Clean Air Wins! Agreement Will Slash Diesel Pollution as Part of Englewood Rail Yard Expansion

September 19, 2013
Contact: David Jakubiak, (312) 795-3713, DJakubiak@elpc.org 

Sustainable Englewood Initiatives, Northwestern University School of Law Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Environmental Advocacy Center, Environmental Law & Policy Center and Respiratory Health Association Strike Deal with the City of Chicago and Norfolk Southern Railroad

CHICAGO – Englewood residents and advocates concerned about diesel pollution from a proposed rail yard expansion welcomed an agreement Thursday which will cut pollution, bring new green space to Englewood, sponsor sustainability efforts and bring job training in the neighborhood.

The agreement, reached through discussions with the City of Chicago and Norfolk Southern, will require:

  • Thirty six of 38 trucks that move trailers around the yard to have cutting-edge pollution controls by 2018
  • Immediate upgrading of a dozen pieces of lift equipment used in the yard to have clean engines or diesel filters
  • Continued efforts by the City to address truck congestion that increases idling around the yard
  • A $1 million fund, sponsored by Norfolk Southern, for sustainability projects in Englewood
  • $1 million for job training and preparedness in Englewood

The agreement will also create a New ERA trail in Englewood. The park will convert elevated rail track to green space as part of a $30 million, 10-year project by the City of Chicago. Norfolk Southern has also agreed to make a contribution towards improvements to landscaping and green space at Sherwood Park in Englewood.

“The priority of Sustainable Englewood Initiatives was to make sure this project would not harm our community’s air and cost us more green space,” said John Paul Jones, Co-Founder of Sustainable Englewood Initiatives. “This agreement will put Englewood on the map as a place where the community stood up, the City listened, and the railroad came to the table to find a better way.”

The Norfolk Southern project will expand an existing rail yard between  47th Street and Garfield Boulevard south to 61st Street, increasing its size almost 85 acres. Sustainable Englewood Initiatives approached the Northwestern University School of Law Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Environmental Advocacy Center and Environmental Law & Policy Center concerned that the project would sacrifice residential and green space, and increase air pollution in a community with one of the nation’s highest asthma rates. According to Respiratory Health Association, diesel pollution leads to over 20,000 asthma attacks, 680 heart attacks and about 570 premature deaths in Illinois each year.

“The city deserves high praise for making this happen.  They understand the burden of asthma that now falls on families in Englewood and that asthma is a key reason for school absences. Children attending schools and daycares that abut the rail yard will now be able to breathe a little easier knowing air pollution will be reduced starting this school year,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs for Respiratory Health Association.  “In addition to Chicago’s recent efforts to reduce emissions from diesel construction equipment and in reducing emissions from CTA buses, today’s announcement shows Chicago is becoming a healthier place to live and breathe.”

Nancy Loeb, Director of Northwestern University School of Law Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Environmental Advocacy Center, said the agreement offers a template for neighborhoods across America.

“Across the country there are communities concerned about diesel pollution from expanding rail yards,” Loeb said. “We are thankful the Mayor’s office listened to the people of Englewood, and worked to find a solution that allows economic development without sacrificing public health and environmental quality.”

Faith Bugel, Senior Air Attorney with Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the deal shows that economic development does not have to come at the expense of the environment and public health.

“We commend the City of Chicago for putting together a project that brings economic development and jobs to the City while protecting air quality and the health of Englewood residents,” Bugel said. “The City worked tirelessly with members of the community and Norfolk Southern and the resulting package is testament to that hard work:  reduced diesel pollution from 50 pieces of yard equipment, a new community park, and a $1 million fund for environmental projects in Englewood.”

For more on Sustainable Englewood Initiatives, please visit SustianableEnglewood.org.

Associated Press: Chicago residents challenge freight yard expansion

Residents in one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods have complained for years about diesel fumes, noise and vibrations from a blocks-long rail yard that slices through their community. Now, plans for a massive expansion have prompted them to do something they say the city and company won’t: Test the air around their homes for elevated pollution levels.

