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Koch heapEscalating a fight with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a company that stores enormous mounds of petroleum coke on Chicago's Southeast Side is threatening to sue unless city officials allow the gritty piles to remain uncovered for another four years.

KCBX Terminals, a firm controlled by industrialists Charles and David Koch, is pushing to delay the construction of storage sheds for two years past a 2016 deadline imposed by the Emanuel administration in response to complaints about black dust blowing into surrounding neighborhoods.

The company also wants to raise the maximum height of its piles to 45 feet rather than the 30-foot limit required under new city regulations, according to documents filed by KCBX that seek several exemptions, known as variances, from the Chicago Department of Public Health.

"If the department denies the variances, KCBX's only recourse would be to challenge the department in court," the company's lawyers wrote in an 88-page request that repeatedly describes the Emanuel rules as an "unreasonable hardship."

KCBX is in the midst of dramatically expanding its storage of petroleum coke, or petcoke, from the nearby BP refinery in Whiting and other refineries across the Midwest. State officials last year cleared the way for the company to handle up to 11 million tons a year of petcoke and coal at its sprawling open-air terminal off Burley Avenue between 108th and 111th streets.

Last year, another Koch subsidiary removed a waterfront mound of petcoke in Detroit under pressure from local political leaders, but KCBX appears to be girding for a long battle in Chicago. Even if the city balks at giving the company what it wants, dragging the dispute into court could keep the piles uncovered indefinitely.

The company's legal threat comes less than a month after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accused KCBX of violating the federal Clean Air Act. Pollution monitors recorded high levels of lung-damaging particulate matter on April 12 and May 8 near the Burley Avenue terminal and a second KCBX site a few blocks north off 100th Street.

EPA investigators also used dust wipes to sample the black film coating about a dozen locations in the East Side neighborhood. The EPA said it found the chemical fingerprints of petcoke in five of the samples, with the highest levels found on the exteriors of homes closest to uncovered piles of the refinery byproduct.

In February, Emanuel vowed he would make it too costly for companies to store petcoke in Chicago. "Dumping an environmental product that damages our health is not something that we want to welcome," he told WBEZ radio.

KCBX and its allies responded that Emanuel's regulations sent the wrong message to the business community and could cost Chicago 40 jobs at the company's storage terminals.

"It seems like he's more interested in high-tech white-collar jobs downtown in the Loop than the industrial jobs that the neighborhoods really need," Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said after Emanuel unveiled his petcoke rules.

The city is taking public comments until Sept. 30 about KCBX's request to delay or change provisions of the petcoke rules. In a statement, the mayor's office said the regulations "set a high bar for the issuance of variances, allowing them only if the company can prove that the change would not affect the surrounding environment and properties or create a public nuisance."

People who live in the East Side and South Deering neighborhoods are already livid that Emanuel gave the company two years to erect storage sheds. Covering the piles is seen as the most effective way to eliminate potential dust problems.

Residents say the mountains of petcoke and coal are an eyesore and a threat to public health.

"The mayor promised to make it tougher for them to operate, not easier," said Peggy Salazar, executive director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force and a longtime neighborhood resident. "Four more years of dust is just going to make the situation worse for us."

Mounds of petcoke are piling up near Midwest refineries that strip oil out of tarlike crude from Canada known as bitumen. Some of the high-carbon, high-sulfur byproduct is burned along with coal at power plants and cement kilns in the United States, but increasingly it is shipped to China, Mexico and other countries with more lenient environmental laws.

KCBX's pair of sites along the Calumet River have become a hub for petcoke shipped from refineries in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and Wyoming. The company has a contract to store all of the petcoke generated by the BP refinery in Whiting, which is more than tripling its output to 2.2 million tons a year.

The Chicago sites are among several nationwide affiliated with Koch Industries, one of the nation's largest privately held companies. The billionaire Koch brothers who control the company are major contributors to conservative advocacy groups and organizations that oppose environmental regulations.

As it pushes back against Chicago's regulations, KCBX hired an environmental consultant who reported he found no signs of petcoke in soil samples from surrounding neighborhoods — a conclusion that runs counter to the EPA's findings in the same area.

