Did Mark Kirk Really “Stop BP”? – Another Exaggeration

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Letter to Editor
Did Mark Kirk Really “Stop BP From Polluting Lake Michigan”?
Did he or didn’t he?

Since 2007, Mark Kirk has made a big deal out of his opposition to BP’s plans to increase the pollution from its Whiting, IN refinery as part of a plan to switch to a dirtier source of oil – Canadian tar sands.

Most recently, he touted his “stopping” and “beating” BP twice in Wednesday’s debate with Alexi Giannoulias.

There’s no question Congressman Kirk joined many other leaders, including Senator Durbin, Mayor Daley, Pat Quinn, then-Congressman Rahm Emmanuel, and many others who joined Sierra Club and the environmental community in protesting BPs proposal to increase pollution. To be fair, Kirk certainly didn’t go soft on the rhetoric. Here he is from the House floor in 2007:

“We cannot allow new dumping by BP. Later today we will meet with the head of BP North America, and given the legislative tsunami we are preparing, we should simply be discussing BP’s terms of surrender on their lake-dumping plan. BP, millions spent in the ‘Beyond Petroleum’ campaign, but we know it stands for ‘Bad Polluter.’ Hopefully, BP will back down and be a better partner in protecting Lake Michigan.”

To hear Kirk tell it, you’d think he won that battle, and Lake Michigan is safe from the pollution we all protested. You’d be wrong.

Trouble is, nobody stopped BP. Indiana went right ahead and issued BP the permit for the increased pollution. All the protests, including those from Kirk, did net a verbal commitment from BP that they would “review” whether it “could” avoid more pollution; but Indiana’s decision to allow the pollution was not reversed. BP was not “beat” or “stopped.” They refused to relinquish the permit, and Indiana maintains that the permit, which Kirk called “their lake-dumping plan” is valid. When BP’s conversion to dirty “tar sands” oil is complete in 2012, they will be within their right to dump all the pollution we all fought back in 2007.

Kirk apparently reads history a little differently. His campaign website says:
“Fact: Mark Kirk stood up to Big Oil when he stopped BP from polluting Lake Michigan.”

In a press release from is Congressional office October 17, 2009,:

‘Two years ago, we scored a major victory after BP agreed to back down from its plan to dump more ammonia and industrial sludge into Lake Michigan,’ Congressman Mark Kirk said.

On February 2nd, his campaign put out a press release including:

“In Congress, Kirk stopped BP’s plan to pollute Lake Michigan”

In May, Mark Kirk approved this campaign commercial, entitled “Distract”, that claims “Stopping British Petroleum’s pollution of Lake Michigan…” as an accomplishment.

Then, June 2nd on Springfield talk radio, Kirk asserted:

“We were successful in stopping that plan because it would have been the first new dumper in the great lakes in 10 years and that’s the source of 95% of North America’s fresh water and where 30 million people pull their drinking water from.”

On July 6th, Kirk said at a press conference:

“Let’s be clear on what we fought and what we won on. We beat a new IDEM permit.”

Q: Didn’t they actually issue the permit?

“They absolutely did.”

Q: Has it been cancelled?

“I don’t think it has.”

Q: How can you say you beat it?

“We beat it because BP then decided to build a water treatment plant, adding over $20 million in cost to their Whiting facility.”

No one that I’ve talked to involved in the case has any idea what Kirk is referring to with that $20 million figure. In fact, there is no evidence that BP has changed their “lake dumping plan” at all.

If Kirk’s recollection of the past seems off, it’s even less clear where he stands on BP’s Lake Michigan pollution proposal now. In fact, he seems to actually support BP’s move to dirtier gas at Whiting:

“No one argues against the need to expand production capability at the Whiting facility, but there should be zero tolerance for releasing deadly poisons into our air and water.'” Crain’s Chicago Business, 6/4/09

Tar sands oil is dirty from start to finish – it takes more energy to extract, uses more water and creates more pollution to refine into gasoline, and is dirtier when we burn it in our cars. That makes Kirk’s support for tar sands and apparent opposition to BP’s pollution irreconcilable.

It also makes this particular verbal assault on BP quite ironic:

“I think BP now stands for bad polluter…They need to be called out on their corporate hypocrisy.” Daily Herald, 7/20/07

I agree with Kirk that those who talk a good game on the environment, even if the facts don’t back it up, “need to be called out.” It’s time for Mark Kirk to stop exaggerating, and be honest with the public about the risks still facing our Great Lake, and about the incomplete nature of the “victory” he is so very proud of.

Jack Darin
Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter

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