2012 Victories: Protecting Our Environment, Health and the Midwest’s Special Places in Ways that Grow the Economy

The Environmental Law & Policy Center celebrates its 20th Anniversary in 2013.  Twenty years ago, ELPC’s start-up was guided by a strategic vision, dedicated early colleagues and an entrepreneurial, results-oriented approach to solving vital environmental and clean energy problems.  ELPC has grown from eight staff in Chicago to 48 talented multidisciplinary staff and eight offices in Chicago, Columbus, Des Moines, Jamestown, Madison, Minneapolis, Sioux Falls and Washington, D.C.  ELPC is now the Midwest’s premier environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization, and we’re among the very best in the country. We are achieving important victories and succeeding in showing that job creation, economic growth and environment progress can be achieved together for clean energy, modern high-speed rail and cleaner air and water.

Please consider making a financial contribution to ELPC this year. ELPC combines strong legal and policy advocacy with diverse eco-business partnerships to advance our mission of achieving environmental progress and economic development together.  This is the right approach, especially in times of extreme political partisanship.  ELPC has produced strong successes and remarkable results:

  • Shutting Down the Old Highly-Polluting Fisk and Crawford Coal Plants in Chicago in August.  The old State Line coal plant on the Illinois-Indiana border was shut down in spring.  ELPC’s tenacious, strategic legal and policy advocacy to “clean up or shut down” Fisk and Crawford, combined with public health and community groups’ organizing and outreach, achieved a “coal-free Chicago” that’s part of a climate change solution.  More coal plants are likely to shut down soon due to both economic and advocacy pressures.


  • High-Speed Rail:  Moving from Vision to Reality.  The “trains are out of the station” in the Midwest.  Demonstration runs have begun on the Detroit–Chicago and Chicago–St. Louis corridors.  Modern, fast, comfortable and convenient high-speed passenger rail will improve mobility, reduce pollution, create jobs and spur economic growth.  Developing the Midwest rail network will transform our region’s transportation infrastructure.


  • Stopping the Sprawl-Inducing Hastert Highway in Chicago’s Exurban Area.  ELPC’s federal court lawsuit on behalf of Citizens Against the Sprawlway and Friends of the Fox River paved the way to an innovative solution: Transfer the federal funds to support needed local road improvements and other better alternatives for Kane County.  ELPC’s litigation + grass roots organizing + creative strategic solutions + cooperative negotiations = a smarter and better solution.


  • The “Quiet Revolution” in Energy Efficiency.  More efficient lighting, appliances, HVAC systems and motors are holding down electricity demand and avoiding pollution.  ELPC’s work on $500 million of energy efficiency programs in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio is producing results.  Energy efficiency is a smart way of doing business and the best, fastest and cheapest way of saving consumers money on utility bills, reducing pollution, creating new jobs and enhancing grid reliability.  Combining technological innovations with policy advances can help save our planet.


  • Growing Wind Power and Solar Power.  ELPC’s advocacy in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and South Dakota is helping to achieve rapid advances in clean energy deployment. Iowa is #2, Illinois is #4 and Minnesota is #6 in the nation for installed wind power capacity.  ELPC is partnering with the City of Chicago on the SunShot Initiative to accelerate rooftop solar installations and on “brownfields to brightfields” projects.  In Iowa, ELPC led the charge to pass a new solar energy tax credit.  Wind power and solar power are the fastest growing energy sources in the world, creating jobs and spurring business and avoiding pollution.


  • Cleaning Up the Chicago River – A Turning Point!  Chicagoans have sadly tolerated our namesake river being unsafe and unhealthy for recreation and enjoyment.  In 2011, ELPC’s, Friends of the Chicago River’s and our colleagues’ persistent and effective advocacy succeeded when the U.S. EPA and the Illinois Pollution Control Board directed the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to install modern pollution control equipment to disinfect wastewater.  The District has now committed to disinfect earlier than originally planned.  Many Chicagoans enjoying the Chicago River are looking back, shaking their heads and asking why did Chicago wait so long to clean it up?  Stay tuned for news about ELPC’s work to help clean up Wisconsin’s rivers and lakes, too.

