Wednesday, December 11, 2013
EPA Tells Court U.S. Mercury, Toxics Rule is Legally Justified
ELPC’s Howard Learner on Importance of MATS Case
BY VALERIE VOLCOVICI
WASHINGTON — (Reuters) The U.S. environmental regulator argued in court on Tuesday that its rule limiting mercury and hazardous air pollutants is “appropriate and necessary,” not an improper interpretation of the federal Clean Air Act as industry groups and some states contend.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the second most powerful court in the country behind the Supreme Court, heard two cases challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s first rules to crack down on mercury from the country’s fleet of electric generating units.
The EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) applies to 1,400 of the country’s largest power plants and would come into force in 2015, or in some cases, 2016.
The MATS rule was finalized in December 2011 but has been subject to several petitions for reconsideration from groups ranging from pollution control equipment vendors to power plant developers. The EPA has said that MATS could prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, and generate $90 billion in health benefits, each year.
The three-judge panel asked a number of detailed questions to the dozen or so lawyers representing the EPA, green groups, the energy industry and states. The judges appeared skeptical of industry’s argument that the agency did not take the proper steps to determine that it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate those pollutants.
Neil Gordon, Assistant Attorney General for the state of Michigan, which opposes MATS, said the EPA’s interpretation of the word “appropriate” was unlawful since the agency did not weigh regulatory costs in its decision to regulate the pollutants.
But Chief Judge Merrick Garland, a Democratic appointee, questioned Gordon’s argument, saying, “nowhere does Congress require (the EPA) to evaluate cost” in its determination for the need to curb mercury and other toxic substances to protect public health.
Arguments at the hearing, held even though the court was closed for a snow day in Washington DC, lasted nearly four hours. That was longer than planned and longer than arguments in similar regulatory cases, observers said.
“The panel was well versed in the case and thoroughly read the briefing. The questions were really probing around the salient issues,” said John Suttles, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center who represented the American Lung Association as an environmental intervener in the case.
He said the EPA made a strong case that it was within its rights in regulating the pollutants and that he “didn’t really see an indication that court disagreed with EPA.”
But Eric Groten, an industry lawyer specializing in the Clean Air Act for Vinson & Elkins, said he would be surprised if the MATS was affirmed in its entirety.
“There were so many issues argued that it increases the chance the EPA got something wrong,” he said.
Groten noted that some judges questioned whether the EPA “artificially skewed the data” used to set mercury limits by basing them on the best performing power plants rather than a wider sample.
The judges, which also included Democratic appointee Judith Rogers and Republican appointee Brett Kavanaugh, are expected to take a few months to deliberate and could reach a decision by February or March.
A conclusion to the case will end years of “pingponging” between the EPA and the DC Circuit court.
“If the EPA prevails in the MATS case, that moves this set of standards forward and brings finality, stability and predictability to the reduction of mercury and other air toxics for coal plants,” said Howard Learner, an attorney and executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
Coal industry groups said they hope that the DC Circuit and the Supreme Court, which heard another air pollution case Tuesday, strike down both laws, which they claim hurts jobs and the economy.
“EPA’s overreaching and overzealous rulemaking is crippling the nation’s coal-fueled electric sector and is a threat to our nation’s economy,” said Laura Sheehan, a spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, editing by Ros Krasny and David Gregorio)
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
In Germany, Chicago energy experts find lessons for Midwest
By Kari Lydersen
Chicago energy experts who spent a week in Germany and Brussels in mid-November on a fact-finding expedition came back with a complicated take on Germany’s famous Energiewende, the sweeping transition to clean and renewable energy.
They were highly impressed with the fact that unlike the U.S., Germany has a cohesive national energy policy, and that it has meant rapid adoption of solar and wind power, including through substantial governmental support and subsidies.
But they also learned how Germany has in some ways been a victim of its own success, with the swift transition to solar and wind and the closure of nuclear plants raising reliability issues.
