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State officials file rules for ‘petcoke’

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO (AP) – State officials unveiled proposed guidelines Monday for the handling and storage of petroleum coke in Illinois, a move that drew sharp criticism from business groups, who called it unnecessary, and residents, who said they didn’t go far enough.

Taking cues from Chicago officials who outlined similar rules for companies in the city weeks ago, Gov. Pat Quinn announced emergency rules Monday that’ll be filed with the Illinois Pollution Control Board and could take effect statewide by the end of January.

The proposed regulations include requiring companies to install equipment that monitors wind speed, add dust suppression systems along conveyor belts that carry the material and submit plans to enclose their operations to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Quinn’s announcement came at a news conference held on Chicago’s Southeast Side came the same day as a public hearing on Chicago’s regulations and ongoing lawsuits with companies who store the substance in the Chicago area.

“Petcoke” is a byproduct of oil refining. Environmental officials say it is not hazardous, but Chicago residents raised environmental and health concerns after some became airborne last summer and blew into their residential neighborhood. Breathing the dust can cause respiratory problems, such as exacerbating asthma.

The statewide rules proposed Monday are subject to public feedback.

“We don’t want the facilities to just move from Chicago to another part of Illinois,” Quinn said. “We are not going to be a dumping ground for any of this fugitive petcoke dust that can harm people’s lives and health.”

Officials in Chicago have proposed city-specific regulations that include calling for storage facilities to enclose materials like petcoke. Proposed ordinances pending before the City Council include a ban on the substance, although Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said such a step isn’t likely. Quinn said the pollution board’s process would help inform whether a ban on storing petcoke was necessary.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, which helped file lawsuits against the companies, has said it is drafting statewide legislation on petcoke regulation, which is expected later this year.

Still, Quinn’s move was met with criticism Monday as business groups, including the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, called it burdensome for companies who were cooperating.

Companies that handle the substance around Chicago say they’re in the process of addressing concerns.

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