Chicago Builds Momentum for Moving Beyond Coal

switch off coal protest photo

Photo credit: Takver/Creative Commons

Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to attend the Environmental Protection Agency public hearing in Chicago on its proposed mercury and air toxics safeguards. Hundreds of people turned out to support EPA and these safeguards against the toxins spewed out by coal plants—toxins that adversely affect public health.

The number of concerned citizens inspired me—from the moms pushing their children in a "stroller brigade" outside the hearing, to the people of all backgrounds testifying about why EPA must protect Americans from mercury and other air toxics. Even a busload of middle school students showed up to testify—it was great to see them so excited to deliver the testimony they'd been practicing.

But it was Rose Gomez in particular who caught my eye. The Chicagoan is very active in the fight to switch Chicago away from coal and to clean energy. For her it's personal."I used to live in the community where the Crawford coal power plant is," said Gomez, a Sierra Club volunteer, about one of the two ancient, dirty coal plants located on Chicago's South Side. "My son still goes to work there every day. I hate thinking about all the soot those plants throw out into the community 24-7."

Those thoughts keep Gomez very busy with a separate campaign against the Crawford and Fisk coal plants. The Sierra Club is part of a large, diverse coalition of community groups—Clean Power Chicago—that have long been working to either clean up or shut down the Fisk and Crawford plants because of the pollution they spew into the air. The plants are 100 years old, emit mercury, soot, and sulfur dioxide, among other toxic pollutants, and are exempt from some Clean Air Act limits.

"We are phone-banking, canvassing, and holding forums in communities just to highlight these coal power plants and the damaging health effects they have," said Gomez. "The damaging health effects from coal power plants are well-documented—as far as respiratory problems, low birth weights, and more."

Children living in the Little Village and Pilsen communities surrounding these plants suffer from a 44% asthma rate. A Clean Air Task Force study states that pollution from Fisk and Crawford kills 40 people every year.

"These are two coal plants in very densely populated areas. That speaks volumes. I cannot stress enough how badly they affect the communities where they're at."

The Clean Power Chicago coalition supports the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance, which would drastically decrease the soot and greenhouse gas pollution from the two plants. Those reductions would lower both the number of hospitalizations and premature deaths caused by the plants' pollution, as well as the estimated $127 million in public health costs the plants create each year.

The ordinance didn't make it out of Mayor Daley's administration this spring after a final hearing that Midwest Generation, the plants' owner, filled with its own employees who do not live in Chicago. Now Gomez and others are hoping the new Mayor Rahm Emmanuel administration will pass the ordinance once and for all.

This is an issue that Gomez committed herself to. She wants her fellow Chicagoans to be healthy and safe in coal-free neighborhoods.

"I'm going to see this through until the end. I've invested a lot of time and energy, and my heart and my soul into this ordinance. (These coal plants) have done enough damage in my lifetime; we don't need another lifetime of damage. Enough lives have been affected."

Read more about coal pollution:
Coal Pollution Will Kill 13,200 Americans This Year & Cost $100 Billion in Additional Health Care Bills
Coal Costs US Public Up to $500 Billion Annually: Harvard Study
Study Claim: Up To 20% Of US Coal-Fired Generating Capacity May Be "Retired" Over Coming Decade

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