“They’ve been successful beyond their wildest dreams – there’s so much solar and wind coming on to their grid that it’s actually destabilizing their grid,” said Rachel Bronson, vice president of studies for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which convened the delegation along with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) – a think tank affiliated with German Conservative political parties. “It’s exciting, but there is too much (renewable power) coming on at times, and sometimes not enough.”
“There are some days where they get 80 percent of their energy from renewable energy, and some days they get one percent,” added Tom Wolf, executive director of the Energy Council of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “When the sun shines and the wind blows, they’ve built up so much that even on average they have more energy from renewable than from nuclear.
“A lot of people in this country would consider that an incredible victory, and it is amazing,” Wolf added. “But now the problems happen. I’ll call them challenges rather than problems.”
Another delegation member — Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center — had a more “glass-half-full” take.
“What we’re seeing in Germany with a tremendous growth in renewable development is truly a glimpse into the future for the Midwest,” he said. “There are tremendous opportunities. And there are some challenges, but we have an opportunity to learn from them…We have a three- to four-year lead time here in the Midwest in terms of addressing those problems and learning from some of the German solutions.”
Nuclear phase-out raises fears
In the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, Germany pledged to close all nuclear reactors by 2022, and eight reactors were closed almost immediately. The plan, implemented by Conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, was the culmination of a decades-long push against nuclear power by the Green Party and many German citizens.
The rapid phase-out of nuclear power is popular, but has presented concerns about making sure adequate generating capacity is available at all times.
The Chicago delegates said the trip gave them new insight into how the German response to Fukushima was influenced by their experience with the Chernobyl disaster three decades earlier.
“Chernobyl wasn’t just in the paper for them – people I talked to remembered Chernobyl very well,” said Wolf. “They couldn’t drink milk (from regional dairies), they worried about their kids playing outside, that moment really hit home for them.”
Still, the Chicagoans think the German decision to quickly phase out nuclear power may be based more on emotion than sound policy. Wolf compared it in his blog to what he sees as a somewhat misguided American obsession with energy independence.
“In a democracy, logic can lose out to perception,” he wrote.
German coal concerns
The group’s last stop was in Leipzig, an industrial city in former East Germany near some of the country’s sprawling open pit mines for lignite brown coal or “braunkohle,” which is wetter and dirtier-burning than the standard hard black coal found deeper underground.
Since the closing of nuclear plants, Germany has boosted its imports of hard black coal from the U.S., Colombia, Russia and other countries. An April 2013 report by German environmental groups said Germany increased its imports of U.S. coal 50 percent since last year, with most of it coming from Appalachia.
Germany also has its own hard coal, but much of it has become too expensive to mine. And in Germany, as in the U.S., there is significant popular opposition to coal. In March, Greenpeace released an academic study estimating that particulate matter from German coal plants causes 3,100 premature deaths each year. Many Germans are pushing for tighter limits on the mining and burning of brown coal, especially since recent and planned expansions of the brown coal mines eat up villages and forest.
Bronson and Wolf came away from their trip feeling the German government perhaps needs to do more to support the coal industry, to make sure it is available to provide baseload power as nuclear plants close.
“Coal remains important for industry, employment, as well as operations,” wrote Bronson in ablog post for the Chicago Council. “Unless policy is carefully crafted and reconsidered, all of the above is at risk.”
Wolf noted that the German policies which have encouraged an explosion of renewables have made it less profitable to run coal-fired power plants.
“We talked with people who said they can’t make money being the backup for wind and solar,” he said, noting that they toured a “beautiful” Leipzig coal plant which ramps up or down frequently depending when its power is needed – an inefficient way to operate. “Renewables get first crack at the grid. The problem is you can’t run a coal plant and all the machinations that go with it in the long-term just being backup power. You need some kind of compensation, or you need to tone down the tariffs or subsidies for renewables.”
Bronson said that while many people consider “clean coal” to be an oxymoron, she sees it differently especially after being in Germany “at a moment where they had just waved a wand and done away with nuclear.”
