Oct 12, 2007

Indiana Seeks to Ease Rules for Lake Polluter

Indiana is moving to scrap, relax or omit limits on toxic chemicals and heavy metals dumped into a Lake Michigan tributary by the sprawling U.S. Steel Corp. mill in Gary, according to environmental lawyers and former federal regulators who have reviewed a proposed water permit.

Language outlining the changes is buried in 117 densely worded pages under consideration by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which provoked a public outcry this year when it gave a nearby BP refinery permission to significantly increase pollution discharged into the lake.

BP explicitly asked to dump more pollution. By contrast, Indiana regulators and U.S. Steel officials insist the latest proposal will not allow the Gary Works to increase the amount of oil, grease, metals and chemicals pumped into the Grand Calumet River before it empties into Lake Michigan.

The permit appears to tell a different story, raising questions about Indiana's enforcement of federal and state laws intended to clean up the nation's lakes and rivers.

The Gary Works, a massive complex of blast furnaces, coke ovens and steel-finishing mills about 15 miles southeast of Chicago, already is the largest source of water pollution in the Lake Michigan basin, dumping more than 1.7 million pounds in 2005.

Experts who have analyzed the mill's proposed new permit say that at some points where the steel mill discharges waste into the Grand Calumet, Indiana regulators eliminated or failed to include limits on toxic chemicals and metals that have turned the river into one of the most contaminated sites along the Great Lakes.

Specifically, U.S. Steel reports discharging oil and grease, lead, arsenic, benzene, fluoride and nitrates from waste-water pipes at the mill, yet the draft permit fails to limit emissions of these pollutants at all discharge points.