Year after year, the two remaining coal-fired power plants in Chicago emit 260,000 pounds of soot, more than 17,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, and 200 pounds of mercury, according to data by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Today, a coalition of Chicagoans delivered a message to Mayor Rahm Emanuel asking him to end the life-threatening pollution once and for all.
Year after year, the two remaining coal-fired power plants in Chicago emit 260,000 pounds of soot, more than 17,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, and 200 pounds of mercury, according to data by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Residents of the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, where the two plants are located, have long spoken out against them. The Chicago Clean Power Coalition, comprised of local organizations and activists, realize they possess a unique opportunity with the new mayor.
Sporting green organizational shirts and face masks the coalition made a human billboard reading “Mayor Emanuel: Move Chicago Off Coal” and “El Carbon Nos Mata a Todos.”
After the demonstration, supporters made their way up to the fifth floor of City Hall and presented 6,141 signatures from Chicago residents petitioning the mayor to take action. A portrait portraying Mayor Emanuel as a superhero accompanied the stack of petitions with a note on the back reading “May Emanuel, Be Our Superhero retire the Fisk and Crawford power plants.” A staffer in the mayor's office happily took possession of the items and said they would be put on his desk.
Here's video of the exchange:
Green energy and environmental organizations find themselves with growing support to achieve just that goal. During the run-off elections last spring, Alderman Danny Solis (25th) changed his long-held position of opposing the Chicago Clean Power ordinance in face of a tough opponent who hammered him on the issue. Solis now sides with Alderman Joe Moore (49th) and the 34 other aldermen who have signed on as co-sponsors.
At the reintroduction of the ordinance, Emanuel said: “We are paying a health care cost as a city because of the plants. I want them as a company to be a responsible citizen to the people of the city of Chicago.”
The ordinance would more than likely be challenged in court by the owners of the two power plants, Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of Edison International. A move that would further delay the closing of the plants, which sells the energy produced out of state. Even still, there is a Home Rule provision in Chicago that should allow the city to enforce the ordinance on the company. Midwest Generation was sued by the Department of Justice and the state for violating the Clean Air Act at six power plants, including Fisk and Crawford, back in 2009.
“For over a decade, people in Chicago have been standing up to Midwest Generation and fighting for clean air and healthy communities,” said Rose Gomez, a Sierra Club Lead volunteer. “ Our mayor now has the opportunity to support Chicagoans and our families and hold them accountable for the toll that these plants have taken on the health of our children.”
Recent research from the Clean Air Task Force found that the combined pollution from the coal power plants causes 42 premature deaths, 66 heart attacks, and 720 asthma attacks each year. Furthermore, a staggering one in four Chicagoans live within a three-mile radius of the plants, according to the coalition.
“We live in the shadow of these plants every day. As a mother of three, two with asthma, we pay the price on a daily basis in medication, lost school days, lost work days and we are sick and tired of pollution being put over the health of our families,” said Kim Wasserman-Nieto, executive director of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.
In May, Greenpeace activists staged a protest by climbing up the smokestacks of the Fisk power plant. During their 26-hour stint, they painted 'Quit Coal' on the stacks. Both power plants are more than 50 years old and are currently undergoing renovations to meet Illinois environmental regulations by 2012 and 2013 for nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.
Images & Video: Aaron Krager