“They need coal,” Bronson said. “If you need coal, figure out how to make it cleaner.”
The trip offered numerous examples of how energy issues are inextricably linked across sweeping geographic areas, and can never be addressed in isolation.
The Chicago contingent heard about a serious challenge that the U.S. and Germany have in common in pushing for cleaner energy: the need for more transmission lines to get wind power from remote windy areas to population centers where it’s needed.
Wolf noted that “NIMBY” or “not in my back yard” is “a word in German too,” and even clean energy-loving Germans don’t want big transmission towers built near their homes.
“Not surprisingly there are a fair number of people in German communities who are unhappy with transmission running through their towns and their farmlands,” said Learner. “That’s an issue we’re also facing in the Midwest and nationally. For transmission planners to sit down with a map and have engineers draw lines that will move power from place A to place B is one thing, it’s another thing to engage with communities in between who don’t always see the value and benefit of transmission lines.”
He said that in Germany and in the Midwest, concern over transmission lines is motivation to also develop decentralized, smaller-scale wind and solar projects closer to where the power is needed.
Bronson noted that Germany’s location in the European Union actually presents parallels to the regulatory situation in the U.S., where states present a patchwork of different energy-related laws and policies even though the generation and distribution of energy typically crosses numerous borders.
The delegation members heard from Germans surprised at the booming growth of controversial hydraulic fracturing in the U.S. Bronson noted that fracking has been slow to take off in Germany and most of Europe in part because individual landowners are much less likely to benefit directly from fracking if they don’t own subsoil mineral rights.
American fracking, Bronson added, “has implications for them too,” since it increases U.S. coal companies’ motivation to export their product. Craig Morris, lead author of the German Energy Transition project, explained this trend in a blog earlier this year. “It’s an environment where their energy policy is shifting,” Bronson said, and U.S. fracking “is making it harder for them to do what they want to do,” even as it is helping to lower carbon emissions in the U.S.
Confidence in clean energy
Despite the challenges they observed, the delegation members said seeing the German experience first-hand inspired more confidence in growing renewables in the Midwest.
“Even in these difficult moments where (the Energiewende) doesn’t seem to be constructed right, the population really believes in a cleaner future and paying a cost to get there,” said Bronson. “That was pretty inspiring.”
They also said that as much attention as Germany is getting for its clean energy transformation, they think the U.S. is in better shape than many people realize. Learner pointed to a recent study by GE Energy Management showing that the PJM Interconnection could handle 30 percent renewables on the grid without endangering reliability, reducing costs to boot.
“We look at our own model and we’re so frustrated at not having an energy policy, and yet we have increasing use of renewables, increasing diversity with natural gas and alternatives to oil,” said Bronson. “Our carbon emissions are coming down while (Germany’s) are going up. If you look at the full plate we’re actually stumbling along kind of impressively.”
The ELPC is a member of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.
The Energy Transition Project is run by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a think tank affiliated with the German Green Party. The Heinrich Böll Foundation has supported Midwest Energy News reporters Kari Lydersen and Dan Haugen to report on clean energy development in Europe.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
CHICAGO (AP) — The Illinois Pollution Control Board agreed Thursday to give a Texas company extra time to install pollution controls at five Illinois coal-fired power plants, saying it would be an economic hardship for the company to do it sooner.
The panel voted 3-1 to grant a pollution-control waiver to Houston-based Dynegy Inc., which still must acquire the plants from Ameren Corp., but said it would be several hours before the opinion was available to the public. Chairwoman Deanna Glosser cast the only dissenting vote, saying she did not believe the company demonstrated an economic hardship.
Environmental groups opposed the waiver, saying the delay would hurt public health and the Dynegy knew the pollution controls were needed when it agreed to acquire the plants.
Friday, October 25, 2013
By Whitney Blair Wyckoff, E&E reporter
Chicago officials have revamped the city’s permitting system so building owners can put up solar installations more quickly and cheaply.
