Clearing The Air - NBC Chicago
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Clearing The Air



    This week’s Chicago Reader has an outstanding cover story about Chicago’s two coal-fired power plants. Kari Lydersen’s investigation is as thorough as anything the paper published in its glory days. It calls the plants -- Fisk and Crawford -- dirty relics of the 20th Century, and highlights the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance, a City Council measure that would force them to reduce emissions.

    As the article points out, “coal-fired power plants are considered the largest ‘point source’ culprit in climate change worldwide…Fisk and Crawford are Chicago’s largest stationary sources of greenhouse-gas emissions, at 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year.”

    Ward Room readers will recall that earlier this year, Ald. Ricardo Munoz signed on as a co-sponsor of the Clean Power Ordinance. It was a big victory for Chicago environmentalists: the Crawford plant is in Munoz’s 22nd Ward, and he’d resisted criticizing them because they provided jobs to his blue-collar community.

    The ordinance is still far from passage, but the plants’ owner, Midwest Generation, is already threatening to challenge it in court, saying the city has no authority to write environmental regulations.

    Ald. Danny Solis, who represents the Fisk plant, and has not agreed to sponsor the ordinance, seems to agree with Midwest Generation.

    “The City of Chicago would face a legal challenge if it regulates carbon because of the Supreme Court decision in 2007 that gave the federal EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases,” Solis told the Reader through a spokesman. “This could result in costly lawsuits, costing taxpayers.”
     At the same time, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the federal government are suing Midwest Generation for violating the Clean Air Act. The company say it is spending tens of millions of dollars to reduce emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. But Lydersen’s article concludes that the plants don’t contribute enough to Chicago’s power grid to warrant tolerating their pollution. “Illinois is a net exporter of power,” Lydersen writes, and ComEd has long planned to upgrade its electric infrastructure, with the assumption that the obsolete plants would someday shut down.