The Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public hearing today in Gary on its objections to a proposed state permit on the amount of pollution U.S. Steel can discharge into Lake Michigan.

The EPA blocked the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for U.S. Steel in October, saying the permit approved by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management had flaws.

Among the problems cited by the EPA:

  • IDEM gave U.S. Steel five years to limit discharges of several pollutants — including the cancer-causing chemical benzo(a)pyrene, cyanide, copper, zinc, ammonia and mercury – despite the Clean Water Act’s requirement of compliance as soon as possible.
  • The permit allows increased discharges of certain pollutants and establishes new limitations for others. It is not clear that these increases are appropriate under state standards.
  • The Clean Water Act requires facilities to minimize adverse environmental effects of cooling water intake structures. The EPA says the permit does not contain conditions to ensure the requirement is met.

U.S. Steel and various environmental groups plan to comment today on the EPA objections, and IDEM officials plan to attend the hearing.


Picture from U.S. Steel Home page

An EPA Regional Administrator said the public hearing was scheduled after receiving dozens of requests from members of Congress, the city of Chicago and the public about U.S. Steel’s emissions into the Grand Calumet River, which flows into Lake Michigan.

The Grand Calumet River, originates in the east end of Gary, Indiana, flows 13 miles (21 km) through the heavily industrialized cities of Gary, East Chicago, and Hammond, and drains into Lake Michigan via the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal, sending about one billion gallons of water into the lake per day.


Indiana Harbor – Photo from the USACE

View of industrial area on the Grand Calumet River.

Photo from the EPA’s site on Great Lakes Pollution Prevention and Toxics Reduction

Interestingly, IDEM has been involved in a “Grand Calumet Feasibility Study” to clean up what is, according to IDEM, “one of the most polluted waterways in the Great Lakes Basin area.” However, the Study does not cover the easternmost five miles of the river and the western half of the west lagoon because they are included in U.S. Steel’s cleanup projects. The assumption, I suppose, is that U.S. Steel will do the “right thing.” Kind a like the fox guarding the chicken coop.

Tom Anderson, executive director of Michigan City-based Save the Dunes Council, said the fact that the EPA heard the concerns of environmental groups and the public and objected to the permit was a major victory.

The EPA’s decision blocking the permit came in the wake of public outrage over the state granting BP’s Indiana refinery a permit in June that allowed it to increase its average daily discharges of ammonia into the lake by 54 percent and increase the amount of suspended solids by 35 percent.

Environmentalists said the permit amounted to a reversal of decades-long efforts to reduce pollution in Lake Michigan, and it threatened the drinking water supply for Chicago and other cities in Illinois and Indiana. In August, after weeks of criticism, BP said it would find a way to comply with the lower ammonia and suspended solids discharges set in its earlier permit or cancel its planned $3.8 billion expansion. Environmental groups said they believe EPA’s response to the U.S. Steel permit was due at least in part to the outrage over the BP permit.

After that, the EPA will review the comments for an unspecified time. The EPA will then respond to the comments it receives and could either inform IDEM that it reaffirms its objections, modifies its objections, or withdraws its objections.

If EPA reaffirms or modifies its objections, IDEM will have 30 days to send EPA a revised permit that address its objections. If IDEM fails to submit such a permit, then the EPA would be responsible for issuing the permit to U.S. Steel.

Grand Calumet River in Indiana

Photo from EPA website

IDEM is the same entity which has relaxed rules in Indiana as they apply to CAFOs. Ironically, IDEM stands for the “Indiana Department of Environmental Management” – looks to me like they are managing our environment right into the dumpster.

But what can you expect when you have a governor who has tunnel-vision when it comes to big business and exploitation of the state’s environment and resources – and agencies which reflect the governor’s positions.


About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
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