Quick Hit Aricka Flowers Tuesday May 17th, 2016, 5:59pm

Environmentalists Demand Transition To Renewable Energy At BP Whiting Refinery, 41 Arrested

More than 1,000 environmentalists and Chicago-area residents protested at the BP Refinery in Whiting, Indiana demanding an end to the use of fossil fuels and a transition to the sole use of renewable energy.

"From the toxic waste created by extreme extraction of tar sands destroying indigenous communities in Canada, to toxins created by the BP Whiting refinery producing sacrifice communities in the Greater Chicago area, to the catastrophic effect on our climate, the urgent need for a just transition away from fossil fuels to a 100 percent renewable energy economy is abundantly clear," said Mariah Urueta, a Food & Water Watch Michigan organizer.

The protesters, joined by more than 70 local and national organizations, walked two miles through area neighborhoods, ending the march in front of the refinery. There, they sat in a circle at the facility's gates Sunday until 41 of the protesters were arrested by police donning riot gear. Those arrested were released shortly after being charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing. The protest took place as news broke that April's temps exceeded global records, which is the seventh consecutive month of such news, sparking analysts to contend that 2016 will likely be the hottest year on record by far.

"We learned today that April had been the hottest April ever recorded on this planet, and by a large margin," Bill McKibben, 350.org co-founder and senior advisor, said Sunday. "We no longer have time for saying words; we really do have to start taking serious action. Every day, people are putting up resistance to new pipelines, coal ports and other new fossil fuel infrastructures... in their communities. When we fight, we win. So we should probably fight more often."

The protest was part of a coordinated effort across six continents called Break Free, "in which ordinary people targeted prominent fossil fuels projects in the name of climate justice," according to a press release on the demonstration. The movement seeks to end the use of fossil fuels by way of "targeted actions." 

"Break Free represents global solidarity to end our dependence on destructive fossil fuel energy and embrace a just transition to renewable sources. The location of the Midwest convergence is important because the BP Refinery epitomizes how destructive this industry is on the nearby sacrificial communities of people by polluting the air, water and soil," said Jessie Crow Mermel, a coordinator for the Forest City 350 Climate Coalition.

BP's Whiting facility has been a symbol of the nation's climate ills to environmental activists who have blasted the refinery for storing petcoke waste along the Calumet River, impacting communities near the Southeast Side of Chicago, and a 2014 oil spill that dumped more than 1,600 gallons of oil into Lake Michigan.

"Our region has a long history with the fossil fuel industry," said area resident Olga Bautista, a coordinator with the Chicago Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke. "BP Whiting refinery, near my Chicago south side neighborhood, processes more tar sands oil than any other refinery in the country. It brings the world's dirtiest fossil fuels directly to my community via the Enbridge pipeline network. As a mother of two little girls, I see how the pollution dumped in my community harms my family."

Illinois was recently ranked as the number one state in the Midwest for clean energy jobs in the Clean Jobs Midwest survey. But the state also fell two spots last year in the Solar Foundation's National Solar Jobs census after losing about 300 positions when compared to 2014 figures. Illinois has over 3,400 solar industry positions and houses 274 solar companies, ranking 14th in the nation for solar jobs. Environmental activists say the state has the potential to be a trailblazer in renewable energy -- if local leaders so choose. 

"Illinois has the potential to be a leader in sustainability," said Elizabeth Donoghue of SAFE (Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment), "but instead chooses to cling to the idea that a fossilized and dying industry can save us, instead of working to bring renewable industries to our state, instead of streamlining policies that make sustainable growth possible."

First Image: Twitter/@soit_goes
Remaining images: Hoda Katebi/Survival Media Agency/Break Free Midwest

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