Greenpeace Activists Scale 450-ft Smokestack on 100 Year-Old Chicago Coal Plant [UPDATES]


Photo: Brian Merchant CC BY

Greenpeace activists climbed one of the nation's oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants, the Fisk Generating Station, in the heart of Chicago, IL. As a part of the renowned green group's Quit Coal campaign, the action is intended to draw attention to the immense damage the plant inflicts upon the local community: According to the Clean Air Task Force, the Fisk plant is responsible for killing 15 Chicago residents a year, it afflicts thousands more with respiratory illnesses, and has cost the city over $1 billion in health care costs since 2002.

I'm on the scene, reporting on the event as it unfolds. I'll be updating this post throughout the day, and at 1:30 pm EST, we'll chat via streaming video with the activists themselves -- and you're welcome to participate.

UPDATES: Activists complete paint job, come down from plant, and are all arrested:[UPDATE: 8:20 am, 5/25] Amidst torrential downpours, the activists come down from the smokestack. All eight are immediately arrested. In all, they spent a total of 26 hours occupying the plant. Here's the Greenpeace photos of the newly minted 'decoration' on the Fisk coal plant smokestack:



[UPDATE: 9:30 pm] News of the action makes the local news -- even Fox. By the End of the day, activists have painted an outline of the 'Quit Coal' slogan down the length of the 450 foot coal plant.

[UPDATE: 8:30 pm] Some 20-30 local residents turn out to hold a candlelight vigil at the block nearest to the Fisk coal plant. They share personal stories about illness and hardship caused by the plant -- stories about friends and family falling sick, and of their collective efforts over the last decade to try to get the plant shut down.

[UPDATE: 4:30 pm] The activists have begun painting on the smokestack. Rumor holds that they'll be 'decorating' the plant with a huge anti-coal slogan.


[UPDATE: 4:15] I've been surveying the Chicago neighborhood in the wake of Greenpeace's action. These local residents had come out to support the protest against the coal plant. I conducted a brief interview with the concerned citizens, who told me they'd been afflicted with respiratory illnesses since moving into the neighborhood adjacent to the coal plants. I'll be posting that interview shortly.

[UPDATE: 3:11 pm:] The activists are holding strong, and have set up a solar array to power their comm gear atop the coal plant. 'Quit Coal' banners can now be seen on each of the different cat walks on the smokestack -- even at the very top.


Image courtesy of Greenpeace USA

The Department of Homeland Security is on the scene, taking a hard line with reporters.

[UPDATE: 2:20 pm:] The video of our live chat is below. Thanks for those that participated and asked questions!

Watch live streaming video from treehuggerlive at

[UPDATE 10:20]: Activists call on Chicago and new mayor Rahm Emanuel to shut down its two coal plants (the other one is the Crawford plant), noting that combined, they kill over 40 people a year.

[UPDATE 10:15 am]: Live interview scheduled for 1:30 EST. Why, you might ask, would anyone climb atop one of the most noxious fountains of pollution in the nation? Why risk extreme discomfort, bodily harm, and potential felon status to paint slogans across smokestacks? What can they possibly stand to gain?

Well, why not ask the activists themselves? Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can -- bookmark this URL and tune in for our live stream. The activists will be happy to field any questions you might have.

[UPDATE 10:00 am CST]: Police have arrived on scene at the Fisk power plant.

One in four Chicagoans lives within three miles of the plant, which is owned by Edison International. Numerous studies have shown that residents who live near the coal plant are more likely to develop asthma, respiratory illness, and cancer. That's over 310,000 people in Chicago alone whose lives are endangered simply because they have the misfortune to live in such close proximity to a pollution-spewing coal plant.

Make that a pollution-spewing, scantly-regulated coal plant: Fisk was built during the Teddy Roosevelt administration (seriously), and was last upgraded over 50 years ago. It doesn't comply with Clean Air Act standards. In other words, it's an old, dirty mess. And as is so often the case, those most impacted by the dirty emissions are poor and minority communities -- those who have the least means to relocate, pay for health care, or stage a fight against powerful industry interests.

The kicker is, the bulk of the power generated from Fisk doesn't even feed into Chicago's grid -- it gets sold on the market and exported to places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New Jersey.

Considering these factors in tandem, it's not hard to see why Greenpeace determined the plant a ripe target for action -- this thing epitomizes the outdated, dangerous coal-fired energy generation that our nation still clings to.

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