With the help of environmental advocacy groups from Chicago and California, community activists in Englewood last week installed two pollution monitors that will sample the air for two months at various points around the Norfolk Southern yard, where about a dozen freight trains and more than 1,200 semitrucks load and unload every day _all powered by diesel fuel and idling constantly while large metal freight containers are transferred from one to the other.

The 140-acre yard handles more than 480,000 containers a year, but the company wants to expand it by about 85 acres to accommodate another 800 diesel trucks a day, and is buying vacant lots and homes from the city and private owners.

Residents say the plan, backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, will simply add to the neighborhood’s pollution, which a nearby interstate and another rail yard also contribute to, and cause elevated levels of asthma and other health problems.

“I think the railroad has completely not acknowledged the welfare of the neighborhood,” said 74-year-old Julian McClendon, who lives about 1,000 feet from a railroad embankment _ where he says trains often sit and idle while waiting to get into the yard _ and a block from where the expanded yard would end.

“I hear the train noise and I smell the pollution on a regular basis (especially) at night and in the early morning hours,” said McClendon, who has lived in Englewood for more than 50 years and wants the railroad to conduct an environmental impact study.

A spokesman from Norfolk Southern did not return phone or email messages Friday.

Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner for Chicago’s Department of Housing and Economic Development, said Friday that federal officials regulate train and truck pollution, although the city “continues to work with Norfolk Southern, the community and environmental groups to adequately address all the concerns related to the expansion, including its economic impact, infrastructure needs and the environment.” Emanuel eliminated the city’s Environment Department.

Diesel emissions include harmful chemicals and microscopic particles that can lodge deep in the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing respiratory and heart problems. The issue of pollution from locomotives has been raised across the country, as rail traffic increases and yards expand.

In Chicago, the problem can be particularly acute because the nation’s largest freight lines pass through the city, often creating a bottleneck that can leave trains idling for days.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Chicago advocacy group working with the residents, released a study in July that predicted the planned Norfolk-Southern expansion would increase diesel pollution several blocks from the site, including at levels exceeding federal safety limits. But the company, which plans to use cleaner-running locomotives, insists that the expansion would not increase pollution and disputed the group’s analysis, said Faith Bugel, a senior attorney at the ELPC.

She believes monitoring will demonstrate the problem with hard data. The monitors were provided by the Richmond, Calif.-based group Global Community Monitor.

Bugel said ELPC wants the company to upgrade all freight-handling equipment _ including tractors, cranes and forklifts _ or install pollution filters on them, and wants the city to reduce traffic congestion from the semitrucks that sometimes queue on local roadways waiting to get into the yard.

She also said that complying with existing environmental laws isn’t enough in communities where polluting activity is concentrated or comes from numerous sources, “especially when we’re documenting pollution at a level that will be harmful.”

“The heart of the problem is that the laws we have … are insufficient,” she said. “We’re finding out on a daily basis that diesel pollution is much more harmful than was thought.”

WBEZ Video: Vote delayed on controversial rail yard expansion in Englewood

Norfolk Southern’s expansion into Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood continues to face questions from resistant residents.

Last week, the Chicago Plan Commission had Norfolk Southern on the agenda. The scheduled vote was supposed to be just a formality in language – adding “light industrial/commercial classification” in the tax increment financing (TIF) to allow the company to expand. But residents successfully lobbied commissioners to delay a vote after they showed up at the commission meeting.

Residents want concrete promises from the company to address environmental hazards and economic development. They worry about health impacts of truck traffic. Englewood already has some of the highest asthma rates in the city. What the rail company has offered isn’t enough for activists and residents.

Chicago Sun-Times: Rail yard project temporarily derailed

Yesterday the Chicago Plan Commission delayed its vote to amend two TIF districts near Englewood that would have allowed a proposed rail yard expansion to move forward. This deferral will allow more time for ELPC, Sustainable Englewood Initiatives, Northwestern Legal Clinic and our other community partners to continue negotiating for a fair deal on air pollution, open space and quality of life in the Englewood community.

