On April 21st, 2011 clean power advocates met king coal in a 7-hour long hearing. Midwest Generation, which owns the two plants, got there early with hundreds of its workers that it bused in from all parts of the state and quickly grabbed most of the seats in the council chamber, effectively excluding all others from participating in the hearing. Their goal? To maintain the status quo by making this a Chicago jobs issue, instead of agreeing to spend money to install pollution controls to protect resident health.
Fisk and Crawford are two of the oldest and dirtiest coal plants in the country. They are the largest sources of both fine particulate matter pollution and global warming pollution in the city of Chicago. In fact – the Illinois EPA lists them as among the largest polluters in the city. A recent report by the Clean Air Task Force affirmed that these plants are responsible for contributing to the premature death of 42 people each year, as well as countess asthma attacks, heart attacks, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.
The Chicago Clean Power Ordinance was created to reduce the emissions fine particulate matter by 90% and carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas by 50%. Regulations in the ordinance could be met by repowering, which could create – rather than eliminate jobs. The plants, which were grandfathered when the Clean Air Act was adopted in 1970, do not contain modern pollution control equipment. The question clean power advocates are raising is not one of jobs versus health, but one of profits vs. health. According to the company’s SEC filing, Midwest Generation’s net income from its six plants was $1.8 billion since 2005.
The few folks that made it into the council chambers sent information about these proceedings that were captured with the hashtag #chicoal on Eco-Justice Collaborative’s “Where’s My Walderman” website, created to monitor the proceedings as well as the position taken by Chicago Aldermen. It now captures some of posts from the day of and day after the hearing.
MWG representatives testified that the Fisk power plant has 65 employees, 13 of whom are Chicago residents. The Crawford plant has 120 employees, but they did not know how many were Chicago residents. Translation: Not Chicago jobs.
Alderman Rugai…refused to set a hearing until the very last week of the administration, then opened the hearing by saying the committee would not be taking a vote, because the issue warranted a great deal of study and consideration. Translation: This ordinance is too hot to handle. Move it to the next administration, which takes office mid-May.
Midwest Generation pulled out all stops, busing in 200 to 300 out-of-town employees, flying in corporate executives from California hiring a PR firm and a professional consultant to do its own health study. Despite all of this, the Chicago Clean Power Coalition widened public understanding of its message, got excellent press coverage and maintained momentum that will assure that the issue will be addressed by the new administration. The coalition walked away having learned a few lessons about chicago politics, but even more determined to see this through.
Watch the video clip from ABC 7 News below, and visit the Chicago Clean Power Coalition’s website often for updates as the campaign surges on!
NOTE: Eco-Justice Collaborative is a founding partner of the Chicago Clean Power Coalition.