The changes implemented under the Chicago Solar Express program decrease the permit processing wait time from 30 days to one day and cut the fee schedule from $375 to $275, according to a release from the city. At the same time, Chicago’s Department of Buildings has published new guidelines aimed at making requirements clearer and more streamlined. Building owners can check a new website for information on getting rooftop solar approved, installed and linked up.
As part of the program, Chicago-area electric utility ComEd also plans to offer an online tool that lets owners link up their solar generator and feed electricity back into the grid, while getting credit on their power bill.
The program was a collaboration between Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D), the Environmental Law and Policy Center and technology firm West Monroe Partners. It was funded with a $750,000 grant from the Department of Energy’s SunShot Rooftop Solar Challenge.
“As solar technology has improved, the cost for the panels and other hardware has dropped,” said Brad Klein, senior attorney at ELPC. “And so it’s important for places in Chicago to also work on public policy — work on the zoning, the permitting, the governmental rules — in order to also bring down the cost for that part of the solar.”
According to ELPC, Chicago generates 11 megawatts from solar installations, though 10 MW come from Exelon City Solar, a solar farm installed on a 41-acre brownfield in the West Pullman neighborhood. Klein said Chicago has great potential for solar energy.
“There’s a lot of room to grow,” he said. “There’s a lot of big, flat rooftops in the city. There’s a lot of sort of industrial, old, now-undeveloped areas — possibly contaminated — that could be turned from old brownfields into new bright fields.”
Under Emanuel, Chicago has made strides in sustainability (Greenwire, Sept. 12, 2012). City officials hope the new approach will help make Chicago a leader in solar installations.
The announcement comes as Chicago hosts Solar Power International 2013, a major solar trade show.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Bill Moller and Steve Dale talk to ELPC Senior Attorney Brad Klein about energy efficiency and how solar power is effective. Tune in!
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Published September 26, 2013
By Bowdeya Tweh and Chrissie Thompson
State Senator draws criticism over plan to loosen energy-efficiency rules
COLUMBUS — A Green Township state Senator is pushing a bill to loosen the energy-efficiency rules from 2008, a move opponents say would lead to higher prices for electricity users.
The bill would remove a requirement for utilities to buy half of their renewable power from Ohio suppliers, broaden activities that count toward energy management for large commercial and industrial power users and cap how much utilities can spend on energy-saving programs.
Republican Sen. Bill Seitz faces opponents for his energy-efficiency bill: renewable-energy companies and environment groups. He has the support of utilities and industrial businesses, major consumers of power.
“In 2008, we projected that there would be a steady increase in electric demand. That has not happened,” Seitz said.
“It would be the height of foolishness to fail to account for these changed circumstances.”
The cap on utilities’ spending on energy efficiency would protect Ohioans from “jacked-up” power rates passed on after unnecessary spending to become more efficient, Seitz said.
But the energy-saving programs are too important to be “watered down,” because improving efficiency means customers will pay less in the future for their power needs, said Rob Kelter, senior attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
Reducing energy demand also has environmental benefits because fewer emissions are produced to generate the power, he said.
“We need for people to understand that energy efficiency produces real savings for customers,” Kelter said. “This bill reduces those savings.”
Still, the programs utilities such as Duke Energy manage around the state are not cheap.
Duke will spend millions of dollars this year on programs that include incentivizing energy-saving products, recycling appliances, weatherizing homes and offering options to industrial customers to help manage electricity usage.
The typical Ohio residential customer pays about $2.32 a month for programs the help reduce energy use, said Blair Schroeder, a spokesman for Duke Energy.
The energy-saving requirements passed in 2008 have helped Ohio grow an advanced-energy industry of 25,000 people, company executives told reporters Wednesday. Those jobs could be at risk with changes to the energy rules, they said.
Mark Wiley, of Dayton’s Kastle Solar, said two of his major projects are on hold because of Seitz’s bill.
“They will not go forward if Mr. Seitz passes his bill,” he said.
