Petroleum coke piles along the Calumet River in Chicago in October. (Photo by Josh Mogerman via Creative Commons)
Petroleum coke piles along the Calumet River in Chicago in October. (Photo by Josh Mogerman via Creative Commons)
Petroleum coke piles along the Calumet River in Chicago in October. (Photo by Josh Mogerman via Creative Commons)

Representatives of Illinois’s coal, oil and gas, chemical, shipping and other industries on Wednesday denounced Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed emergency rules regarding the storage of petcoke – a byproduct of tar sands refining that is sold as fuel mostly to overseas customers.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency filed the proposed rules on January 16, and after an weeklong public comment period the Illinois Pollution Control Board will decide whether to adopt the rules. (UPDATE: The board rejected the rules on Thursday.)

On a press conference call, industry representatives blasted Quinn for invoking an emergency rulemaking process when they contend there is no emergency.

Participants on the call described the rules as an overreaction to an event in August when high winds spread a thick cloud of petcoke dust over residential streets on Chicago’s southeast side.

Residents, however, have said they see petcoke dust in the air and on the streets on a regular basis, and they are worried that the piles which have grown in recent months will continue to expand quickly given the $3.8 billion expansion of BP’s oil refinery nearby in Whiting, Indiana.

“There’ve been no additional problems since that one incident in August,” said Mark Denzler, vice president and COO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, noting that petcoke has long been used by cement, chemical, brick, paint and other manufacturers in Illinois. “And then suddenly the governor came forward with these rules that will cost an extreme amount of money for an industry that’s been operating for 70 years with no problem.”

“Emergency rules are in place for just that – emergencies,” added Tom Wolf, executive director of the Energy Council for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “This doesn’t meet that threshold. There simply is no emergency.”

Meanwhile representatives of the coal industry and related operations are furious that the rules would also apply to piles of coal – used in power plants throughout the state. Critical public comments were filed by various shipping, dock and terminal companies that handle coal, as well as energy companies and mining companies including Dynegy Midwest Generation LLC, American Electric Power, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal.

“This has a dramatic impact on our costs and our industry,” said Phil Gonet of the Illinois Coal Association, noting that his group does not support the burning of petcoke in power plants. “We’re subject to numerous laws and regulations on both state and federal levels,” including about 60 listed in their public comment. And no coal terminals have been found in violation of rules related to fugitive dust emissions, he said.

The American Waterways Operators national trade group said the rules would also greatly impact their members – tugboat and barge companies that ship coal along Illinois rivers and canals. Their public comment states:

“There is no imminent emergency relating to coal or other bulk materials, and the IEPA should not be permitted to conflate petcoke and coal in order to avoid the mandatory notice and comment rulemaking process for proposed regulations related to the handling of coal. The implications of such an unwarranted action could have a profound effect on AWO member companies that transport petcoke and coal and rely on it for the continuity of their businesses.”

Mark Biel of the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois noted that his group also represents shippers statewide, who will be hurt because “the Governor has taken a sledgehammer approach…far beyond what needed to be done to address the one problem in Chicago.”

Oil company representatives say their refining operations would also be hurt by the rules.

Oil refiners “must be able to market and transport petroleum coke to maintain their operations,” said Illinois Petroleum Council executive director Jim Watson.

He contested the idea that increased refining of tar sands means stricter petcoke regulations are needed, saying that all refining of crude oil produces petcoke. Petroleum provides more than 263,000 jobs in Illinois, Watson said, “including some of the best blue-collar jobs you’ll find anywhere – some paying more than $100,000.”

The 263,000 number comes from a national study by the American Petroleum Institute and includes indirect and induced jobs. The study put the number of direct oil and gas jobs at about a quarter of the total.

While Watson implied that the rules could mean job losses in the oil industry, others on the press call said that companies in other states, including Kentucky and Indiana, would be happy to store petcoke, taking terminal jobs away from Illinois.

The rules would require all storage piles to be enclosed within two years and that dust control plans be submitted to the IEPA and subject to 30-day public comment periods.

Within 60 days of the rules passing, piles would have to be placed on impermeable pads at least 200 feet from any water source including wells, and piles that are not fully enclosed would have to be moved at least 200 feet inside property lines. Within 90 days, companies would have to stop using unpaved roads for petcoke and coal transport.

Petcoke or coal also could not be moved when winds exceed 25 miles per hour.

Under state policy, the emergency rules would be considered temporary, and the pollution control board would still move forward with a standard process to formulate permanent rules.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have also jumped into the fray. Madigan filed a lawsuit against KCBX, the Koch Industries subsidiary that is the primary operator along the Calumet River in Chicago. And Emanuel ordered the city’s health department to propose rules similar to the state proposal. Industry representatives also criticized those rules as too stringent, while local residents blasted them as full of loopholes.

Editor’s note – an earlier version of this story misstated the length of the public comment period.

Kari has written for the Energy News Network since January 2011. She is an author and journalist who worked for the Washington Post's Midwest bureau from 1997 through 2009. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times, Chicago News Cooperative, Chicago Reader and other publications. Based in Chicago, Kari covers Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana as well as environmental justice topics.

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