The 2012 election results were victories for clean energy, clean air and climate change solutions, as well as for high-speed rail development.  President Obama’s re-election sets the overall direction for the nation, and he is ready to advance America’s clean energy economy, accelerate high-speed rail development as his #1 transportation priority, move forward Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act standards that were deferred pending the election, and continue the Great Lakes restoration.  The Obama Administration also appears ready to advance EPA’s carbon pollution reduction standards.

ELPC’s win-win-win – environmental progress, job creation and economic growth – approach makes sense, focuses on solutions and brings together the people and partners who can get things done.  We’re proud of our 2012 accomplishments and look forward to seizing more strategic opportunities for environmental solutions.  Thank you for considering a contribution to support ELPC’s successful work protecting the Midwest’s environmental quality and preserving our natural resources.


Greenwire: Emanuel’s sustainability push gets high marks with Chicago greens

Republished with permission of Environment and Energy Publishing.

By Jean Chemnick, E&E Reporter
Wednesday, September 12, 2012

CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is extremely unpopular right now with the city’s striking teachers, but he gets straight A’s from another Democratic constituency, environmentalists.

Since coming to office 15 months ago, the Democrat has handed city greens a string of victories in battles they’d been fighting for a long time.

One of the first things the pugnacious former congressman and Obama chief of staff did was to disband the city department that was responsible for environmental work under his predecessor,

Mayor Richard Daley (D). Emanuel instead has made agencies across the city responsible for aspects of the Chicago Climate Action Plan that fell within their purview.

Implementation of the plan was coordinated by the mayor’s own office by the city’s newly minted chief sustainability officer, Karen Weigert. In a recent interview, she said the shift has allowed the administration to move more quickly to deliver on a host of resource-saving improvements and build a green résumé.

Since he was sworn in as mayor in May 2011, Emanuel has:
•    Accelerated plans to shutter two coal-fired power plants blamed for polluting two working-class, minority neighborhoods for more than 80 years. The plants stopped operating two weeks ago.
•    Pledged to expand curbside recycling to all 50 wards by the end of next year.
•    Launched repairs of 900 miles of water pipes aimed at stemming the waste of water drawn from Lake Michigan.
•    Begun a voluntary initiative to slash emissions from the Windy City’s large commercial buildings by 20 percent over the next five years.
•    Founded the Infrastructure Trust Fund, which the administration says will allow the city to borrow private money to repair roads, bridges and other infrastructure without adding to the city’s debt. Environmentalists like that the fund’s first projects would improve energy efficiency at schools and other city-owned buildings.
•    Pledged that all new public buildings would be certified as green under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
•    Set a target of adding 180 acres of parkland, 18.5 miles of lakeshore trails along Lake Michigan and 100 miles of protected bikeways by 2015, and upgrading and adding to the area’s transit system.
•    Helped secure upgrades to wastewater treatment systems for the Chicago River.

Taken together, Weigert said, these actions will help reduce Chicago’s emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases and protect infrastructure from the increased precipitation, hotter summers and other shifts that scientists say climate change has in store for the Windy City.

Some of these efforts may even position Chicago to benefit as a changing climate affects the global economy, Weigert said.

By shifting away from coal and encouraging companies that produce emissions-reduction and renewable energy technologies, she said, Chicago can make sure it is in line for “the economic opportunities that are going to be created from this.”

“We want to ensure that it is part and parcel of how we’re delivering enhanced quality of life and enhanced quality of economic opportunity for the residents of the city of Chicago,” she added.

‘Heavy lifting’

Environmentalists are giving Emanuel rave reviews, commending him for moving ahead on the two coal plants and on citywide recycling — two goals that have been on greens’ wish lists for years.

“We’re really impressed,” said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club’s Illinois chapter. “There’s been some very real stuff accomplished on some big issues that either are new since the Daley administration left or that were lingering and not addressed.”