Green energy companies should still be able to operate in Ohio, Seitz said: Utility companies would still be expected to increase energy efficiency by more than 22 percent by 2025.
Electric distribution and service companies would still be expected to source 25 percent of their supply from alternative energy sources by 2025, although that improvement would be phased in more gently.
But utilities would be allowed to buy all of their renewable power from other states, a necessity because Ohio-based renewable energy is more expensive and because courts have struck down Ohio-only clauses like the renewable-energy rule.
“If you want to continue to do business in Ohio, we welcome you. They’ll just have to compete with renewable sources in other states,” Seitz said. “We love you, and good luck. We’re going to take the training wheels off you now.”
Ohio’s largest electric distributor, FirstEnergy, pressed Seitz’s committee in April to make changes to the state’s rules.
“However, we believe these mandates were established under a different set of circumstances, at a time when the economy was booming, electric demand was soaring and our energy supply options were thought to be limited,” Leila Vespoli, FirstEnergy’s executive vice president and general counsel, said in prepared testimony.
FirstEnergy spokesman Doug Colafella said the company would “support any legislation that delivers cost savings to our customers” and would “closely follow Senator Seitz’s bill.”
Find online at http://www.coshoctontribune.com/article/20130925/NEWS01/309250032/State-Senator-draws-criticism-over-plan-loosen-energy-efficiency-rules
Monday, September 23, 2013
Action would also fight algae blooms in Great Lakes and other American waters
CHICAGO (September 23, 2013) – The U.S. District Court in Eastern Louisiana ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday to determine within six months whether to set new limits on the pollution that is fueling the dangerous algae growth choking the waters throughout the Mississippi River basin, the Gulf of Mexico and waters across the country. Attorneys at the Natural Resources Defense Council led the suit, filed on behalf of several conservation groups and based on longstanding efforts by the Mississippi River Collaborative to break decades of inaction from the federal government on the issue of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. These chemicals fuel the formation of the Gulf Dead Zone and toxic algae blooms and cause damage to drinking water supplies.
“For too long, EPA has stood on the sidelines while our nation’s waters slowly choke on algae,” said NRDC Senior Attorney Ann Alexander. “They have acknowledged the problem for years, but could not muster the gumption to address it. The court is telling the Agency that it is time to stop hiding from the issue and make a decision already.”
Nitrogen and phosphorus from sewage plants, urban stormwater systems and agricultural operations fuels the growth of algae in waterways around the country. Algae, in turn, chokes out other aquatic life and can rob water of the oxygen that fish and shellfish need to survive. One of the most devastating consequences of this pollution has been the emergence of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico – an area the size of Connecticut where algal growth has driven levels of oxygen at the sea floor so low that virtually nothing can live there. Similar issues are driving the dramatic collapse of Lake Erie and threatening other portions of the Great Lakes.
Bradley Klein, senior staff attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center added, “This isn’t just about the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Algae blooms threaten the Great Lakes–and smaller waterways across the nation are being impacted by this huge problem. Hopefully EPA will move in the right direction on this because until we deal with the sources, which are sometimes thousands of miles away, we cannot get to the problem.”
The suit, filed a year and a half ago, challenged EPA’s denial of the Mississippi River Collaborative’s 2008 petition to EPA asking it to establish quantifiable standards and cleanup plans for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. The suit charged that EPA had unlawfully refused to respond to the question posed to it, which is whether such federal action is necessary to comply with the Clean Water Act. The court agreed with plaintiffs, holding that the Agency’s refusal to provide a direct answer was unlawful.
The decision does not tell the Agency how to address the problem, only to make a decision on the issue. However, EPA has repeatedly acknowledged the severity of the problem and stated that federal intervention is appropriate because states are not doing enough to solve it.
Plaintiffs in the suit included Gulf Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Iowa Environmental Council, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Prairie Rivers Network, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Sierra Club, and NRDC. Attorneys at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, NRDC, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center brought the case.
