The Sierra Club has won a lawsuit against BP for pollution violations at its Whiting refinery in northwest Indiana. The plant exceeded its limits for particle pollution from 2015 to 2018 and also failed to do required follow-up tests.
Exposure to particle pollution can cause heart attacks, aggravate asthma, and cause other heart and lung problems. Three people in the area were parties in the case and said the poor air quality near the plant has affected their quality of life and ability to enjoy the outdoors.
One of them is long-time Whiting resident and birdwatcher Carolyn Marsh. She said she spends a lot of time outdoors, so she was shocked when she was diagnosed with COPD last year — a disease that can make it difficult to breathe. Marsh thinks the nearby plant could have been a risk factor.
She said it’s so important that companies like BP comply with their air permits.
“The air is deathly here, it’s causing lung problems. I’m older, but I really — I am concerned about the young kids that live here," she said.
Eric Schaeffer is with the Environmental Integrity Project, whose attorneys represented the Sierra Club. He said getting this kind of outcome in a summary judgement is rare and shows just how clear it is that the company violated its pollution limits.
BP argued in the case that its current permit is unfairly strict and that it’s working to revise it with the state.
“So rather than fix the problem, their solution was to go to the state and ask for a higher emission limit," Schaeffer said.
Schaeffer said if Indiana does grant such a permit, his group plans to contest it. He also said some of BP’s boilers are very old and inefficient and should be replaced.
The court still has to decide how BP will make up for its pollution violations. Marsh said, to her, installing new equipment to reduce pollution is not enough and that the community harmed by BP’s actions should get a say in what the penalties will be.
BP released the following statement in an email:
"BP takes seriously our commitment to safe and reliable operations at the Whiting refinery and across our global operations. We are still reviewing yesterday’s decision and will evaluate next steps."
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.