Back in April, when a coalition of progressive aldermen introduced the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance, Ald. Ricardo Munoz declined to sign on as a sponsor. The ordinance was aimed at cleaning up the Crawford Generating Station, which provides hundreds of jobs in Munoz’s working-class neighborhood, but also, according to environmentalists and physicians, causes 2,800 asthma attacks a year among the children of Little Village.
“Joe’s been making a lot of noise,” Munoz said at the time, referring to one of the lead sponsors, Ald. Joe Moore. “If you really want to deal with what causes asthma, you should deal with all these highways, all these trucks going through the neighborhood.”
But this week, after another meeting with Moore, Munoz signed on as a sponsor.
Munoz says he’s been trying to get Crawford to clean up its act -- “I’ve been working with the Illinois EPA, requiring them to install scrubbers to reduce their emissions” -- and was finally moved to support the ordinance because the U.S. Senate recently failed to pass legislation establishing new environmental standards for power plants across the nation.
“I figured the next best step is to push it as a local issue to create pressure on a federal level,” Munoz said.
The ordinance’s sponsors lobbied hard for Munoz’s endorsement, because other aldermen have been reluctant to back the measure without his support. Now that Munoz is on board, the pressure is on Ald. Danny Solis, who represents the Fisk Generating Station, the other plant targeted for clean up.
The Clean Power Ordinance gives both plants four years to reduce emissions of particulates and carbon dioxide to levels equivalent to plants using natural gas.
Munoz wants to make sure that the plant doesn't shut down rather than comply with the new regulations. On Wednesday, he spoke to representatives of Midwest Generation, which owns both facilities. Midwest isn't exactly enthusiastic about more regulation.
“Given the existing state and federal regulations protecting public health and the environment, an additional layer of regulation in Chicago is unnecessary and overreaching,” Susan Olavarria, director of communications for Midwest Generation, says of the Clean Power Ordinance. “Its only real impact will be to risk the shutdown of these plants, and as a result, reliability of the electric grid and the loss of hundreds of good union jobs.”
The Crawford Generating Station is one of the most controversial issues Munoz has faced as an alderman, the subject of non-stop lobbying by the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, a neighborhood advocacy group.
“It’s something that’s been part of our neighborhood conversation and our citywide conversation for a number of years,” Munoz said, while adding, “I still have the same questions in terms of the advocacy positions these groups have taken.”
That means he’s not convinced the plants are solely responsible for polluting Little Village. But he thinks they’re polluting too much.