Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday September 20th, 2013, 4:31pm

Report: Illinois Ranks No. 7 For Dirtiest Power Plants; Plan For Pilsen Coal Plant Sites Still Unknown

A new report ranks Illinois as the seventh dirtiest state when it comes to carbon pollution from its power plants.

The state's power plants are the single biggest source of carbon pollution in Illinois, producing 41 percent of statewide emissions, according to the study issued Wednesday by the Environment Illinois Research and Education Center.

Each year, Illinois' power plants spew as much carbon pollution as 19.6 million cars.

“America's dirtiest power plants are the elephant in the room when it comes to global warming," Environment Illinois Campaign Director Lisa Nikodem said in a statement. "If we want a cleaner, safer future for our kids, we can't afford to ignore power plants' overwhelming contribution to global warming. For Illinois, tackling the problem means cleaning up the dirtiest power plants.”

The findings come as the Obama administration moves ahead with new guidelines meant to address global warming. On Friday, the U.S. EPA released an updated proposal that looks to cut carbon pollution for the first time from new coal-fired power plants. The EPA is expected to take up proposed emission standards for existing power plants next year, with the finalized proposal set to come in 2015.

“The U.S. has an opportunity and a responsibility to be a leader in reducing carbon emissions, and yet our power plants alone emit more than almost any other entire country…We can't afford not to act," U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D, IL-9) said in a statement.  "I look forward to strong rules from the U.S. EPA to limit carbon emissions for new and existing power plants."

The top five polluting power plants in the state are Baldwin Energy Complex, Powerton, Joppa Steam, Newton, and Joliet 29. The Baldwin Energy Complex, operated by Dynegy Midwest Generation,. Inc., was ranked the 24th most polluting power plant in the country.

The future of a now closed Illinois power plant

Environmentalists and Chicago residents did win a victory last year when officials at Midwest Generation announced that they had reached an agreement with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to close its Fisk coal-fired power plant in Pilsen and Crawford coal plant in Little Village. What will become of the sites that house the now shuttered plants is still a big question mark, however.

The Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO), which worked for years to shut down the plants, is represented on the mayor's Fisk and Crawford Reuse Task Force, which was formed in April 2012 to come up with economic development and job creation alternatives for the land.

As part of its duties on the task force, PERRO began holding public forums last year about redeveloping the Fisk site located on Cermak Road. Following those community meetings, PERRO produced a design that looked to transform the site's parking lot into a green and multi-use space with paths that stretch along the south branch of the Chicago river, which runs adjacent to the plant. The proposal had overwhelming support from the Pilsen community.

But at a follow-up public forum Thursday night, Jerry Mead-Lucero, an organizer with PERRO, said the plan has received no blessing from the city nor the task force. That's mainly because Midwest Generation changed its mind about giving up the parking lot for redevelopment, said Mead-Lucero, who sits on the task force.

Midwest Generation and Commonwealth Edison, which also owns land at the site, have offered up an alternative plan, however, which is backed by the city and task force, Mead-Lucero said.

The new plan involves two pieces of land that abut the river near Throop Avenue, a side street. One section is owned by Midwest Generation and the other by ComEd, which has green-lighted the land's redevelopment. But obtaining the other section of land hinges on whether the new property owner that buys the land from Midwest Generation signs off on its redevelopment. A new property owner hasn't been identified as of yet.

As part of the second proposal, the task force has suggested a river walk, a green space with places for children to play and a skate park. One task force member has also floated an idea to turn a barge into a pool.

But those at Thursday's meeting, which was attended by more than 50 people, weren't entirely sold on the second proposal. Various people cited concerns that the two pieces of land in question are hidden from the busy Cermak Road, which may attract crime and other illegal activity.

"Because it's so far away from Cermak ... unless there's structured activities to get people there, one, people won't know about it, and they'll be afraid to go there," Alison Paul, a three-year Pilsen resident, told Progress Illinois. 

She added that there are opportunities, however, to form creative partnerships and create things likes an outdoor classroom or a soccer field at the site, which would bring more people to the area.

Dorian Breuer, a spokesman for PERRO, said the realistic possibility that's emerging from the task force is moving away from what the community clearly said it wanted during PERRO's earlier public input process. Overall, he said it would take a lot of effort to make the first proposal a reality, but added that PERRO is "perfectly happy to have a big fight".

"One of the reasons why we were invited on the task force I think is that there's an acknowledgment, perhaps on the mayor's part, that a group like ours does seek public opinion, and if we're outside of the table we get real loud," Breuer stressed.

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