On July 15, the Chicago Tribune reported that BP wanted to significantly increase the discharge of ammonia and toxic wastes into the Great Lakes. The outcry was enormous — even Republican congressmen from the area joined in the criticism, and several powerful congressional members, including Rahm Emanuel in the House and Barack Obama in the Senate, threatened hearings. The city of Chicago was considering legal action, and a large petition drive began.

Apparently the political efforts have paid off, because BP announced it will reverse its decision and not add more pollutants. The catch: it’s not legally binding, because the conservative administration in Indiana has not revoked the pollution permits.

Mitch Daniels, the current governor of Indiana, was President George W. Bush’s first director of the Office of Budget and Management. Indiana does not necessarily elect conservative Republicans for governor — Daniels defeated a Democrat (disclosure: my friend’s brother-in-law), who became governor after the Democratic governor died, and a current Democratic senator, Evan Bayh, had been governor as well. The relevance of this is that it is the Indiana Department of Environmental Management which granted BP the permit to pollute more, and they will not revoke the permit.

BP walked into a public relations disaster on this one, in my opinion. According to the Tribune article, referring to Chicago:

City officials gave BP a report last week listing technologies in use at other refineries that dramatically reduce ammonia and solids pollution. The report, prepared by Tetra Tech Inc., a leading engineering firm, concluded that BP could upgrade the Whiting refinery’s water treatment plant for less than $40 million.

I’m sure they’ve spent much more than $40 million advertising their “beyond petroleum”-ness. If past corporate performance is any guide, they’ll probably discover that processing the oil more cleanly will cost them less in the long run. This just goes to show that much of the industrial pollution we have to live with is fairly easily avoidable.