Following are comments from groups involved in the suit:
Susan Heathcote, water program director of the Iowa Environmental Council in Des Moines, Iowa, said, “Lake recreation is a big business in Iowa—generating $1.2 billion in annual spending and supporting 14,000 jobs. Yet Iowa’s lakes have among the highest nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the world, and consequences of this problem, including algae blooms and poor water clarity, have already landed 79 of the state’s top recreational lakes on Iowa’s impaired waters list. In addition, harmful algae blooms led to two dozen advisories against swimming at Iowa’s state park beaches this summer due to high toxin levels that threaten the health of people and pets.”
“It should be apparent that pollution limits are essential to controlling pollution” said Kelly Foster, Senior Attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance, “With this decision, we are hopeful that EPA will finally do what it has long known is necessary to address the Gulf Dead Zone and the staggering number of other fisheries, water supplies and recreational waters decimated by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution across the nation.”
“EPA must address the nutrient issue, and we appreciate the court’s ruling to that affect,” said Judy Petersen, Executive Director at Kentucky Waterways Alliance. “The Army Corps of Engineers monitored Kentucky’s recreational lakes for Harmful Algae Blooms for the first time this past summer and recorded excessive numbers throughout much of the summer at several lakes. Nutrient pollution is clearly just as much of a problem in Kentucky as it is in other Mississippi River Basin states and down in the Gulf, and EPA must address it.”
Kris Sigford, Water Quality Director at Minnesota Center for the Environment notes, “We are gratified that EPA cannot duck this important decision, and hope that EPA takes quick and decisive action to control widespread nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Mississippi River. In Minnesota, over one-quarter of our streams and rivers are polluted by nitrogen in excess of safe drinking water standards, and the trend is increasing rapidly.”
Monday, September 16, 2013
LUDINGTON, MICH. — The Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency agreed to enter a revised consent agreement with a ferry operator that would stop the nation’s last coal-fired ferryboat from dumping waste ash into Lake Michigan prior to the start of the 2015 sailing season.
A federal judge has to approve Friday’s motion, the Ludington Daily News reported.
Lake Michigan Carferry, operator of the S.S. Badger, wants to install an ash retention system aboard the ship that hauls passengers, vehicles and cargo between its home port of Ludington, Mich., and Manitowoc, Wis., from May to October. Currently, ash from its boilers is mixed with water and piped overboard. More than 500 tons of ash is released during a typical season.
The consent deal also calls for a reduction in the amount of ash discharged this year and over the five-month 2014 sailing season.
“The revised consent decree has been strengthened based on public comments on the proposed consent decree that was lodged in March,” said Susan Hedman, EPA Region 5 administrator. “These revisions increase certainty that the S.S. Badger will stop discharging coal ash to Lake Michigan at the end of the 2014 sailing season.”
The ship is the last remnant of the once-thriving carferry industry in Ludington, northwest of Grand Rapids. It offers a four-hour cruise across 60 miles of open water, an alternative to driving between Michigan and Wisconsin by way of crowded Chicago.
“The consent decree process has been extensive and has taken much longer than we had hoped,” Lake Michigan Carferry chief Bob Manglitz said in a statement. “This action is a huge milestone on the long road we have been traveling to keep the Badger sailing.”
The Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center said Friday that the revisions improve the consent deal, but the environmental group wants to make sure Lake Michigan Carferry gets no extensions beyond the 2014 sailing season.
“These improvements are steps in the right direction, but it’s time to require a complete end to the S.S. Badger’s dumping of toxic coal ash pollution in Lake Michigan,” the group’s executive director, Howard Learner, said in a release. “Enough is enough. Let’s protect our Great Lakes.”
More stories on the revised S.S. Badger consent decree:
Chicago Tribune: Ferry to end toxic Lake Michigan dumping
Manitowac Herald Times: Revised carferry decree filed
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Penalties toughened if S.S. Badger ferry fails ash deadline
Sunday, September 15, 2013
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.”