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Thursday, 23 January 2014 05:46

Chicago Residents Rebel Against Koch Brothers and Rahm Emanuel Over Petroleum Coke Hazard

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The Koch brothers are benefitting from the Alberta tar sands operation big time as they amass mountains of a byproduct -- petroleum coke -- to sell overseas.

As with many toxic industries, the Koch brothers are locating storage large storage piles of “petcoke” in poor down-on-their-heels neighborhoods. This first came to notice in Detroit, where the Kochs were storing the hazardous material -- in open air -- along the Detroit River until ships could transport it overseas (particularly to China).

As EcoNews reported last year:

The New York Times is reporting about a growing, dirty side effect of refining tar sands bitumen from Canada. The evidence is on clear display as a black mountain piles up alongside the Detroit River, thanks in part to Charles and David Koch.

“Assumption Park gives residents of this city lovely views of the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit skyline. Lately they’ve been treated to another sight: a three-story pile of petroleum coke covering an entire city block on the other side of the Detroit River. Detroit’s ever-growing black mountain is the unloved, unwanted and long overlooked byproduct of Canada’s oil sands boom,” says the article, “A Black Mound of Canadian Oil Waste Is Rising Over Detroit.”

The toxic mountain of petroleum coke, or petcoke, is like coal but dirtier, and is being sold by Koch Carbon to fuel the coal plants of countries like China. “The coke [in Detroit] comes from a refinery alongside the river owned by Marathon Petroleum, which has been there since 1930. But it began refining exports from the Canadian oil sands—and producing the waste that is sold to Koch—only in November."

study from Oil Change International earlier this year details just how dangerous petcoke is to the environment.

A similar storage hazard exists on Chicago's struggling Southeast Side, along the Calumet River. Many residents are revolting against Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposed industry friendly regulations and support a ban on open storage of petroleum coke (a move opposed by Emanuel).

According to a January 14 article in Midwest Energy News (MEN):

At a public hearing Monday night, local residents made clear that they don’t trust the City Council or Mayor Rahm Emanuel to take meaningful action on the issue.

They think the city’s proposed storage regulations  – crafted by the public health department at the mayor’s behest — would allow piles of petcoke to keep growing and polluting in their neighborhood....

Emanuel last month rejected the idea of a citywide ban on petcoke storage, saying a state or federal solution is needed. 

In supporting the pollution for profit policies of the Koch Brothers, Emanuel is continuing his nearly unbroken record of being the mayor not of the people, but of corporate interests.

One resident describe Emanuel's favored aldermanic proposal as being like Swiss Cheese, “rife with holes.”

Of a possible restriction to let only small companies store the petroleum coke in open air mounds, another neighborhood advocate complained, according to MEN:

“The Koch brothers will create 10 smaller companies tomorrow and spread it all along the river,” said Carl Camacho, 33, who has lived his entire life in the neighborhood.

“Do they know how wind works?” added Bautista after the hearing. “Those barriers won’t do anything.”

Critics also blasted the fact that the regulations would be crafted and enforced by the city’s health department, which is already considered under-staffed and resource-strapped. The environment department was eliminated in 2011.

Of course, although not one local Chicagoan supported the Emanuel “plan,” “representatives of the Koch subsidiary KCBX and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce criticized the regulations as too stringent.”

Emanuel lives in a comfortable, leafy residential northern neighborhood far from the Koch brothers storage site.  His wife and children are not impacted in any way by the petcoke swirling on the Southeast Side of the city. And we suspect that no industry executives live in the Calumet River area. As MEN documents:

The fight over petcoke taps into a larger ongoing struggle on the far southeast side. This was once the thrumming hub of the region’s steel industry, with up to 40,000 people employed in well-paying union jobs. The mills closed in the 1980s and 1990s, other industries left as well, and the area fell into economic and structural decline.

The southeast side lost population, but the families who remained retain a fierce sense of pride in their home turf. The past few years have seen an increase in proposals for locating new heavy polluting industries or waste-related operations on the southeast side....

“Once the petcoke comes there will just be even more garbage sent here,” said resident Richard McGraw, a retired accountant who would like to see solar farms and solar panel manufacturing on the brownfields of the southeast side. “Petcoke will speed the decline of the East Side – we’ll slide into oblivion.”

It is a story re-enacted over and over again: find a poor or declining neighborhood and dump toxic processing plants or storage facilities there.

But in Chicago, the residents are fighting back against a mayor who favors the likes of the Koch brothers over his own constituents.  They are also, foremost, for the right to live in healthy neigborhoods for raising families and building communities that are not regarded as dumping grounds by industry and politicians alike.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

(Photo: Fuzzytek)