Southeast Side Chicagoans and environmentalists rallied at the Thompson Center Monday morning, urging public officials to reject requests that would allow petcoke storage facilities "to avoid compliance with city rules for years, if ever."
On Saturday, the Great March for Climate Action will make a stop in Chicago as the group of activists walk some 3,000 miles from Los Angeles to Washington D.C as means to highlight climate change and encourage Americans to take action on the issue.
Volunteers with Chicago's CivicLab want a full accounting of the more than $1.7 billion that was sitting in the city’s collective tax increment financing (TIF) district bank accounts at the end of 2013.
Tom Tresser, co-founder of the CivicLab and leader of its volunteer-based TIF Illumination Project, said the group plans to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the city within the week to "demand the mayor to come clean" about how those unspent funds will be used. Tresser said the group is prepared to take legal action if the city denies the FOIA request.
"We asked for (similar information) last year, and they told us to go take a leap," Tresser said at a TIF discussion Wednesday evening at the CivicLab, 114 N. Aberdeen St. "This time, we're going to sue if we don't get it."
Southeast Side Chicagoans are sounding the alarm on the latest environmental and public safety issue impacting their communities — an alleged uptick in trains transporting uncovered piles of petcoke, a byproduct of oil refining.
Over the past two months, some Southeast Side residents say they have noticed increased train traffic on old rail lines in the Hegewisch community that have previously been unused for many years. The trains, many of which pull more than 100 cars, are moving in and out of the area day and night, said Tom Shepherd of the Southeast Environmental Task Force.
Shepherd said the trains are carrying unenclosed petcoke, which is mostly coming from the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana and stockpiled at storage facilities along the Calumet River on Chicago's far Southeast Side.
Registered nurses and community activists rallied at Chicago's City Hall Monday afternoon, demanding that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and council members install an immediate moratorium on all petcoke operations in the city.
Chanting "Moratorium now!", dozens of Southeast Side residents, members of National Nurses United and other allies delivered a letter to the mayor's office, urging Chicago's elected officials to "cease all petcoke operations, transport and storage within the city until it is learned what impact petcoke has on the health of Chicagoans or until the piles are enclosed."
Members of the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban PetCoke took to the streets Saturday to push back against changes to a proposed ordinance to regulate petcoke piles in the city. They say the ordinance doesn’t go far enough in protecting their community from the dust particles that are making area residents sick. Some 200 protesters converged on Ald. John Pope’s (10th) ward office and KCBX Terminals, which stores the petcoke piles on the banks of the Calumet River, over the weekend in a call for a complete ban on petcoke piles.
Petcoke is a by-product from oil refineries that contains high concentrations of carbon and sulfur. Residents say high winds often blow the fine petcoke particles throughout the community often coating homes in black soot.
“If it falls short of removing the piles, it is not a good fix for our neighborhood,” said Marianne Blye, of the ordinance sponsored by Pope and Alderman Ed Burke (14th) and backed by the mayor.