TagClean Power Ordinance

Clean Power Ordinance, delayed again

Updated September 30, 2011: The ordinance never got on the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection’s agenda for September. So my fingers are crossed for the October meeting.

Clean power advocates march in Pilsen on Saturday, September 24, 2011. Photo by Ryan Williams. 

Instead of voting on the Clean Power Ordinance on September 8, 2011, the Committee on Committees, Ethics and Rules “re-referred” it to the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection. This is a companion post to Rollin’ beyond coal, on Grid Chicago.

What the Clean Power Ordinance is

It sets emissions standards for coal-powered plants in Chicago. It applies modern standards about air pollution, as they apply to coal and natural gas power plants, to any coal-powered plant in Chicago.

The Chicago Clean Power Coalition has a summary of the ordinance.

Why this is needed

Residents of Pilsen, Little Village, Bridgeport and other communities (pollution has no boundary) have suffered for decades from the release of carbon dioxide, mercury, lead, hydrochloric acid and other chemicals into the air. Read the Toxics Release Inventory for the Fisk Generating Station.

A large portion of the population is 18 and younger; this portion is growing. Pollution has a greater negative effect on young people.

The Fisk and Crawford power plants, owned by Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of Edison International, were grandfathered in to the Clean Air Act of 1970. That means the standards imposed by that legislation don’t apply.

The ordinance’s “Whereas” clause lists six studies that define the effects of certain levels of particulate matter (better known as soot) on human disease, mortality, and life expectancy. A 2002 Harvard study (PDF) that found the power plants combined caused 41 premature deaths per year.

What else

It appears that Alderman JoAnn Thompson, 16th Ward, is no longer a co-sponsor. The Chicago Clean Power Coalition lists her as a co-sponsor as of August 12, 2011, but on the ordinance document (ordinance number O2011-6489) published on the City Clerk’s website, her name is missing.

Midwest Generation, or one of its sister companies, Edison Mission Energy, is known to have lobbied the City Council, the Mayor’s Office, and the Department of Environment in 2010. “Midwest Generation officials said the ordinance is not needed because they already have started to comply with federal standards that will significantly cut pollution at their plants” (Chicago Tribune). The company also claims that a shutdown of the plant will harm electricity supply in Chicago. On that:

Chicago doesn’t actually need the electricity from the plants, though if the plants go offline before ongoing upgrades to local transmission infrastructure are completed it could cause instability on the grid including possible blackouts, according to a spokesman for the utility ComEd. (Midwest Energy News)

Alderman Solis (25th Ward) joined Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward) during the election time this year as a lead sponsor, to help save his seat on the council in a fight with Cuahetemoc “Témoc” Morfin.

What’s next

Since the Committee on Committees, Ethics and Rules (CCER) “re-referred” it to the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection (CHEP), the members of CHEP, 18 of which are also on CCER, must discuss the ordinance. Oddly, CHEP did not place on its agenda for their Tuesday, September 27, 2011, meeting a consideration of the ordinance. After discussion, the committee can recommend that the full council vote on it. If the council passes it, Mayor Emanuel can sign or veto it.

In July, Mayor Emanuel talked about his support for the ordinance but didn’t go so far as to endorse it.

The air we breathe… is disgusting

Read the companion article on Grid Chicago

My friend Bill Vassilakis, and his partner Jeff Munie, won the 2011 Design Makes Change competition, The Air We Breathe.

This happened in June. I showed up in the evening during 2nd Fridays in Pilsen for the opening gallery, at 1915 S Halsted, to see Bill and Jeff’s competition entry. I had no idea at the time that they had won. I was impressed by the “Community Voicebox.”

What is the Community Voicebox?

From the project overview (PDF):

The “Voice Box” project claims that local environmental health issues are not solely a result of point source emissions, but a combination of political, economic and environmental issues, which combine to create overall inequalities in environmental health and morbidity.

The Voice Box project is focused around a mobile community forum where information is recorded and exchanged. The local knowledge of the community would be recorded and shared with others in the community, the general public and decision makers via a real time online outlet. This online website will serve as the ‘voice’ of the community and as a record of local knowledge. The Voice Box would be a built upon a mobile trailer with a combination of indoor and outdoor spaces, which open to create an inviting area for residents to relax, respond and exchange.

Two major components of Community Voicebox are the four-wheel, pedal-powered vehicle (acquired in July). The second part is recording audio and video and sharing it on their website. Bill and Jeff were able to purchase these things with a grant from the competition.

What are the environmental health issues?

In as few words as possible, ancient coal power plants in Chicago, namely Fisk and Crawford generating stations, owned by Midwest Generation. I’ve written before about these major pollution sources on Steven Can Plan where I cited a 2002 Harvard study (PDF) that found the power plants combined caused 41 premature deaths per year.

