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A hearing on coal plants, and an interesting endorsement

A broad-based coalition expects to turn out  hundreds of members Monday for hearings on an ordinance to clean up Chicago’s two coal-fired power plants.

Meanwhile, a leading environmental group has endorsed the one mayoral candidate who has declined to support the ordinance.

The Chicago Clean Power Coalition will hold a press conference at City Hall on Monday, February 14, at 9:30 a.m., and Alderman Joe Moore and 16 co-sponsors of the ordinance will hold an ad hoc committee hearing starting at 10 a.m.

Public health experts will join elected officials and representatives of environmental and community groups in testifying on the ordinance.  Parents and youth will also testify about their personal experiences with the health impacts of pollution from the Fisk and Crawford plants operated by Midwest Generation on the Southwest Side.

The plants predate the Clean Air Act of 1977 and are exempted from its strongest provisions.  The ordinance would require them to meet modern standards.

“We’re trying to get as much motion as we can” on the ordinance, said Peter Gray of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Hearings by the council’s health and energy committees have been postponed for over 9 months under pressure from the Daley administration, he said.

Meanwhile, some eyebrows were raised by the Sierra Club’s endorsement of mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel, the only candidate who failed to support the ordinance.  One community organizer working with the coalition called it “an interesting contradiction.”

In a candidates’ questionnaire on environmental issues, Emanuel withheld support for the ordinance and called for the plants to be cleaned up, but offered no timeframe.  Under an agreement with the state, stricter pollution controls will be applied starting in 2015 at Fisk and 2018 at Crawford.

In the group’s interview process, “it was clear to us he is committed to cleaning up or shutting down these plants,” said Becki Clayborn of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.  “If all other avenues have been exhausted, he would definitely support the ordinance.”

She added that “we believe the Clean Power Ordinance is the way to go, because we haven’t seen any action on the federal level.”

In January, candidate Miguel del Valle joined coalition members outside Fisk to support their efforts.

Environmental and community groups have been demanding the plants meet modern emissions standards for a decade.  A previous ordinance to clean up the plants was introduced in 2002.  In an advisory referendum the next year, voters in precincts around the plants supported that ordinance by margins of nearly 90 percent.

In 2002, a Harvard study found the two plants, which emit thousands of tons of pollutions each year, are responsible for 40 premature deaths each year, hundreds of emergency room visits and thousands of asthma attacks.

Particulate matter pollution is associated with heart attacks, with chronic respiratory disease in children, and with premature death due to lung and heart disease, according to the US EPA.

A recent study by ELPC estimated that emissions from Fisk and Crawford cost the public $127 million a year in added health expenses.

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Category: coal, elections, energy, environment

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