The company also cites data collected by a state air pollution monitor at Washington High School, about two-thirds of a mile southeast of the Burley Avenue terminal. The monitor has recorded no violations of the federal standard for particulate matter since at least 1993, though prevailing winds typically don't blow toward the monitor from the KCBX site.

KCBX says it has already taken several steps to tamp down dust, including routine cleaning of truck wheels and frequent sweeping of roadways inside the storage terminals.

The biggest improvement, KCBX says, is a system of pole-mounted sprinklers that can be adjusted based on wind speed and direction.

"We've complied with the vast majority of the city's new requirements," Jake Reint, a company spokesman, said in an email. "We're seeking a small number of limited variances that are allowed for under the rules in order to maintain our customer obligations as we transition to implementing the enclosure project."

Asked about the lawsuit threat, Reint said: "We remain committed to working with the city. That's where our focus is."

The documents KCBX filed with the city include a picture of a petcoke storage shed that another Koch subsidiary took 28 months to erect in Pittsburg, Calif., far less time than the company is asking for in Chicago.

More time is needed here, Reint said, to dismantle the sprinkler system and reconfigure the Burley Avenue terminal to handle all of the petcoke and coal stored by the company in Chicago. The 100th Avenue terminal will eventually be shuttered, he said.

Critics accused KCBX executives of trying to undermine the city's efforts at the same time they promote the company as a good neighbor.

"They are looking to keep doing business as usual," said Meleah Geertsma, an attorney with the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. "How can we trust KCBX to follow through on their promises if they are already trying to gut the regulations?"

Link to original article at Chicago Tribune

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Petcoke firm threatens lawsuit over city rules

Petcoke firm threatens lawsuit over city rules

Escalating a fight with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a company that stores enormous mounds of petroleum coke on Chicago's Southeast Side is threatening to sue unless city officials allow the gritty piles to remain uncovered for another four years. KCBX Terminals, a firm controlled by industrialists Charles and David Koch, is pushing to delay the construction of storage sheds for two years past a 2016 deadline imposed by the Emanuel administration in response to complaints about black dust blowing into surrounding neighborhoods. The company also wants to raise the maximum height of its...

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Senate Democrats look to revive dormant Equal Rights Amendment

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Illinois becomes 16th state to legalize marriage equality

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Progressive Democrats of America and AFSCME Retirees Hosted …

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JoAnn Conrad 18 Nov 2013 Hits:503 Illinois

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Food stamp cuts to hit 2 million Illinois residents today

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Monique Garcia | The Chicago Tribune 03 Nov 2013 Hits:418 Illinois

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Jeff Biggers | The Huffington Post 28 Oct 2013 Hits:469 Illinois

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The pinnacle of last week's Take Back Chicago rally at UIC came near the end, when the 11 aldermen onstage were asked point-blank whether they support pending proposals to slow privatization and tax increment financing deals. Yes or no? As more than 2,000 of the city's most dedicated activists looked on, the aldermen all said yes—even though a couple of them are among the most consistent council supporters of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. They then sat there smirking, as if to say, you can't trap me, because I'm too slick. Things got so absurd...

Ben Joravsky | Chicago Reader 23 Oct 2013 Hits:443 Illinois

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Pro-Coal Kids' Pages Pulled from Government Site as Public Pressure Increases

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Jeff Biggers | Huffington Post 08 Oct 2013 Hits:700 Illinois

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Jeff Biggers | Huffington Post 06 Sep 2013 Hits:607 Illinois

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When Will Illinois Stop Pushing Discredited Coal Education Program on Children, Schools?

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Two years after a national campaign exposed a coal industry-bankrolled curriculum foisted on unwitting teachers and children, the state of Illinois is still dragging its feet to revamp its own widely denounced, misleading and climate change-denying "Coal Education Program" for schools. Here's the punchline, kids: On the heels of a recent study that the coal industry annually drains nearly $20 million from the Illinois state budget, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's Office of Coal Development now says it's too broke to promptly respond to a long-awaited evaluation of the...

Jeff Biggers | Huffington Post 29 Aug 2013 Hits:611 Illinois

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Jeff Biggers | Aljazeera America 16 Aug 2013 Hits:583 Illinois

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