Did anyone else think that smokestacks created clouds?

Digging deeper into the Community Voicebox concept

I wrote about the Community Voicebox quadricycle on Grid Chicago – here I talk to Bill about the community and environmental aspects of the project.

How did you find out about The Air We Breathe (TAWB) competition?

Posters around town (at school, the library, restaurants, etc)

What made you decide to enter the competition?

The quality of air in Pilsen has been a topic of conversation among my friends and roommates as long as I’ve lived in the neighborhood (about 5 years).  I was excited to hear about The Air We Breathe competition as a chance to bring everyday quality of life issues into focus in front of anyone walking down Halsted Street.

Did you have your idea for the entry (Community Voicebox) before or after knowing about the competition?

Although we developed our proposal specifically for the contest, we included elements we are familiar with and interested in.  We wanted it to be pedal powered, to directly engage the neighborhood and to present the community’s situation to the world via the internet.

Why did you create the Community Voicebox? What do you want to accomplish with the final product?

We created the voicebox because we wanted to bring the issue to everyone in the community, regardless of whether or not it is a priority for them, and document what they have to say about it.  Ultimately, we hope to use this documentation of the community’s various experiences and perspectives to inform local policy and to serve as a conduit for sharing solutions with other places that are similarly situated, in terms of environmental health issues.

Can you describe how and when the Community Voicebox is being built? (think logistics, materials, partners, designs, etc…)

We’re designing the Voicebox to be as adaptable as possible so that when we turn it over to student organizations or community groups, it can be modified to serve as many purposes as possible.  That said, the primary goal we hope to accomplish is to create a fun, comfortable space in which to offer an opportunity for anyone and everyone to tell their stories through whatever means they wish. This will happen on and around a four-wheel pedal car.

Aside from education, awareness, and exchanging information with the community, do you think Community Voicebox will help bring about a more visible and tangible change when it comes to pollution in Chicago?

Absolutely!  At minimum I hope that making the Voicebox a visible presence at Pilsen’s many community events (as big as Fiesta Del Sol and small as block parties on Miller Street) will help keep air quality on the local policy agenda.  The ideal outcome would be the a leveling of the playing field, in terms of environmental health.  Residents of Pilsen are exposed to levels of pollution that would never be tolerated in any other parts of the city. Basically we want to foster dialogue between the many communities of the neighborhood about pressing local issues.  Environmental health seems like a good place to start.

The Community Voicebox will be interviewing residents, and recording stories, in these parks and neighborhoods in the Lower West Side. 

A page from the project overview document showing a sample of the project’s research materials, mostly centered around the evidence of pollution in the Pilsen and surrounding neighborhoods. 

Let’s get Chicago off coal

Updated May 26, 2011: Added new photo and video; new information about arrests and bail.

Activists working with Greenpeace climbed hundreds of feet into the sky on the Fisk power plant’s smokestack this past Tuesday morning. They hung banners that say “QUIT COAL” and painted the same message vertically on the side of the smokestack facing the Stevenson highway.

The Chicago city council continues to delay a final vote on the Clean Power Ordinance which would force the Fisk (1111 W Cermak in Pilsen) and Crawford (3501 S Pulaski in Little Village) to either shut down or clean their emissions. The coal-fired power plants can legally spew so much toxins into the air because they were grandfathered into the EPA’s regulations. The presidents of Midwest Generation and Edison International will tell that they’re cleaning up the act and reducing mercury emissions, but the laws applicable to this plant are already so lax. So this cleanup is still insufficient.

The action was timed to go along with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearing on Tuesday, May 23, 2011, at which the EPA discussed “proposed rules that would regulate toxic emissions, including mercury, from coal-fired power plants for the first time.”

It’s insufficient for the hundreds of local residents who’ve prematurely died because of the polluted air they breathed.

It’s too bad the pollution fighting bike lanes on Blue Island down the street from the Fisk plant can’t mitigate the spew.

Since I took the above photo on May 24, 2011, the QUIT COAL message has been amplified with a red outline. It must have happened overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday, as the activists came down Wednesday morning (and were arrested) by waiting Chicago Police. The Chicago Tribune reports:

The eight Greenpeace anti-pollution protesters who were arrested Wednesday after climbing down from the smokestack of a Pilsen coal-fired plant were charged this morning with felony criminal damage to property.

The three women and five men were also charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass, police said. They are scheduled to appear in bond court later [Thursday].

Bails for the “arrestees” was set between $15,000 and $30,000.

Photo by Greenpeace USA.

Video by Greenpeace via Good.is.

Chicago aldermen are complicit with Midwest Generation and its parent company in polluting Chicago and harming its citizens for everyday they delay passing the Clean Power Ordinance.

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