blossoms of orange flame from flares light up the cold night sky.
This is the backdrop to Marktown, an unusual enclave built in 1917 to house employees of a nearby steel mill owned by Chicago industrialist Clayton Mark.
About a quarter of the pastel, stucco Marktown homes are now vacant and crumbling. There is a general appearance of abandonment and decay. But on the evening of Jan. 23 the Marktown community center was bustling, packed with residents confused and alarmed about the news circulating over the past few days.
“This is more people than I’ve ever seen in Marktown,” remarked one local, who declined to give his name.
Kim Rodriguez, a 54-year-old lifelong resident, had called the meeting to try to save the neighborhood.
That’s because BP officials recently acknowledged they are looking to buy up and raze Marktown homes.