Rahm EmanuelWill new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel get tough on coal?Photo: Daniel X. O’NeillChicago has a major coal problem. The city’s Fisk and Crawford coal-fired power plants, which have been operating for nearly 100 years and were rebuilt more than 40 years ago, were grandfathered in under the 1970 Clean Air Act amendments. The assumption at the time was that these plants would be shutting down within a few years since they were already so old. Needless to say, that hasn’t happened — yet.

Some key facts about the Fisk and Crawford plants:

  • These are the only large coal plants in the United States that are within the limits of a major city.
  • They are owned by a California-based company, they burn Wyoming coal, and they provide electricity to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland.
  • The Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods where the plants are located have more than 80 percent minority populations.
  • Patio furniture in neighborhoods near the plants is literally covered in soot.
  • Of all the coal plants in the United States that are near residential neighborhoods, Fisk has the highest population within one mile (47,000) and Crawford has the highest population within three miles (373,300).

Opposition to the Fisk and Crawford plants, which has been building for years, reached a fever pitch in early 2011. In the city council, the Clean Power Ordinance, which would require the plants to either drastically reduce emissions or shut down, attracted 26 cosponsors by spring. But in late April, a key council committee decided not to act on the legislation, effectively punting to the next council and to the administration of incoming mayor Rahm Emanuel (D).

Emanuel’s first day in office is today, and it still isn’t clear how he plans to deal with this problem.

During the campaign, Emanuel was asked the following question: “Will you strongly advocate for the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance and take other actions to require the clean up of all pollutants or the shut down of the highly-polluting Fisk and Crawford coal plants by 2015?” While he didn’t offer his support for the Clean Power Ordinance, he did indicate that he intends to address the problem. “Midwest Generation must clean up these two plants, either by installing the necessary infrastructure to dramatically reduce the pollution they emit, or by converting to natural gas or another clean fuel,” he said. “I will work closely with state and federal regulators and the city council to make sure it happens,” then-candidate Emanuel added.

 

At CREDO Action, we’re working to make sure Rahm follows through on his commitment to deal with pollution from Fisk and Crawford. Today, with help from our friends at Greenpeace and the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, we delivered a petition signed by 3,534 Chicagoans to Mayor Emanuel, urging him to address the problem immediately. The petition reads: “I urge you to do everything in your power to immediately reduce coal pollution from the Fisk and Crawford coal plants. The pollution limits outlined in the Clean Power Ordinance should be the bare minimum to protect our city from their devastating pollution.”