Bill Abolt, who leads Shaw Environmental Inc.’s energy efficiency practice, said, “The city of Chicago had a green reputation, but there were a lot of undone things under the last administration. The current mayor has been just going through the list.”

Emanuel’s role in bringing about a deal to close the Fisk and Crawford coal power plants, in particular, showed that he was capable of delivering concrete results on the environment rather than simply producing nebulous plans, said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the region’s largest environmental group.

The cleanup or closure of the plants — which were the city’s largest sources of greenhouse gases and a major contributor of mercury and other emissions — has long been the top priority for the environmental activists (Greenwire, May 3). The plants burned their last shipment of coal two weeks ago.

Emanuel’s involvement in helping to finally cross them off the list in the early months of his tenure shows that he can get things done, Learner said, a quality that Chicagoans place above lofty goals or symbolic gestures.

“Chicago is a very practical, pragmatic, get-things-done sort of place,” he said.

Environmentalists give Emanuel’s predecessor, Daley, more mixed reviews for his record on the environment. On one hand, the two-decade-long Daley administration presided over the creation of the Chicago Climate Action Plan, which was adopted four years ago this month with a broad buy-in from local business and civic leaders.

The plan set an ambitious goal of reducing the city’s emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by midcentury, and proposes getting there through improvements to building efficiency, transportation and reductions to utility, waste and industrial pollution. It also touches on climate adaptation.

But however significant the plan, environmentalists say, it was just a plan. It required implementation, and some say Daley was too slow to put the bullet points into action.

Abolt, who once served as environment commissioner under Daley, said the former mayor “got a little diverted from recognition of the real kind of heavy lifting that would be needed to
implement it.”

“The last administration created a very aspirational long-term plan that for the first time addressed significant issues like mitigation in a serious and detailed way,” said Abolt, who stopped working for the city after a scandal involving a program to hire trucks to do city work.

“The plan did not, however, sufficiently focus on measurable achievable things that the government and others would need to do, not just over time but within shorter periods of time, to actually make progress,” he added.

‘Results are what matter’

The climate plan does not set hard and fast goals that add up to an 80 percent reduction for the city by 2050, Abolt noted. Seventy percent of the city’s emissions come from the built environment — something Abolt intimately knows from his current work in building efficiency.
But it was the Emanuel administration, he said, that “got serious” about cutting the energy consumption of buildings.

The push led to a tripling of the rate of retrofits for older, less-efficient stock through programs like the voluntary Commercial Building Initiative for large privately owned buildings. And the administration plans to use its newly formed Infrastructure Trust Fund to help raise private capital to retrofit public facilities. The bank received a brief mention as part of President Clinton’s address last week at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Learner was less critical of the Daley administration, mentioning only a few specific issues like recycling and the power plant cleanups as its shortcomings. But he agreed that the Daley-era blueprint only got Chicago so far.

“Plans are nice,” he said. “Results are what matter.

“What happened was that Mayor Daley had a very strong commitment to making Chicago the greenest city in America, and depending on what day you talked to him the greenest city in the world,” he continued. “That was very sincere. The mayor believed it. And he put the wheels in motion to begin achieving that on a number of fronts.”

But the plan was announced less than three years before Daley’s retirement, Learner noted, leaving him little time to tackle much beyond short-term projects, like tree-planting initiatives.
Implementation was always going to be a long slog, though, he said.

“The solutions to our climate change problems aren’t made in a day,” Learner said. “It’s not flash-in-the-pan stuff.”

But while Abolt said that Daley left much undone in the climate realm, other environmental staff members who served the former mayor painted him as a pioneer on the issue.

Karen Hobbs, a former deputy commissioner of the environment under Daley who is now a senior staff member at the Chicago office of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the former mayor “a visionary.”

When Daley installed vegetation on City Hall in 1999 to catch rainwater, “people thought he was crazy.”