ELPC is not opposed to the rail yard expansion – in fact, we want it to move forward so the community can receive the economic development and job creation benefits – but we also want to make sure that the expansion is done in a way that does not exacerbate the troubling rates of asthma and respiratory illness that already exist in the neighborhood.

Read about the decision in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Chicago Tribune: Freight yard expansion could pose lung hazard

A July 17th Chicago Tribune article outlines public health and environmental threats from the proposed expansion of a freight rail yard in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.  The Tribune‘s Michael Hawthorne cited ELPC analysis as showing “worrisome levels of soot [that] could spread several blocks beyond the site.”  The article goes on to say that additional diesel exhaust resulting from the expansion would cause soot levels to be five times higher than the EPA’s “significant impact level” near the rail yard, and that could make it harder for Cook County as a whole to comply with federal soot standards.

Diesel pollution already contributes to high rates of asthma in Englewood. ELPC is partnering with Sustainable Englewood Initiatives and the Northwestern Legal Clinic to help ensure that the rail yard expansion includes conditions to curb diesel pollution and protect public health.

Chicago Tribune: Pollution concerns delay Englewood rail yard expansion

Find this article online at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-englewood-railroad-deal-20130301,0,3234343.story

Pollution concerns delay Englewood rail yard expansion

By Antonio Olivo, Chicago Tribune Reporter

A group of Englewood residents along with environmental organizations persuaded a City Council committee on Thursday to delay a hearing on a $285 million railroad expansion plan that would bring thousands of additional diesel trucks into the South Side neighborhood.

After the group held a City Hall news conference pushing for more pollution controls from the Norfolk Southern project, the Housing and Real Estate Development Committee agreed to hold off for a month a hearing that was scheduled for next week, according to Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd, who sits on the committee and whose ward includes an area that would be affected by the project.

That gives the Englewood group more time to try to persuade Norfolk Southern to agree to make concessions on the neighborhood’s concerns about trucks spewing diesel fumes in an area already inundated with diesel and lead pollution, said Faith Bugel, senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which is assisting the residents.

Norfolk Southern has been buying and demolishing homes just south of Garfield Boulevard to make room for an 84-acre freight yard that the company hopes to begin operating in 2015.

The project would extend an existing 140-acre rail yard north of that site that handles about 480,000 intermodal containers per year but has not been able to keep up with increasing demands for freight cargo, officials with Norfolk Southern say.

The Virginia-based company said the 10-year expansion project, which will be built in phases, will create roughly 400 jobs, with a regional economic impact of $1.6 billion by 2030.

As part of a proposed agreement introduced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office, Norfolk Southern would pay $1.1 million for 105 vacant city-owned lots in the area bound by Garfield Boulevard and 60th Street to the north and south and by Stewart Avenue and Wallace Street to the east and west.

Norfolk Southern also would contribute $3 million to an infrastructure fund that would support local economic development initiatives, including the potential for light industrial businesses near the rail yard, city officials said. The company also has agreed to use lift equipment in the yard that meets federal recommendations for diesel emissions.

The Englewood residents and environmental groups said lead and diesel pollution in the area has led to a higher rate of severe asthma among children than elsewhere in the city. They want guarantees from Norfolk Southern that diesel trucks entering the yard be fitted with effective emission controls.

The group also wants Norfolk Southern to help create more green space in the neighborhood and to contribute to a fund for any damages to homes created by vibrations emanating from the freight yard.

The Rev. Harriette Cross, pastor of Englewood United Methodist Church, said the environmental effects of the project should concern the whole city. “The effects of poor air don’t just stop at the boundaries of Englewood,” she said.

Robin Chapman, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said the company plans to meet with environmental groups soon.

“After that meeting, we will be able to say what actions we can take to address their concerns,” Chapman said.

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