Guest Commentary

Ray Anderson is a "true environmentalist." As CEO of a successful but highly polluting business — a carpet manufacturer named Interface —  he ordered his company to significantly reduce toxic emissions. After a focused effort, the company reduced toxic pollutants by 60-80 percent, and increased sales 66 percent and doubled earnings. This is profiled in Anderson's inspirational book titled "Confessions of a Radical Industrialist." Mr. Anderson is an honest, pragmatic businessman who is serious about environmental stewardship and does not engage in "greenwashing."  

Greenwashing is deceitful advertising/information issued by some businesses and groups to mislead people into believing they are environmentally friendly when they actually choose the environmentally destructive path to profits or policy-making.

British Petroleum (BP) is an example. BP spends millions on its "green" logos and Beyond Petroleum (BP) advertising campaign, while simultaneously pursuing reckless cost-cutting that is now destroying the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem.  

It appears Gov. Rounds and the S.D. Board of Minerals and Environment (BME) are joining Hyperion oil refinery promoters to greenwash us. Gov. Rounds often repeats the words of Hyperion's Texas speculators that they will build and operate the cleanest oil refinery in America.  This is greenwashing for the following reasons:  

a) Hyperion would refine the dirtiest crude oil on the planet (Canadian tar sands oil);

b) Hyperion will release thousands of tons of known pollutants over food-producing farmland;

c) Hyperion is a real estate company that has never built a refinery (thus it has no experience or record on which to base its claim);

d) there is no such thing as a clean refinery ("least dirty refinery" would be more honest); and

e) Hyperion will release more carbon dioxide per refined barrel than any other refinery in the country.   

But there is more. Rookies make mistakes, and Hyperion, as a rookie refinery developer, made a big mistake in its original air permit application. Hyperion failed to recognize and report that its energy center's coker quench tank emits 1,700 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) annually. VOCs are nasty pollutants that cause cancer and worsen climate change.  Overlooking 1,700 tons per year is a really big rookie mistake.

Yet South Dakota's Department of Natural Environment (DENR) and BME made the same mistake when they overlooked VOCs and approved the air permit last August.  They too are rookies, having never dealt with an air permit of this size and complexity.  You'd think they'd be cautious when considering a $10 billion oil refinery. Unfortunately, BME joined the greenwashing campaign to lull SD citizens into complacency.  

After issuing the air permit, BME member Peter Bullene was quoted in the press: "I believe [state agency staff] has done a very diligent effort in researching not only locally but nationally all of the standards and how they apply to the… permit." Another BME member, Lee McCahren, added, "They've (Hyperion) satisfied their burden and they've satisfied state and federal requirements for an air permit, in my opinion."  Not only were both comments false, they reflect the over-confident hyperbole that is typical of greenwashing.  

The federal EPA reviewed Hyperion's air permit and reported eight major deficiencies. Hyperion's faulty application and BME's faulty permit were exposed. Judge Mark Barnett recently sent the permit back to the BME for corrections.

Hyperion reacted by issuing news releases proclaiming the mistake as a minor matter.  More greenwashing. What really happened is that Hyperion got caught underestimating pollution and shortcutting solutions. How many more big mistakes can we expect?  

Now we learn about Iowa's deep concerns regarding Hyperion. Apparently, S.D. officials preferred ignoring Hyperion's inevitable environmental threats. They issued a weak, faulty air air permit and if Iowa hadn't expressed their concerns Governor Rounds and the BME would have likely sat on their hands, preferring to cheerlead rather than exercise genuinely objective examinations and issuing necessary protections. BME won't even recommend an environmental impact statement, a necessary, baseline document so the public understands what such a massive project will do to air, water and other resources.

What must South Dakotans do to protect public health and our environment?  First, we must recognize greenwashing when it occurs. Second, we cannot allow politicians, board members, and state agencies to join the dirtiest polluters in their greenwashing.  We must become true environmentalists ourselves because that is the only way we will be able to recognize greenwashers.  Reading Anderson's book is a good first step.

Dean Spader is a professor emeritus at the University of South Dakota. He lives in Vermillion.   
 
Sources:

A. Hyperion's carbon dioxide releases — see Hyperion testimony at BME air permit hearing, 2009 & also see June, 2009 Prairie Fire publication article titled "Going Backwards. Building an oil refinery in South Dakota".

B. VOC and coker quench tank data: See Sierra Club complaint and documents submitted to SD 6th Circuit Court, June 8, 2010

C. Bullene and McCahren quotes: article titled: "BME unanimously approves Hyperion's air permit"; Akron Hometowner, Aug 26, 2009; http://www.akronhometowner.com/09Archive/09_08_26/index.htm

D. EPA review of Hyperion and EPA identification of eight air permit deficiencies: see EPA letter to Hyperion and SD DENR, dated 1-28-2010.

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