“And now Chicago has more green roofs than any city in North America,” she said.  As for comparing Daley and Emanuel, Hobbs said, “I see how they are alike more than how they are different.

“They’re both strong personalities who want to make Chicago a better place,” she said.

Not a ‘tree hugger’

Meanwhile, Emanuel has his own critics.

“I’m an Emanuel skeptic,” said Larry Bennett, a political science professor at DePaul University and an expert on Chicago politics.

Bennett said Emanuel is moving too far in the direction of privatizing public works, especially in education and economic development — arenas where he sees the city ceding responsibilities to the private sector. His “unconsultative” approach to decisionmaking has also ruffled feathers, especially among community leaders who are not part of his inner circle, Bennett said.

Some of the effects of this can be seen in the breakdown of the city’s contract negotiations with teachers, which led Chicago’s teachers to go on strike for the first time in 25 years.

“I think that the reactions to him vary substantially,” he added.

Some of Emanuel’s apparent enthusiasm for public-private partnerships to perform various tasks may be prompted by the fact that Chicago is deeply in debt. Programs like the Infrastructure Trust Fund are intended to provide alternative ways of raising money for projects that might otherwise be impossible for the over-leveraged city to finance.

For example, the first $225 million from the trust fund is intended as a down payment on the Emanuel administration’s goal of retrofitting all existing public buildings for better efficiency. Weigert said during the interview that the retrofits would allow the city to save money on its energy bills, and those savings would go to repay private lenders.

“We’re trying to be creative,” Weigert said. “We’re trying to think about new ways of getting things done.”

But Bennett said the funding mechanism might put the city on the hook for a larger share of interest than an ordinary bond measure would have.

Emanuel has also taken on Chicago’s convoluted municipal trash collection system, aiming to make it more efficient even if that means increasing the role private contractors already play. In the process, he has been able to expand recycling.

Bennett said privatizing trash collection might be a good idea, depending on how it is implemented.

“Is the savings from privatization simply a function of driving down the wages or benefits of garbage collection personnel?” he asked. “If so, I can imagine a city government or local citizens opting for somewhat higher sanitation collection costs in order to maintain some version of a living wage for sanitation workers.”

But Bennett said Emanuel isn’t a “tree hugger.”

“To the extent he is green, he is green in a very pragmatic fashion,” Bennett said. “It’s essentially about the city’s earning a reputation for being a green city as a way to stimulate economic development and external investment in Chicago.”


Emanuel’s efforts on sustainability have not made much of an impression on his constituents yet, journalist James Warren said.

“With all of the aggressive promotion of his achievements — with his daily press releases, with his underscoring of what he is trying to do — that subject has certainly not seeped into any public consciousness,” said Warren, former managing editor and Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune and current national correspondent for the Atlantic.

This could have less to do with Emanuel and his team than with the fact that a bad economy, municipal debt and crime are much higher on the average Chicagoan’s list than city greening initiatives, Warren said.

But he said there is also evidence that Emanuel has used “hyperbole” in estimating the number of jobs that have come to Chicago on his watch. Warren cited a recent Tribune article that reported the mayor had overestimated the job-creation potential of some companies that have recently relocated to his city. And then there’s the teachers strike.

“And if it’s true with jobs, which is so theoretically easy to check,” he said, “who knows what it would be like for something that is totally off the radar screen by this?

“There may be a difference between what the press operation puts out and what’s actually on the ground,” he added.

But many of the results Emanuel promised are already in plain view, the Sierra Club’s Darin said. More Chicago residents have curbside recycling service and water meters than did in May of last year, and Emanuel helped pressure the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago to invest in modern pollution controls for sewage entering the Chicago River.
“The mayor using his bully pulpit was part of what created the political consensus to get that done,” he said.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center’s Learner said the city was moving along at a good clip when it came to implementation of the Sunshine Initiative, a U.S. Energy Department-funded program aimed at advancing rooftop solar power. Fisk and Crawford are effectively closed, and the infrastructure bank is taking steps to get running.

