Hidden costs of coal generation
From Chicago Tribune:
Pollution from Chicago's two coal-fired power plants costs neighboring communities $127 million a year in hidden health damages, according to a report released Wednesday that relied on research from the nation's leading scientific organization.
Environmental groups and Chicago aldermen have been fighting for years to force the aging Fisk plant in Pilsen and the Crawford plant in Little Village to either clean up or shut down. The former ComEd plants, now owned by Midwest Generation, also are tangled in anti-pollution lawsuits filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
While pollution problems at the two plants have been well-documented — both are major sources of lung-damaging soot and other noxious chemicals — this is the first time anyone has tried to calculate the economic costs of the steady stream of coal smoke that churns out of the smokestacks.
"Not only are these plants harming our health, they're draining our wallets," said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Chicago-based group that released the new report.
Learner's group obtained plant-specific data from the National Research Council, which issued a little-noticed report this year that estimated energy production and its use cost the nation $120 billion a year in damages. Most of those hidden costs are from soot pollution emitted by power plants and vehicles and are not reflected in market prices for coal, gasoline and diesel fuel, the council's report concluded.
Targeted by activists and elected officials, the Midwest Generation plants have avoided anti-pollution regulations for years, in part because federal regulators assumed decades ago that the aging generators would have been scuttled by now. Fisk started generating electricity in 1903 and was rebuilt in 1959; Crawford's latest turbines were installed in 1958 and 1961.
A federal lawsuit, joined by Madigan, accuses Midwest Generation and ComEd of modifying and expanding the plants so many times that they should be considered new plants and forced to comply with modern pollution standards. Keeping the aging plants going without cleaning them up violates a provision of the Clean Air Act known as New Source Review, the EPA alleges.
Madigan's office also has documented thousands of soot violations at the two plants, based on company-supplied data.
Doug McFarlan, a Midwest Generation spokesman, cited state estimates that three-quarters of the soot in Cook County comes from diesel trucks, locomotives and construction equipment.
"Our facilities are a fraction of that," McFarlan said, calling the environmental group's report "a selective review of data that seeks to shut down all coal generation."
He said his company's pollution problems are being addressed under an agreement with the Illinois EPA that will lead the company to clean up or close its coal plants by 2018.
The latest report did not include the hidden costs of the State Line Power Station along Lake Michigan, just a few feet over the border from Chicago in Hammond. A recent Tribune report documented how the Indiana plant is far dirtier than either of the Chicago plants.