A little over a year ago, I wrote an article called “Coming Clean” about our work with the Clean Power Coalition to shut down or clean up two coal-fired power plants in Chicago. The coalition is working to pass an ordinance that will require the Fisk Generating System, located in Pilsen, and the Crawford Generating Station, located in Little Village, to reduce their emissions of particulate matter (soot), and carbon dioxide.
Both power plants were built in the early 1900’s and were last updated in the 1950’s. The Federal Clean Air Act of 1990 set standards for coal-fired power plants with the expectation that new plants (which would be subject to the federal emissions requirements) would eventually replace all the older plants. Instead, both Fisk and Crawford have intentionally avoided or bypassed modifications that would meet the federal standards. The proposed ordinance requires particulate matter emissions be reduced to the same level required for new coal plants, and that carbon dioxide emissions be limited to the same amount as plants powered by natural gas. The health concerns, pollution concerns, and justice concerns still exist, and the longer it takes to clean these plants up, the more harm is done.
Despite hard work from environmental groups, faith groups, and community organizations, the ordinance was given a public hearing this past April, but no formal vote was taken before the new administration and council were sworn in. The ordinance was re-introduced to the new City Council on July 28th, 2011 with 35 co-sponsors (out of 50 total aldermen and alderwoman). This is a huge achievement, as only 26 yes votes are needed for an ordinance to pass. The additional support was gained through hours of grassroots organizing in each ward – with residents calling on their elected officials to support the ordinance.
Getting Mayor Emmanuel to fully support the initiative is the next great battle. The mayor has publicly acknowledged the need for a solution, citing public health concerns as his biggest priority. He has not officially endorsed the ordinance, instead, he’s first giving Midwest Generation (the company that owns the two plants) the opportunity to propose their own solution for dramatic emission reductions.
We, and the coalition, see all of these pieces as great first steps. Starting the year off with more co-sponsors than we ever had last year is wonderful. Getting the mayor to publicly admonish the plants for the health problems they cause is a second great achievement. However, the fight is not over. We must keep up pressure on Mayor Emmanuel. Please take a minute to sign the online petition asking him to hold Midwest Generation accountable for their pollution and to create stricter emission standards. Also, take a moment to let your alderman know that you support the Clean Power Ordinance. The coalition website includes a list of current co-sponsors, as well as information on how to contact your alderman. We have momentum on our side, please help us keep it! It’s time to pass this ordinance, preserve our air and water, and protect the health of Chicago residents.