Community pans South Side coal-to-gas plant

Posted: 1/28/2011

From Northwest Indiana Times:

A meeting Thursday night to inform a South Side community about a coal gasification plant proposed for the neighborhood began a half-hour late because so many people showed up that more chairs and bleachers had to be set up.

"This is a clear indication that this community is a strong and loud community," said the Rev. Zaki L. Zaki, of The Zone youth center, 11731 S. Avenue O, who hosted the meeting. "We were expecting 50 to 60 (people). I'm glad to see we have more than 150."

Community leaders and environmental groups called Thursday's meeting to discuss the environmental and economic impact of the plant, which would turn coal into synthetic natural gas. Leucadia Energy wants to build the plant at 11600 S. Burley Ave.

Primarily an informational meeting, Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs with the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, talked about the types of air pollutants that would be emitted should the plant be built and the types of health problems those pollutants could cause. The list included carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, which at high enough levels can cause difficulty breathing, trigger asthma attacks and contribute to heart attacks and strokes.

Becki Clayborn, of the Sierra Club, told the assembly the basics of the proposed plant and explained that it would create natural gas from coal and petroleum coke. She said the plant would create 43.5 billion cubic feet of synthetic natural gas every year, but would do so from 3 million tons of coal and petroleum coke.

"To me that's the biggest issue ... It will be piled up around the plant," she said. "It's an amazing carbon footprint."

Late last year the Illinois House voted to allow the plant, and earlier this month the Senate approved Senate Bill 3388, which requires electric utilities to have 30-year contracts with the plant.

According to a statement from state Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, who helped sponsor the bill, the project will create an estimated 1,100 construction jobs and as many as 200 full-time jobs once construction is complete. Leucadia Energy, the project's developer, projects $1 billion in total consumer savings versus traditional natural gas.

But Urbaszewski said increased costs to consumers are possible with the plant's construction because natural gas could be cheaper in 20 years compared to what gasification would cost.

Postcards addressed to Gov. Pat Quinn were passed out at the meeting, asking him to veto SB 3388 and a second bill for a gasification plant in the southern portion of the state. Audience members scribbled their names and addresses on the cards before handing them back in to be mailed.

After the presentation, members of the audience commented about the project, saying they weren't sure the jobs were worth sacrificing their health and expressing dismay that legislators passed SB 3388 when the community had little knowledge of the project and its possible impact.

"This is going to take a community effort," said a man in audience. "I'm upset, how can they have plans and do this stuff without our knowledge?"

Original here.