Call for clean power heard despite city stalling

By Darryl Holliday

As Chicago politicians continue to delay the Clean Power Ordinance, which would lower toxic coal emissions in the city, some aldermen and many residents are attempting to bring the issue up for council debate.

An “ad hoc” hearing was held at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St., on Feb. 14, in which more than 200 residents from around the city filled the council chambers to demand Chicago’s two coal-fired power plants clean up their act.

The meeting was announced in response to the City Council postponing a hearing for that same day. It was not convened by the joint committee on Health and the Committee on Energy, Environmental Protection and Public Utilities—where the bill remains stalled—and was not part of the legal record.

“We’re having this hearing because for whatever reasons the powers-that-be at City Hall are unwilling to give the people a voice,” said Alderman Joe Moore

(49th Ward).

The ordinance, introduced by Moore in April 2010, has waited 10 months for an official hearing. As previously reported in The Chronicle on Sept. 13, the ordinance would limit toxic emissions at Chicago’s two coal plants, the Fisk, 1111 W. Cermak Road, and Crawford, 3501 S. Pulaski Road, generating stations in Pilsen and Little

Village, respectively.

“These are outdated plants being run into the ground for the sake of money,” said Kim Wasserman Nieto, resident of Little Village and coordinator with the Little

Village Environmental Justice Organization. “We’re doing our part in the community to lessen our reliance on coal power plants. We’re asking the city of Chicago do its part.”

The clean power coalition is made up of more than 50 environmental and community groups that aim to regulate or transform the city’s two biggest stationary emitters of deadly toxins, which include various particulate matter, mercury and soot.

According to data released by the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago in 2010, coal power plants contribute to 347 deaths annually in the Chicago metropolitan area. The report links the Fisk and Crawford stations to an annual 42 deaths, 31 hospital admissions, 66 heart attacks and a combined 720 asthma attacks among local residents.

The Clean Power Ordinance lost two co-signers—former Aldermen Ed Smith (28th Ward) and Toni Preckwinkle (4th Ward)—because of office transitions, and the coalition hopes their aldermanic replacements will also agree to sign on.

With 17 current co-sponsors, including the recent addition of Alderman Walter Burnett (27th Ward), the ordinance needs nine more to pass into law.

“These plants are basically being subsidized by the public health and safety of the people of Chicago, and it’s time this be stopped,” said Henry Henderson, founding commissioner of environment for Chicago and current Midwest program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“What this ordinance does is provide a clear pathway toward removing two of the major threats to public safety.”

While Alderman Ricardo Munoz (22nd Ward) signed on to the ordinance after mounting pressure from local Little Village environmental organizations, Alderman Daniel Solis (25th Ward) has yet to endorse it, despite the location of the Fisk coal plant in his Pilsen neighborhood.

“I have to say I’m disappointed but not surprised that Alderman Solis is not here,” said Patricia Mendez, volunteer with the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, in the council chambers. “It bothers me that it has to come to this.”