Almost 150 power plants, factories, and other businesses in Illinois are operating without federal clean-air permits, according to a statewide coalition of environmental and public-health organizations. Federal law required Illinois’ 733 worst polluters to pass emissions standards and receive appropriate permits by March 1998, but as of yesterday, four years after the deadline, only 80 percent of the permits had been granted. More alarming, coal-fired power plants — the state’s very worst polluters — are among those that have not yet been through the permitting process. In response, the Sierra Club, the American Lung Association, and other organizations asked the U.S. EPA to send Illinois a “Letter of Deficiency.” Such a move could eventually lead to a federal takeover of the clean-air program and loss of highway funding.