“Hey, I’m not a shrinking violet either,” he said. “If it’s a year from now, and [the city] shows spinning wheels on the energy efficiency retrofit fund I’ll ask what’s going on. But at present, I think they’re moving at a pace that indicates serious intent and thoughtfulness. I don’t have any reason to be at all critical.”

Former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, who now heads the Chicago-based Congress for the New Urbanism, which promotes sustainable development, said Emanuel gets less credit for his green initiatives than he should.

“He’s a tough guy. So he likes to just do stuff,” he said. “That can be a fault.”

Emanuel has a reputation for being highly political, he said, when actually “there are mayors that have done a lot less that have a reputation for doing stuff.”

Norquist said that Emanuel’s office should do more to tout his efforts on sustainability, including his attempts to make Chicago a more appealing place to walk and bike. Prime example, he said: the Bloomingdale Trail, a 3-mile-long elevated park that the city will begin building on an abandoned railway as soon as this fall. The park would connect several Chicago neighborhoods with the downtown area. Emanuel announced in May that the city had secured funding to finish the design and begin construction.

Business gets involved

Chicago is breaking ground on the trail in part with funds donated by the utility Exelon Corp. Corporations in general play a significant role in the Windy City’s environmental and land-use planning.

While DePaul political scientist Bennett sees significant risks associated with Emanuel’s private sector-friendly approach to the city’s education and economic development functions, he said he saw nothing wrong with Emanuel’s choice to carry over Daley’s Green Ribbon Committee to provide feedback on whether the city is meeting goals of its climate plan.

The panel draws its membership from nonprofits and businesses. Its membership has included such local commercial leaders as Chris Kennedy, president of the retail behemoth Merchandise Mart, and Sunil Garg, president of Exelon Power.

Bennett said that while Chicago businesses are no more apt to want environmental quality controls than businesses in other large, metropolitan cities, business leaders are more likely to take a progressive view on the environment than the Chicago City Council, which is driven by ward-level interests rather than big-picture issues.

Abolt, a member of the committee since the start of Emanuel’s term, said the business community in Chicago has a history of civic engagement going back to the decision 100 years ago to preserve the city’s Lake Michigan shoreline as a public commons, rather than allowing businesses to locate on the waterfront.

“We have benefited not only in our quality of life but in our economy as a consequence of that decision around stewardship,” he said.

Learner noted that his group has businesspeople on its board of directors and regularly collaborates with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce on efforts to expand renewable energy.

“There are some places in which there’s the civic community and there’s the business community and there’s government and they’re all always at war with each other,” he said. “That’s not Chicago.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the amount of parkland Emanuel aims to add.

News: Chicago Tribune Looks at the End of Coal in Chicago

Over the past few days, the Chicago Tribune has taken an in-depth look at the pending closure of the Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Chicago. In the pieces, reporter Julie Wernau examines what the closures mean to the city, and the long effort to close the plants.

A couple key quotes:

“‘This marks a turning point from Chicago’s reliance on two highly polluting coal plants that use fuel from out of state to a cleaner energy future that’s less polluting and uses more Illinois wind and other clean resources,’ said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago. ” Read the story

“‘It was somewhat revolutionary to be able to attribute a certain number of deaths to a certain coal plant,” explained Faith Bugel, senior attorney with Chicago’s Environmental Law and Policy Center. Read the story


Or download a PDF of the stories..

Chicago Tribune: Two Chicago Coal Plants to Close in 2012

Midwest Generation announced Wednesday that both the Fisk and Crawford coal plants will be closed in September 2012. The Chicago Tribune broke the news, which was announced during a Q1 shareholder’s call.

Earlier this year, the company agreed to retire the Chicago coal plants in response to a 10 year grassroots campaign by a coalition of community, health, and environmental organizations. According to agreements signed by Midwest Generation, the Clean Power Coalition, and the City of Chicago, the Fisk coal plant must shut down in 2012 and the Crawford coal plant by 2014.

