Residents, community groups and activists who've protested and made phone calls for decades got a big payoff this week with the announcement that Chicago's Fisk and Crawford coal plants are closing.
"This is a great victory for all residents, but very special for those who fought hard to make it happen," said Rosalie Mancera of The Pilsen Alliance, a community organization on the city's lower west side.
The plants, in Pilsen and the Little Village, had been mandated by state officials to clean up or shut down by 2018. Fisk will now close by the end of the year and Crawford will shut down by the end of 2014.
"This is big, big news for us," said Jerry Mead-Lucero with P.E.R.R.O, the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization. "We would have loved if it hadn't taken 10 years to get here, but we're thrilled that it's happening and it's about time. I mean, these two power plants have been polluting the communities here in Chicago for over 100 years, so to finally have a victory it means a lot. And because of the health impacts these plants have on the community it's going to have a major impact."
There's no official word on how many jobs will be affected by the closures, but that angle has reportedly been a part of the ongoing dialogue between officials and the company.
"We're always worried about peoples' jobs, but the good thing is there's a healthy transition plan in action. The details of that will come out more as we have conversations around it, but there's definitely people that are looking out for the jobs that people have in these companies and also hopefully trying to make jobs in the future in our community," said Raquel Nunez with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.
""We certainly want to make sure that people never have to choose between clean air and good jobs," added Christine Nannicelli with the Sierra Club.
According to Environmental Protection Agency figures, Fisk and Crawford emit 269 pounds of mercury; 17,765 tons of sulfur dioxide; and 260,000 pounds of soot each year. In 2007, the plants emitted five million metric tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that plays a significant role in climate change. That’s the equivalent of over 800,000 automobiles.
They’re so toxic that a Harvard School of Public Health study found they cause 41 premature deaths, 550 emergency room visits and 2,800 asthma attacks every year.
With the company voluntarily shutting down the lung- and heart-damaging smokestacks, Chicago's "Clean Power Ordinance" is no longer needed and the threat of a legal challenge avoided.
Environmental groups, including the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago and the Sierra Club, will also drop their lawsuits against the power company, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Neither Mayor Rahm Emanuel nor officials from Midwest Generation commented on the development.