Historic victory: Coal-free Chicago will electrify clean energy movement
by Jeff Biggers, journalist and author, ‘Reckoning at Eagle Creek’ and ‘In the Sierra Madre.
In a move that should electrify the clean energy movement across the country, the tireless champions with the Chicago Clean Power Coalition have announced that Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of multinational giant Edison International, will soon shut down the Windy City’s two Model-T-era coal-fired plants.
The historic victory, after a decade-long battle, marks a shift in the clean energy battle for the country: If Chicago, once hailed as the “world’s largest market of coal,” can go coal free, the rest of the nation must surely be close behind them.
Thanks to one of the most determined, diverse and successful clean energy campaigns in the nation — including a breakthrough campaign to pass a Clean Power ordinance — the retirement of the decrepit and deadly Fisk and Crawford coal-fired plants will end the century-long reign of the most toxic polluters in the heartland.
Birthplace of Peabody Energy, the largest coal company in the world, an editorial in the Chicago Tribuneasked in 1892:
“Doubtless the end of the coal, at least as an article of a mighty commerce, will arrive within a period brief in comparison with the ages of human existence… How long can the earth sustain life?” The editorial lambasted Americans for our lack of vision and sense of energy conservation, and our need to “invent appliances to exhaust with ever greater rapidity the hoard of coal.”
“Today’s victory demonstrates that people shouldn’t have to tolerate toxic polluters in their backyard,” said Rosalie Mancera of Pilsen Alliance. “By working with our neighbors and elected officials, Chicagoans have finally won the right to breathe clean air.”
“For over ten years our communities have been fighting for the right to breathe clean air, clean land and clean water. Today we are ending over 100 years of pollution for profits and showing the power of community,” said Kimberly Wasserman of LVEJO. “Hopefully, this is the first of many victories in Illinois, as citizens and politicians come together to hold corporate polluters accountable and usher in a clean energy future.”
“Fisk and Crawford have been polluting Chicago neighborhoods for over 100 years,” said Jerry Mead-Lucero of PERRO. “Our work is not over when the plants close. Midwest Generation and the City of Chicago must continue working to ensure these sites are properly cleaned up and returned to safe, productive use for our communities.”
As a unique city-wide effort, the Chicago Clean Power Coalition includes: Chicago Youth Climate Coalition, Eco-Justice Collaborative. Environmental Law and Policy Center, Environment Illinois, Greenpeace, Faith in Place, Illinois Student Environmental Coalition, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Nuclear Energy Information Service, Pilsen Alliance, Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, Protestants for the Common Good, Rainforest Action Network Chicago, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, Doctor’s Council SEIU, Sierra Club, and the Southeast Environmental Task Force.
“This is a major victory for the people of Chicago!” said Pam Richart, Eco Justice Collaborative. “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 these sites are cleaned up and restored for safe, productive uses.”
“Chicago families have spoken: We have the right to breathe clean air, and we aren’t willing to tolerate old, dirty coal plants in Chicago neighborhoods that harm our health and foul our air,” says Faith Bugel, Senior Attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC). “This victory means cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner energy, and a safer environment for us all.”
“This is a victory for the people of Chicago, who have demonstrated that grassroots activism is more powerful than the special interests of corporate polluters. We hope other communities across the country will find new inspiration to stand up for their right to clean air and a safe climate, ” added Kelly Mitchell, Greenpeace Coal Campaigner.
NOTE: This is a reprint of the original article that appeared in HuffPost Chicago on February 29, 2012