Read the story

The Chicago Clean Power Coalition released the following statement in response to the news.

For Immediate Release

May 2, 2012

Chicago’s Fisk and Crawford Coal Plants to Close in September

Midwest Generation is accelerating the closure of two of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal plants, saying both the Fisk plant in Pilsen and the Crawford plant in Little Village will close in September 2012.

On today’s first quarter investor call, Ted Craver, CEO of parent-company Edison International, announced that the Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Chicago will shut ahead of schedule.

Earlier this year, Edison International agreed to retire the Chicago coal plants in response to a 10 year grassroots campaign by a coalition of community, health, and environmental organizations. According to agreements signed by Midwest Generation, the Clean Power Coalition, and the City of Chicago, the Fisk coal plant must shut down in 2012 and the Crawford coal plant by 2014.

Today’s announcement confirms that economic pressures and grassroots opposition present a real challenge to the long term viability of Edison’s coal fleet. Energy producers are recognizing the need to move towards cleaner, more cost effective energy sources

In response to today’s decision, members of the Chicago Clean Power Coalition said:

“We welcome the news that both plants will close earlier than expected. Midwest Generation made this decision independently based on an economic analysis. Coal is not just harmful to public health and air quality; it’s no longer a working business model. Clean energy is where the jobs are now.” – Faith Bugel, senior attorney with Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“There’s no future in coal. Edison International executives can protect Illinois families and their own investors by retiring the remaining Midwest Generation coal plants and committing future investments to renewable energy,” – Kelly Mitchell, Greenpeace Coal Campaigner

“It’s amazing to see the economic times finally catch up with what our communities have known all along – coal is a dirty investment. We are excited to hear that our communities will not have to wait until 2014 for a breath of clean air. In our hearts, we know that Midwest Generation will do right by its employees and invest in them like they have invested in clean energy.” Kimberly Wasserman, Executive Director, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization

“In the neighborhoods surrounding the plants tonight, tiny and older lungs especially will breathe a little easier knowing that 100% of the deadly coal pollution generated in Chicago will end in just 4 short months. This news couldn’t be better and will inspire residents as they work together to gather and construct proposals for how future uses of the sites can benefit the community.” – Jerry Mead-Lucero, local resident and organizer for PERRO, the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization.

“Midwest Generation is doing what it needs to do by shutting the plants early. Now we need to move forward toward clean air and a worthy replacement for the plants.” – Nelson Soza, Pilsen Alliance

“Chicago still has a long term air pollution problem and finally closing the last several ancient, inefficient and dirty coal power plants in the Chicago area would improve the health of all area residents by reducing asthma attacks, heart attacks, hospitalizations and deaths.” – Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health for Respiratory health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.

“Today we won two more years of cleaner, safer air for the children of Little Village, culminating the many years of hard work by local families and concerned residents. We are now calling on Midwest Generation to protect their employees and asking for investments in energy efficiency that will create new jobs to assist the workers and community with a smooth transition to a clean energy future. We we look forward to continuing our work with the Chicago Clean Power Coalition and Mayor Emanuel to ensure new productive uses of these sites and a cleaner future our city.” –Jack Darin, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter Director

What Happens When Coal Plants Shut Down?

Dozens of coal-fired power plants across the United States are  facing closure over the next few years. Many communities are actively engaged in planning what is next for these sites. Each closing poses challenges and opportunities. Kari Lydersen examines the issues and takes a look at what is happening in Chicago in Midwest Energy News. Read the story.

Victory! Chicago Coal Plants to Shut Down

Victory! Chicago Coal Plants to Shut Down

?After more than a decade of advocacy by ELPC and our many allies in the Chicago Clean Power Coalition, two of the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the nation will close. The Fisk plant in Pilsen will shut down later this year and the Crawford plant in Little Village will shut down in 2014.

For more than 10 years, ELPC has provided the legal counsel to the effort to shut down these damaging plants. This effort has included active participation in the Chicago Clean Power Coalition, a ground-breaking grassroots campaign to make Chicago coal-free.

