Thursday, October 24, 2013

Look Out Chicago, The Koch Brothers Are at it Again by Lauren Campbell Kong

I have been reading a lot of press lately discussing the Koch brothers and their petroleum coke storing facility in Chicago. The situation is looking pretty bleak. Not only does this worry me for our environment, but I have good friends who live in Chicago. Now they and their families are at serious risk for asthma, cancer, and other adverse health effects. The Koch brothers, who own such companies as Oxbow, Koch Carbon, and KCBX an affiliate of Koch Carbon, (just to name a few) have single handedly effected thousands of individuals and exposed them to some of the dirtiest air imaginable.

Currently, petroleum coke which is a waste by-product of oil refining, is piling up along Chicago’s southeast side. Citizens of these Chicago neighborhoods have complained to the proper channels, but it seems that little is being done to give them immediate help. This comes as no surprise after the huge complaint Koch Carbon received from Detroit, MI citizens a couple of months ago. After two months of complaints, media frenzy, and a single cell phone video showing a huge, dark, billowing cloud of petroleum coke wafting through the air went viral, the Mayor of Detroit finally ordered the pet coke removed; the state Department of Environmental Quality is now doing a review on the impact of such large amounts of pet coke on citizens and the environment.

Pet coke or petroleum coke as it is formally called, is one of the dirtiest waste products on the planet. A by-product of the cracking process of refining oil, it is 90 percent carbon and emits 5-10 percent more carbon dioxide than coal when burned.  It recently has had a surge in manufacturing due to the increase in tar sand oil excavation. While it isn’t primarily burned in the United States, it is typically shipped overseas for burning in countries with less restrictive environmental laws. This means that most pet coke is kept near waterways, typically right on the water, to aid in shipment; as was the case in Chicago along the Calumet River.

The Southeast Environmental Task Force in Chicago is currently advocating for more transparency from Koch Carbon; wanting to know the amount and origin of their pet coke. They have had a hard time getting information about  operations due to Koch Carbon's status as a privately held company.

When I initially began delving into this topic, I was appalled by the Koch brothers indiscretion towards human health; not caring about how their products impact the environment or the effects that manufacturing, storing, and transporting pet coke has on individuals. However, the more I researched the more I realized that this is an EPA problem as well. There does not appear to be clear regulations regarding pet coke production or storage. I did find one regulation the Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands (DCATS) is using to back up their case against pet coke storage in Detroit:
EPA Title 40 section 261.4.(a)(12)(i) states storage on land is not permissible and the “petroleum exception” is ONLY granted to a refinery to refinery gasification process .This pet coke is being stored speculatively for sale. Reference Federal Register Vol 73 No 1 which clearly states this is a violation.
It makes me happy to see that the DCATS is looking into this issue in Detroit, I just hope Chicago also takes the initiative and looks into Koch Carbon's environmental impact and if they are following regulations. I don’t agree with what Koch Carbon, or the Koch brothers are doing, but I do feel that we as citizens must begin standing up for what we think is right. We must demand stricter policies for nasty petroleum products and stricter enforcement of those policies by multi-billion dollar companies. Granted the Koch brothers are their own lobbying group, with an endless amount of money, but we as citizens of this country must recognize that we as a collective force can take down these men and the nastiness they are creating in order to stay rich.

Using politics to divide us is quite the tactic and the Koch brothers spend a lot of money making sure that it happens; while we stand arguing and pointing fingers at one another they are free to pollute as they wish. This divide must end and we must begin cohesively confronting these issues because we are all affected, regardless of age, gender, race or political beliefs. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can begin changing our current environmental trend that embraces dirty, nasty chemicals like pet coke.

I leave you with a video showing how bad the air is around these pet coke storing areas and how it is impacting Chicago citizens; click here.

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