Illinois sixth-worst state for power plant pollution

By Patrick Smith

Illinois has the sixth-most pollution from power plants in the country, according to a new study released last week by Environment Illinois.

The high ranking is yet another piece of bad news for the area’s environment.

Earlier this month, Forbes ranked Chicago the third-most toxic metropolitan area in the nation, and the Chicago Tribune revealed in September that the Environmental Protection Agency ranks Cook County as first in the country for dangerous air pollution.

“It’s time for the oldest and dirtiest power plants to clean up their act,” said Brandi Beals, the citizen outreach assistant director for Environment Illinois. “Coal-fired giants have dominated our electricity for decades and have been allowed to pollute without license.”

Environment Illinois is an organization that advocates for clean air, clean water and open spaces.

The group announced the results of the study in Chicago on Nov. 24. At the event, Beals was joined by Rep. Karen May and Environment Illinois’ staff attorney, Brian Granahan.

“I am pleased to stand with Environment Illinois,” May said. “It is important that we face up to the facts of what is happening with our greenhouse gasses and … the carbon dioxide emissions.”

The report, “America’s Biggest Polluters,” studied the EPA’s data on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in 2007, the most recent year from which data is available. The report found that “the United States relies heavily on outdated technology and limited resources for most of its electricity needs.”

Illinois has four power plants that rank in the top 100 dirtiest power plants in America, according to the study. Those four plants released 41,902,344 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2007.

The Baldwin Energy Complex in Baldwin, Ill. is the state’s dirtiest power plant, and ranks 30th in the nation. The plant produces almost the same amount of global warming pollution in a year as 2.5 million automobiles.

The report also found a direct correlation between the age of power plants and the amount of pollutants those plants produced. According to the study, plants built before 1980 produced 73 percent of power plant carbon dioxide emissions in 2007. Of the 52 plants in Illinois, 22 of them were built before 1980.

Nationwide, power plants released 2.56 billion tons of carbon dioxide. According to Beals, coal is the dirtiest source of electricity, and a 2004 report by the Clean Air task Force found that soot pollution from power plants may lead to as many as 24,000 premature deaths each year. And, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reducing carbon dioxide measures is an essential step to avoid dangerous global warming.

“In order to stop global warming and reap all of the benefits, we must require these coal-fired clunkers to meet modern standards for global warming pollution,” Beals said. “The biggest thing is to just move towards a more clean energy.”

May said that the solution to Illinois’ and the United States’ environmental issues is to promote “green collar jobs” and incentivize clean energy. The first step, according to May, was to remove any obstacles to the development of alternative energy in the state, like zoning ordinances that prevent homeowners from installing solar panels or individual wind-turbines.

“My agenda is to work with the environmental community and others to look at the impediments that we have to clean energy in this state,” May said. Adding that in her district on the North Shore she knows of many entrepreneurs who would like to invest in clean energy businesses.

There are two power plants within the city of Chicago that contribute to carbon dioxide emissions: the Fisk and Crawford Generating Stations owned by Midwest Energy. Those two plants rank nationwide as 342nd and 241st, respectively. Combined, they emit more than 5 million tons of carbon dioxide every year.

Midwest Generation spokesman Charlie Parnell said the air quality in Chicago has been steadily improving in the past 20 years, and that Midwest Generation is constantly making improvements to make the emissions from those two plants cleaner.

But according to Granahan, Midwest Generation is bad for Chicago and the country’s environment.

“They are not really stewards of the environment,” Granahan said. “And the economy isn’t set up to require them to be.”

Additionally, Beals said the fact that those two plants are not in the top 200 does not diminish the danger for Chicago’s residents.

“It’s in the air we breathe, and that’s the biggest thing,” Beals said. “And power plants are located near the waterways that are just south of us, so they could very easily be dumping into that.”