For more information, please see the Chicago Clean Power Coalition Press Release, some victory celebration photos on our Flickr page, and media coverage from:

  • Associated Press: Deal to Shut Chicago’s 2 Coal-Fired Plants Reached
  • Crain’s Chicago Business: City’s Last 2 Coal-Fired Power Plants to Close; Waukegan Could Be Next
  • Chicago Tribune: 2 Coal-Burning Plants to Power Down Early
  • ABC7 Chicago: Chicago’s 2 Coal-Fired Plants to Close
  • Chicago Sun-Times: Editorial – Credit Grass-Roots Effort for Victory Over Pollution
  • NBC5 Chicago: Residents Rejoice Closure of Fisk, Crawford Coal Plants

Also, you can listen to a podcast of our March 2nd webinar here.

Press Event: Hundreds Gather to Celebrate Historic Win for Clean Air in Chicago

On Thursday, March 1st, hundreds of Pilsen and Little Village residents, along with supporters from the Chicago Clean Power Coalition will gather at Dvorak Park in Pilsen to take part in a press conference and historical celebration in reaction to the retirement of the Fisk and Crawford coal plants. Community members have been waiting for years to see an end to the pollution from Midwest Generation’s Fisk and Crawford coal plants that contribute to over 42 premature deaths, 720 asthma attacks, and $120 million in health costs every year.  Children and families from the neighborhood will gather to celebrate this enormous victory for clean air and the health of Chicago residents.

What: Press Conference and “Retirement Party” for Midwest Generations Fisk and Crawford coal plants.

When: Thursday, March 1st – 11:00 am

Where: Dvorak Park,  1100 W. Cermak (corner of Cermak & May St.) Chicago, IL 60608

Who: Members of the Chicago Clean Power Coalition and local community residents


Kim Wasserman, LVEJO — Little Village Community

Leila Mendez, PERRO — Pilsen Community

Rosalie Mancera, Pilsen Alliance — Pilsen Community

Brian Urbaszewski, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago

Faith Bugel, Environmental Law and Policy Center

Exciting Visuals: Hundreds of Pilsen and Little Village residents will gather with environmental leaders in a public park, in the shadow of a coal plant that has been retired. Large colorful signs and banners, children and celebratory chants will feature prominently in the celebration.

B-Roll Package

Print Quality Photos

Chicago Clean Power Coalition Press Release


Chicago Groups to U.S. EPA: Take Charge of Illinois’ Failed Permitting Program

Six-Year Delay in Enforcement Could Allow Greater Pollution from Area Coal Plants

CHICAGO – Eight Chicago-area environmental and public health organizations are petitioning federal regulators to take over an Illinois permitting program that has failed to meet Clean Air Act requirements for more than 15 years. For instance, the state has failed to issue effective operating permits for the largest pollution sources in Illinois– namely, the 22 coal plants in Illinois – potentially leaving residents at risk.

“These federal operating permits are critically important for monitoring Illinois’ old, highly polluting coal plants,” says Senior Attorney Faith Bugel from the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC).  “Without effective Title V permits, Illinois residents have lost the right to sue coal plant operators when they break the law.”

Federal operating permits (or Title V permits) are important because the Title V program gives citizens (and not just state agencies like the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency) the right to sue for permit violations.  These permits also contain important provisions for monitoring pollution and reporting the results to the state – and without the permits it is almost impossible for citizens to verify whether coal plants and other major sources of air pollution are within pollution limits.

According to attorneys from ELPC and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), two Illinois agencies are responsible for these delays. First, the Illinois EPA delayed the initial issuance of the permits. Then, when coal plant operators appealed the permits before the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB), the IPCB compounded the delays by ‘staying’ the permits during the appeals process.  As a result, these huge sources of air pollution have not had federal operating permits for decades.

