When tar-sands oil is refined, a nasty byproduct called petroleum coke, or petcoke, is produced — thick, dusty gunk that is increasingly being stored in huge piles along Midwestern rivers. On Chicago’s Southeast Side, unfortunate neighbors have been fighting to get rid of three such piles, noting that the petcoke blows over their communities and even into their homes. But they’ve failed, at least for now.

The Chicago City Council on Wednesday voted to ban new petcoke storage facilities, but the old ones will be allowed to remain in place and uncovered for up to two years. City lawyers said stricter proposed regulations might not stand up in court. The Times of Northwest Indiana reports:

Aldermen voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure by 10th Ward Alderman John Pope that will require petcoke to be stored in indoor structures within two years. …

Currently, Beemsterboer Slag Corp. and KCBX Terminals Co. are the only companies storing petcoke within Chicago, both at sites along the Calumet River in the 10th Ward. …

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2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti, the lone alderman to vote against the petcoke measure, said he … thinks city officials, in creating this measure, were more concerned with protecting the business interests of Beemsterboer and KCBX than they were in looking out for city residents.

Activists are not backing off — they’re filing an unusual lawsuit that directly targets the Koch brothers, owners of KCBX Terminals, among other parties. Climate Progress has the story:

Two environmental groups on Monday sent a letter to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, saying they intend to file a lawsuit against them for polluting a primarily low-income area of Chicago with thick, black, oily dust.

The letter sent by the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) gave official 90-day notice of intent to sue the Koch brothers and 10 of their companies, including the KCBX Terminals Company, in federal court. The lawsuit will seek to hold them liable for the harmful effects of pollution caused by coal and petroleum coke, or petcoke …

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It will likely be difficult to hold the Koch brothers individually responsible for the alleged actions of their large companies. Suing company officers requires a legal maneuver called “piercing the corporate veil,” a tactic used in “exceptional situations” when it can be proven that the officers themselves were the main drivers of the alleged violation. Because a large corporation like Koch Industries has many levels of decision-making, it won’t be easy to prove in court that the brothers were at the helm of each one.

Meanwhile, officials at the city and state level are also filing suit to stop the petcoke pollution, as the Chicago Tribune reports:

The mayor’s office also has joined Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Gov. Pat Quinn in fighting two companies that store petcoke and coal on the Southeast Side.

KCBX Terminals, a company controlled by industrialists Charles and David Koch, faces a lawsuit filed by Madigan and [Mayor Rahm] Emanuel that accuses the company of violating air pollution laws … Another state and city lawsuit urges a Cook County judge to cite KCBX for violating water-quality and open-dumping laws by failing to prevent petcoke and coal from washing into the Calumet River

Detroiters managed to get rid of their petcoke piles last year. Maybe Chicagoans should call them for a little advice.

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