Fisk coal plantThe Fisk coal-fired power plant, ChicagoCourtesy swanksalot via FlickrChicago Alderman Joe Moore is taking aim at urban air pollution, introducing a Clean Power Ordinance today that would force overhauls of the city’s two coal-fired power plants, both located in Hispanic neighborhoods.

The plan would introduce new limits for particulates (soot) and carbon dioxide, restricting how much pollution the plants can release per unit of energy produced. The limits on particulate matter are similar to those set for new coal plants being built today. The limits on CO2 are similar to the pollution from a natural gas plant.

“That means essentially shut down the coal plants and start over,” energy-company spokesman Doug McFarlan warned WBEZ Chicago.

Right. And the downside would be?

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Here’s the upside: Those two plants are linked to more than 40 deaths, 550 emergency room visits, and 2,800 asthma attacks annually, according to a 2002 Harvard School of Public Health study. The asthma hospitalization rate in Chicago is nearly double the national average [PDF].

It’s not clear that Moore’s proposal will go anywhere, and Mayor Richard Daley’s skepticism can’t be good for its chances. Daley says the city lacks authority over power plant emissions, although the EPA in 2008 directed the city to improve its lackluster air quality.

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Putting real pressure on city coal plants would take Daley a long way toward his public goal of making Chicago a leader in fighting climate change. A Chicago Tribune investigation last year found that Daley’s climate plan leaned heavily on buying carbon offsets; 87 percent of them sent money to an existing wood-burning power plant in North Carolina and didn’t help finance any new renewable energy projects.