Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=170323
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Protestors rally to shut down Chicago's coal plants

by Clarisa Ramirez
Oct 13, 2010


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Pilsen’s air is dirty. While hundreds of runners gasped for it, passing the Chicago Marathon’s 20-mile marker Sunday, just blocks away dozens were rallying to keep it clean. 

The rally focused on the health and environmental risks of carbon dioxide emissions released by Chicago’s two coal-fired power plants, Fisk Generating Station in Pilsen and Crawford Generating Station in Little Village. Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of Edison International, owns the plants.

“This is the year we’re going to end coal in Chicago,” said Chicago author Jeff Biggers. 

Greenpeace and the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO) organized the Chicago Clean Power Coalition rally at Alivio Medical Center, on West 21st Street. 

A group of people in T-shirts lettered with “Quit Coal” and wearing green cardboard oxygen masks stood outside in the hot sun to listen to speakers explain why clean air is so important.

“This is the year the next governor and the next mayor will announce that these (plants) are shutting down,” Biggers said. 

Susan Olavarria, Edison International’s director of governmental affairs and communications, took issue with the environmentalists’ goal. “We believe that (the coalition’s) intention is not for us to continue to generate but it intends to shut down the factory,” she said.

The company has a strong environmental track record and is always seeking to improve its standards, she said.

The coalition includes PERRO, Greenpeace, the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, the Sierra Club, and other organizations. The group is supporting a clean air ordinance that would effectively shut the plants. 

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) introduced the ordinance in April calling for a drastic reduction of emissions and particulate matter released by the coal plants. It calls for reducing particulate matter (soot) by 90 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent. The coalition said this is the equivalent of taking 625,000 cars off the road. 

Ald. Richard Muñoz, (22nd) cosponsored the ordinance in August. The Crawford plant is in his ward at 3501 S. Pulaski Road. 

Now the coalition is pressuring Ald. Danny Solis (25th) to cosponsor. The Fisk plant is in his ward at 1111 W. Cermak Road. Solis supported a clean air ordinance in 2002, but the bill failed. 

Stephen Stults, a legislative assistant to Solis, said Solis has not yet decided whether to cosponsor the ordinance. He said Solis plans to meet on the issue Monday with the Chicago Department of Environment, the Chicago Department of Law, and representatives of the mayor’s office. 

Members of the coalition say the plants should not be releasing any soot into the air. “There aren’t usually coal plants in urban neighborhoods,” said Dr. Sarah Pressman-Lovinger, director of Chicago’s Physicians for Social Responsibility. 

Brewer said there is more at stake for Solis this year because the ordinance has a strong chance of passing – and Solis receives donations form Midwest Generation, he said. Edison International, the parent company, has given him approximately $49,000 since 1999, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections website.

Olavarria said the company does donate money to politicians, but it is “peanuts” compared to what the company does and what it gives to nonprofit and local organizations. She said the company sponsors Friends of the Chicago River and its employees do neighborhood volunteer work.  

PERRO formed after the Harvard School of Public Health published a study in September 2001 examining the health of Illinois residents living near fossil fuel burning power plants. The study says toxic emissions from the Fisk and Crawford power plants contribute to Chicago’s annual 2,800 asthma attacks, 550 emergency room visits and 41 premature deaths.