“Title V is supposed to make Clean Air Act permitting more transparent by giving the public regular snapshots of the requirements for coal plant operators,” said NRDC attorney Ann Alexander. “But since we haven’t gotten those public updates, Illinois has essentially given some of the nation’s worst polluters a regulatory safe house from modern permit requirements that protect the public.”

Those stays have remained in effect even though the operators and the State have failed to resolve the permit appeals in settlement discussions that have dragged on for six years.  The IPCB, nonetheless, continues to accept the parties’ representations that they are making progress in those discussions.

“When your child has asthma, six years can seem like an eternity,” says Kim Wasserman, a mother of an asthmatic who lives near the Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Chicago. “There are laws meant to protect us – to protect people from getting sick. But what good is a law that goes unenforced?”

The petition was filed on behalf of the following organizations: Environmental Law &  Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, Sierra Club, Environment Illinois, and Illinois Environmental Council.

Chicago Tribune: Coal plants dominate list of Chicago’s biggest polluters

According to this Jan. 22nd article in the Chicago Tribune: “Illinois’ largest single corporate polluter is Midwest Generation, the company that owns the Crawford and Fisk coal plants in Chicago and four more in the suburbs of Joliet, Romeoville and Waukegan and in Pekin in central Illinois. Burning coal from Wyoming and other Western states, the plants emitted more than 31 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2010, an amount equivalent to the tailpipe emissions of about 6 million cars.” Read the article.

ELPC works in Chicago to advance clean energy solutions and clean up old-technology coal plants to make the city a greener place to live and work. Our work includes:

Implementing the Chicago Climate Action Plan’s Clean and Renewable Energy Goals

Hosting the Annual “Growing the Green Economy” Conference

Fighting Pollution from the Aging Fisk and Crawford Coal Plants

Implementing the Chicago Climate Action Plan’s Clean and Renewable Energy Goals

The 2008 Chicago Climate Action Plan established a goal of reducing Chicago’s greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2020.  Developing new sources of clean and renewable energy will be a big part of the plan’s implementation, and ELPC has played a key role shaping the strategy.

At the request of Mayor Daley, ELPC and the City of Chicago Department of Environment co-chaired a working group comprised of clean energy business executives, entrepreneurs, academics, finance experts, government and utility representatives.  Working with this group, ELPC developed a set of policy and program recommendations that, if implemented, will set the city on a path to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals and ancillary objectives such as economic development and job creation.

The Clean and Renewable Policy and Program Recommendations Report is now complete.  Recommendations are organized along two tracks with elements addressing: (1) policy advocacy objectives, with a primary goal of greening the grid through full implementation of the Illinois Renewable Energy Standard, and (2) local program development at the city level, aimed at increasing distributed generation in Chicago.  Stay tuned for an announcement about a press conference with Mayor Daley to formally release the report and present the implementation plan.

Hosting the Annual “Growing the Green Economy” Conference

ELPC regularly co-sponsors the “Growing the Green Economy” conference with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center.  In previous years, more than 125 industry leaders have gathered to discuss what it will take to make Chicago’s and the Midwest’s clean energy opportunity a reality, best practices and how to attract and support clean energy businesses in today’s economy.

Fighting Pollution from Aging Coal Plants

Despite advances in renewable energy, the nation still depends on coal plants for more than half of its electricity. Coal combustion produces smog, soot, acid rain, the neurotoxin mercury, and is the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions, a leading cause of global warming.

A loophole in the Clean Air Act has allowed existing power plants to avoid installing modern pollution controls. ELPC is working with numerous environmental groups, state governments and others to require aging coal-fired power plants to install these modern technologies.

In Chicago, we are working to reduce pollution from the Fisk and Crawford coal plants, as well as other plants owned by Midwest Generation. ELPC is actively working with Chicago Alderman Joe Moore and a coalition of business and community groups to advocate for the passage of a City ordinance that would significantly reduce soot and greenhouse gas pollution from Chicago’s coal plants. The Clean Power Ordinance would make Chicago the first city in the nation to regulate pollution from coal plants.

ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

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