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Call on Obama to block tar sands oil pipeline

As busloands of Chicagoans head to Washington D.C. for what’s billed as the largest climate change rally in history, local activists are planning a conference Saturday and rally Sunday calling on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

A Climate Crisis Summit – a day-long conference starting at 9 a.m., Saturday, February 16, at IIT Kent College of Law, 565 W. Adams – will feature discussion of a range of grassroots action, including campaigns at local universities calling for divestment from oil companies and efforts to win a moratorium on fracking in Illinois.

In morning sessions, Professor Mark Potosnak of DePaul University will review climate science and discuss worst-case scenarios; Carl Wassilie, a Yup’ik Alaskan, will discuss the struggle to save native villages in Alaska now threatened by climate-related flooding.

On Sunday, February 17, an 11 a.m. rally at Michigan and Congress will show solidarity with thousands of protestors in Washington D.C., who will be surrounding the White House to demand that President Obama reject the Keystone pipeline, a $7 billion project which would carry 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil daily from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries.

Tar sands oil are even more carbon-intensive than conventional oil, and scientists say the Keystone pipeline would boost annual carbon pollution in the U.S. by 27 million metric tons.  In addition its extraction is energy intensive, uses vast amounts of water, and would destroy huge stretches of Canada’s boreal forests, which capture more carbon than rainforests.

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Second term: immigration, climate, foreclosures

Immigration reform, climate change, the foreclosure crisis: with some disappointment over limited progress on these issues over the past four years, local activists hope more will be done in President Obama’s second term.

While support for comprehensive immigration reform has broadened noticeably since the November election, immigrant rights groups are concerned over dramatically stepped-up deportations under Obama, which reached 409,000 last year.

They’ll march on Inauguration Day (Monday, January 21, starting at 11 a.m. at the Daley Plaza and rallying at 12 noon at the Federal Plaza) calling on Obama to declare a moratorium on deporations.

A moratorium would be a first step toward comprehensive reform, said Eric Rodriguez, executive director of the Latino Union of Chicago.

“We want the president to be on the right side of history,” he said.  “His second term will define his legacy.  Will he be the president who deported more people than any other in history, or the president responsible for championing inclusion and equality?”

Immigration raids are a constant threat in Chicago communities today, said Tania Unzueta of the Immigant Youth Justice League; just last week scores of local residents were picked up in raids on a factory and two gathering places for day laborers.  IYJL is working to support several families who have members in detention, she said.

“Obama says he wants to do the right thing and keep families together, but we aren’t seeing it in our communities,” she said.

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Coal ash in Lake Michigan, and more

The Sierra Club reports that toxic coal ash is being dumped into Lake Michigan after a retaining bluff collapsed at a power plant in Wisconsin.  Coal ash contains a variety of toxic substances, depending on the type of coal used, including arsenic, lead, mercury, dioxins, carcinogens and mutagens.  The U.S. Senate is considering a bill passed by the House to block the EPA from cracking down on coal ash in the water supply.

Peoples World profiles Jane Edburg, lead organizer at the South Halsted Unemployed Action Center.  Not previously an activist, Edburg became involved when she lost her shipping clerk position with a Chicago photo lab manufacturer after 32 years with the company – and after losing her unemployment benefits after 99 weeks, while sending out hundreds of resumes and job applications.

The center helps unemployed workers apply for jobs and benefits – and pushes elected officials for action on the jobs crisis.

Wal-Mart marches on in Chicago, but the company’s critics remain, reports Kari Lydersen at Working In These Times.  They say that despite recent p.r. victories, the corporation’s latest move dropping health coverage for part-time workers and increasing premiums shows that Wal-Mart is still “a cut-throat company” that drives down the standard of living.

Finally, a downstate blog posts the Notice of Eviction that Occupy Springfield served on lobbyists in the state capitol.  Great photos, too.

Coal plant cancelled

After years of controversy, plans to build a new coal plant 50 miles south of Chicago were quietly dropped at the end of last year.

Indeck Energy Corp. failed to renew its option for property in Elwood, Illinois, where a $1 billion, 660-megawatt power plant was planned, according to the Sierra Club and the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, which opposed the plan.

The two groups were part of a coalition which appealed an air quality permit granted to Indeck by the Illinois EPA in 2003. In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Appeals Board struck down the permit.

Emissions from the plant — thousands of tons a year — would have contributed to already dangerous smog and soot levels in Chicago and threatened the nearby Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, opponents argued. In addition, carbon emissions would have dramatically set back state efforts to reduce global warming gases.

It’s part of a big change in recent years, said Bruce Nilles of the Sierra Club. Just three years ago, at the height of the state’s coal revival effort, 17 coal plants were on the drawing board in Illinois; most of them have now been defeated or abandoned. Nationally, 55 proposed coal plants were defeated or abandoned in the last year, he said.

“The dirty and outdated technologies that increase global warming pollution are no longer acceptable sources of energy,” said Verena Owen of the Sierra Club.

“Over the past four years — as we have helped defeat more than a dozen dirty and expensive coal plant proposals — the state has seen a boom in wind energy development, including the construction of one of the nation’s largest wind farms north of Bloomington,” she said.

Coal Plant Clean-up Shifts Focus

With Gov. Blagojevich sidestepping the issue, pressure could increase on Mayor Daley to support efforts to clean up old coal-fired power plants in the city.

Meanwhile environmental groups are pressing for action on ongoing emissions violations by Midwest Generation, owner of five coal plants in and around Chicago.

The plants are among nearly two dozen Illinois facilities which are exempt from the Clean Air Act’s most stringent requirements because they predate the act; they are the major industrial source of air pollution in the state.

Last month Illinois EPA proposals to increase emissions standards, authorized by the legislature, were reportedly overridden by the Governor’s office under pressure from industry lobbyists, and a final report issued by the IEPA recommended no new standards, citing concerns about jobs. According to Bruce Nilles of the Sierra Club, the irony is that by failing to mandate pollution controls that would enable plants to burn high-sulfur Illinois coal, the jobs being generated are in western states like Wyoming.

The state could return to the issue after the federal government issues new emissions standards for mercury in December and revises other standards early next year.

A city ordinance requiring the two Midwest Generation plants on Chicago’s Southwest Side to use best-available pollution controls has been bottled up in committee for over two years, with Mayor Daley maintaining action should be taken by the state and federal government rather than the city.

Meanwhile environmental groups are in court objecting to draft operating permits for Midwest Generation plants. Permits establishing monitoring and reporting requirements, as well as compliance schedules for violations, were required by federal law to be issued over five years ago.

Draft permits proposed by Illinois EPA a year ago included no compliance schedule for ongoing violations of opacity limits by Midwest Generation plants, said Faith Bugel of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “Fisk and Crawford have exceeded their opacity limits with thousands of violations over the past several years,” she said.

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