Engineering News

EPA Chief: Agency Keeps Eye on Whiting
September 03, 2009

The BP Whiting Refinery has been closely monitored by the U.S. EPA since the uproar two years ago over its plans to release increased amounts of ammonia and suspended solids into Lake Michigan, U.S. EPA chief Lisa Jackson told The Times in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

"We certainly heard the call from citizens and elected officials to constantly monitor the facility, and we have committed to doing that," Jackson said just after meeting with public officials, environmentalists and businesses at Purdue University Calumet.

Jackson said the Environmental Protection Agency cited the refinery in June for Clean Air Act violations, and the agency continues to oversee activity there under a previous consent agreement.

When BP was cited in June, company spokesman Scott Dean said BP had reported the emissions to the EPA and that the company moved quickly to stem the releases.

Jackson spent two full days in the region this week. After taking part in a green jobs labor rally Monday in Gary, Jackson toured U.S. Steel's Gary Works with some of the company's top executives Tuesday. Then she answered questions at PUC.

Despite Jackson's call for greater transparency when she was appointed EPA administrator by President Barack Obama in January, both of Tuesday's events were closed to local media.

In an interview after the PUC meeting, Jackson affirmed Indiana's voice is being heard when it comes to climate change and energy policy.

She now keeps a framed photo of herself and Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., on her office bookcase, after a meeting between the two on June 5. She called Lugar an "important and influential voice" when it comes to U.S. energy policy.

"He knows how vital it is for our security as a country that we really stop sending our money overseas for oil to nations that are not necessarily friendly to our interests," Jackson said.

On the more contentious issue of limiting greenhouse-gas emissions through a carbon cap-and-trade policy, Jackson said there will be safeguards for states like Indiana.

Indiana relies on coal-fired power plants for electricity, and regions like Northwest Indiana rely on heavy industry for their economic well-being. But both could see increased costs under a carbon cap-and-trade system.

She said calls from U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., and the Congressional Steel caucus that foreign producers also pay carbon costs have been heard at the EPA.

"The most important thing here is that this be part of a larger strategy, which is an international agreement," Jackson said. "Our trading partners have to be part of an agreement to limit carbon dioxide pollution as well."

Consumer rebates contained in the U.S. House version of the climate-change bill would protect Indiana energy consumers from price hikes that may come from a carbon cap-and-trade regimen, Jackson said. Free carbon dioxide allowances for heavy industry, which also are part of the bill, should buffer the effect on heavy emitters like steel mills, she said.

The Northwest Indiana Forum was instrumental in arranging Jackson's tour of U.S. Steel.

Forum Environmental Affairs Director Kay Nelson said the two days in the region gave the new EPA chief a chance to see firsthand the way business and environmental groups cooperate in the region.

"My intention and my invitation was to highlight the partnership we have through the Forum with the environmental community and business," Nelson said.

Nelson and region environmental pioneer Lee Botts had dinner with Jackson at Gino's on U.S. 30.

Botts said she can't remember any EPA leader getting out around the country like Jackson is now doing. Only William Ruckelshaus, the first EPA administrator and a Hoosier, did anything similar to what Jackson is doing now, Botts said.

"She is not only reaching out with this new relationship between labor and environmentalists, but she is going out all over the country meeting with all different groups," Botts said.

LISA JACKSON BIO:

--Job: Administrator, U.S. EPA

--Age: 47

--Lives: Washington, D.C.

--Raised: New Orleans

--Previous job: Chief of staff to New Jersey Gov. John Corzine

--Education: Princeton University master's in chemical engineering; Tulane University bachelor's degree

--Family: Husband, Kenny, and two sons, Marcus and Brian

Source: The Times, Munster, Ind.

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