VICTORY!! EJC Announces Chicago’s Coal Plants Will Close
Eco-Justice Collaborative, the initiator of the most recent campaign to close Chicago’s coal plants and one of the founders of the Chicago Clean Power Coalition, announces a major victory for the people of Chicago! After 2 1/2 years of continuous organizing by grassroots organizations and environmental groups, Midwest Generation, owner and operator of Fisk and Crawford coal plants on the city’s southwest side has agreed to permanently retire these corporate polluters. They are the largest sources of stationary pollution in the city of Chicago and two of the oldest and dirtiest coal plants in the country. Under the terms of an agreement signed between Midwest Generation, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Clean Power Coalition, the Fisk power plant in Pilsen will shut down in 2012, while Crawford plant in Little Village will be closed in in 2014.
Both plants were grandfathered under the Clean Air Act and for nearly a century have been emitting harmful pollutants linked to increased cardiopulmonary disease and respiratory problems. A 2010 study by the Clean Air Task Force found that pollution from Fisk and Crawford caused 42 premature deaths, 66 heart attacks and 720 asthma attacks each year. One of four Chicagoans live within a three-mile radius of these plants. Earlier this year the U.S. EPA identified Fisk & Crawford as the city’s largest sources of industrial pollution. In 2010, the plants emitted 4.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Closure Marks End of Decade-Long Struggle
The announcement of the closures marks the culmination of a decade-long grassroots effort to protect Chicago residents from the harmful pollution from these plants. For over ten years, community groups in Pilsen and Little Village, neighborhoods closest to the plants, have been on the forefront of the struggle, calling on City officials to clean up or shut down the plants. Ultimately, the victory came through the unified efforts of many of Chicago’s environmental and community groups brought together as the Chicago Clean Power Coalition.
EJC and the Roots of the Chicago Clean Power Coalition
In 2009, the Eco-Justice Collaborative led an educational delegation to West Virginia to view the devastation of mountaintop removal coal mining. Strategically, EJC invited members of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, and Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward) in hopes of making links between rural communities affected by coal mining and those urban areas bearing the brunt of coal combustion pollution.
Upon returning from the delegation, EJC organized a series of Chicago-area events called “From theHoller to the Hood, The REAL Cost of Coal”. At one such event, an interagency roundtable held late in September of that year, EJC announced that Alderman Moore was willing to introduce an ordinance to limit pollution from the Chicago plants and encouraged local environmental organizations to come together to support the effort. The Chicago Clean Power Coalition was born.
The Winding Road through City Hall
Over the next two years, the Chicago Clean Power Coalition grew to over 60 community, environmental and business groups, working to transition Chicago away from polluting coal toward clean, safe renewable energy. The Clean Power Coalition focused on the injustices of the ongoing pollution from these plants on communities of color, and ensured ongoing representation and leadership from impacted communities in the planning and implementation of the campaign.
The Chicago Clean Power Ordinance was introduced before the City Council in April of 2010. The Ordinance would have required the Fisk and Crawford plants to clean up their emissions of fine particulate matter by 90 % and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50%. Over the course of the year the measure gained the support of 26 aldermen, but failed to appeal to then mayor Richard Daley.
With the election of Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011, the move to clean up the plants gained a new advocate. The Clean Power Ordinance was reintroduced, this time gaining sponsorship by 35 aldermen including Alderman Danny Solis (25th) in whose ward the Fisk plant was located. As public support for the legislation grew, the Mayor’s office sent a clear message to Midwest Generation that it must find a way to dramatically reduce its pollution or face a legislative mandate. In the end, the corporation, the City of Chicago and the Clean Power Coalition entered into discussions leading to an agreement to shutter the plants.
Coalition Remains Committed and Relentless
Over the course of the two-year campaign, the Clean Power Coalition was relentless in pushing for a resolution. Local community groups such as Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization and Pilsen Alliance brought the passion and voice of the neighborhoods to the fight. With hundreds of volunteers and the full commitment of organizations such as Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, the Coalition launched a public awareness campaign, held press conferences, hosted rallies, staged civil actions, and lobbied aldermen. Supporters rallied, wrote letters, signed petitions and called their alderman demanding that the plants clean up or close.
In the end the plants’ decision to close down was a victory for the people of Chicago With the closure of the Fisk & Crawford coal plants, our city takes a bold step away from dirty energy and the harm it brings to human health, while at the same time opening the way for a clean energy future. We look forward to working with community groups and the city to ensure that to these sites are cleaned up and restored for safe, productive uses.
NOTE: This campaign gained national attention and is the subject of an April, 2014 book authored by journalist Kari Lydersen and published by Midwest Energy News entitled “Closing the Cloud Factories”.
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