Council talks about limiting coal plant pollution, again

Council talks about limiting coal plant pollution, again

The last couple of years have been difficult ones for the Clean Power Ordinance, legislation that would set new limits on the tiny particulate matter the Fisk and Crawford coal-fired plants, the last of their kind in Chicago, are allowed to emit and establish a cap on the amount of carbon dioxide both facilities send out of their smokestacks.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley opposed the measure, and his council allies fell into line with that position. They bottled the bill up in committee for months on end and, for a time, refused to give the bill a hearing. That forced Clean Power's supporters to organize an nonbinding hearing, in council chambers, about the legislation. Finally, when a joint health and environment committee gathered to consider the bill earlier this year, hundreds of unionized power plant workers turned out to call for Clean Power's rejection. No committee vote was taken on the bill.

Supporters are hoping the current city council--combined with a more sympathetic mayoral administration--will push Clean Power forward. Last week, backers re-introduced the legislation, claiming strong support among a plurality of council members.

At a press conference prior to last week's council meeting, Clean Power's backers once again said the plants, located in Pilsen and Little Village, pose too many health risks for the residents of the neighborhoods where they sit, for city dwellers in general and beyond. Supporters said they were frustrated with the lack of federal and state regulatory action. "These two power plants must be cleaned up," 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore said.

In all, 31 members of the council have signed on to co-sponsor the bill, said 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis, who represents Pilsen, site of the Fisk plant.

But support for the Clean Power bill has proven fluid--even Solis has opposed the bill in the past before flipping to a pro position during the 2010-2011 council elections. How Mayor Rahm Emanuel will come down on the bill will likely be decisive. In a questionnaire submitted to a coalition of environmental organizations during the mayoral campaign, Emanuel did not give a simple yes-or-no answer to a question about his take on Clean Power.

Emanuel instead wrote that Midwest Generation, which owns Fisk and Crawford, "must clean up these two plants, either by installing the necessary infrastructure to dramatically reduce the pollution they emit or by converting to natural gas or another clean fuel. I will work closely with State and Federal regulators and the City Council to make sure it happens."

Moore said last week that Emanuel had "indicated very strong support of the goal" of the Clean Power Ordinance. That is different from saying simply that the administration supports the ordinance itself.

"He said it had to be cleaned up or shut down," Solis said of the mayor's position.

Asked if Clean Power supporters could use the bill to push for some other kind of clean-up agreement, Moore said, "We intend to see this ordinance through. We intend to see it pass." He acknowledged that legislation usually does not pass in the identical form as it was introduced.

Solis said he expected a joint city council environmental and health committee to take up the ordinance as it moves through the legislative process.

Midwest Generation opposed the Clean Power bill at a hearing about it last April; the city and state chambers of commerce and the Chicago and Cook County Building and Construction Trades Council also came out against the proposed ordinance.

© Community Renewal Society 2011

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