Thursday, March 13, 2014

Chicago issues rules cracking down on petcoke storage

By Jamey Dunn

The city of Chicago issued rules today that will require storage facilities to do more to prevent petroleum waste from becoming airborne and floating over residential areas. Petroleum coke, also known as petcoke, is a byproduct of refining oil. It is primarily composed of carbon and sulfur but can also contain heavy metals. Some kinds of petcoke are marketable as a fuel. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not classify petcoke as a hazardous material. But residents who live near storage facilities on the Calumet River say that the wind carries dust from large piles of petcoke to their homes and properties.

The city’s new rules go into effect immediately, but they give storage facilities two years before they are required to keep petcoke in enclosures. They rules also require that trucks and conveyer belts moving petcoke be covered. Facilities will be required to install monitoring devices to track dust emission. Companies have 90 days to submit their plans to comply with the new rules and will be required to give monthly updates as they implement their plans. “Just as we fought to shutter the two remaining coal power plants in the city of Chicago, we are working to force these petroleum coke facilities to either clean up or shut down,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a prepared statement.

There is a push to adopt similar rules across the state. Gov. Pat Quinn proposed emergency regulation on the industry, but his plan was shot down by the Illinois Pollution Control Board. Business groups claimed that Quinn was trying to rush rules through the process in a situation that did not constitute an emergency. They said that the regulations were too strict and sweeping and would cost the state jobs.

“These rules would affect far more than one industry. Petroleum coke is used in the manufacturing of cement, steel, paper, brick, glass, paint and other products, not to mention the related industries of trucking, rail, barges, refineries and power generation. Imposing these rules could result in a de facto moratorium on petroleum coke and the loss of many jobs in Illinois,” Mark Denzler, vice president and chief operating officer of the Illinois Manufacturer’s Association, said of the rules after Quinn proposed them. The rules are now going through the standard process, which can take several month. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers are considering proposals that would crack down on petcoke dust. House Bill 5939 would require that pet coke be enclosed. A hearing on the legislation is scheduled next week. “The city's regulations complement what we are seeking to do at the state level, with legislation proposing enclosures for certain facilities that handle pet coke and other refinery production materials,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a prepared statement. “Through joint legal and legislative action, we will require these companies to clean up their acts and protect the health and safety of residents in Chicago and throughout Illinois.” Both Madigan and a group of community members have sued KCBX Terminals, which is a subsidiary of Koch Industries — owned by the ├╝ber wealthy and politically active brothers, Charles and David Koch.

“We are still evaluating the city's rule and our ability to comply with it. We've recently invested more than $30 million in improvements to our site and this would require a very significant investment on top of that, which we need to carefully consider,” KCBX spokesman Jake Reint said in a written statement. “We have employees whose families depend on the jobs we provide, so we are going to make every effort to work with the city to ensure that our operations remain compliant so that we may stay in business.”

For more on the environmental history of the southeast side of Chicago see Illinois Issues July/August 2012. For more on the dispute over petcoke, see Illinois Issues February 2014.)

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