Federal Judge Holds BP Liable for Years of Air Pollution Violations at Refinery on Lake Michigan

More than Century-Old BP Whiting Refinery Released Deadly Microscopic Soot-Like Particles Above Permitted Limit

Hammond, Ind. – A federal judge today ruled that the more than century-old BP Whiting Refinery on Lake Michigan, one of the nation’s largest refineries, repeatedly violated legal limits on deadly soot-like particulate air pollution.

The decision by Judge Philip P. Simon of the U.S. District Court in Northern Indiana was a major victory for the Sierra Club, represented by attorneys with the Environmental Integrity Project. The groups had sued BP over air pollution violations at the Whiting Plant, which sprawls over 1,400 acres in Whiting, East Chicago, and Hammond.

The court will now decide a penalty and whether to require pollution control equipment or other remedies to fix the violations.

“Today’s ruling stamps out BP’s profits-over-people approach and ensures it will be held accountable for endangering Northwest Indianans’ health and safety with their dangerous emissions,” said Bowden Quinn, Director of Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter.

Environmental Integrity Project Attorney Sanghyun Lee said: “This decision reaffirms the core principle that violators can and must be held accountable for their unlawful pollution. The law is clear: compliance with permit terms is just a basic cost of doing business, and regulated entities like BP cannot just reap the benefits of noncompliance at the expense of the health and welfare of local residents.”

Between August 3, 2015, and October 9, 2018, BP conducted 9 emissions tests of the smokestacks of three boilers at the refinery. The company’s stack test reports, which are available publicly online through the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), showed that all 9 tests reported results over the permitted limits for microscopic soot-like particles (called PM10), which can trigger heart and asthma attacks.

BP reported the results to IDEM, but the violations continued. So the Sierra Club, working with the Environmental Integrity Project, sued BP in September 2019 to enforce the pollution limits and protect people living downwind.

In his decision, Judge Simon ruled the residents of Northern Indiana were clearly harmed by the refinery’s pollution and that BP was liable for the violations.

“BP’s emissions of (particulate matter) have injured Sierra Club’s members by diminishing their enjoyment of the outdoors in areas near the refinery,” wrote Judge Simon. “The fact that (one plaintiff), who is 81 years old and lives a half mile away from the refinery, spends less time outside due to her concerns about air pollution from the Whiting Refinery and the poor air quality often prevents her from enjoying her yard, going on walks, and feeding animals outside, establishes traceability.”

The judge also wrote: “BP is hereby found liable for the failure to comply with the PM10 emissions limitation.”

The BP Whiting Refinery, on the shores of Lake Michigan, is the sixth largest refinery in the US and has a capacity of more than 400,000 barrels per day. It was originally built in 1889 by Standard Oil.

For a copy of the court decision, click here.

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.

The Environmental Integrity Project is a 19-year-old nonprofit organization, based in Washington D.C. and Austin, Texas, dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and strengthening policy to protect public health and the environment.

Media contacts:
Liz Doherty, Sierra Club, (978) 578-3699 or  liz.doherty@sierraclub.org
Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project, (443) 510-2574 or tpelton@environmentalintegrity.org