Crackdown on coal plants put on hold
Decision on clean power is left for new council, Emanuel
From Chicago Tribune:
As if a gaping budget hole, struggling schools and crime concerns weren't enough for Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, aldermen on Thursday added to his plate a controversial proposal to regulate pollution-spewing coal-fired power plants.
With time running out before a new City Council is sworn in next month, a much-anticipated showdown vote on an ordinance that could force two city plants owned by Midwest Generation to shut down in the next few years didn't happen.
The decision -- announced by retiring 19th Ward Ald. Virginia Rugai to an overflow crowd of supporters and opponents at the start of a nearly eight-hour hearing -- leaves the matter up to Emanuel's administration and the new council.
Debate over pollution emitted by the aging power generators comes as power companies across the nation are cleaning up or scuttling similar coal plants, many of which date back to the 1940s and '50s.
"It is a crime that there are two 100-year-old coal plants operating in the middle of dense urban neighborhood," said Bruce Nilles, deputy conservation director of the Sierra Club, referring to the Fisk plant in Pilsen and Crawford plant in Little Village.
The proposed Chicago Clean Power Ordinance, first introduced a year ago by Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, would force Fisk and Crawford to convert to natural gas, cut operating hours or shut down within four years.
It covers more types of pollution than an agreement Midwest Generation has with the state to clean up or shut down the plants by 2018. Even with that agreement, the company signaled in its latest financial documents that it might delay installing pollution controls at Fisk, Crawford and four other coal plants "for the maximum time available."
But Douglas McFarlan, president of Midwest Generation, testified "the only real-world impact of this ordinance would not be environmental -- it would be economic, risking 200 jobs -- and the stability of the electric grid serving the city of Chicago."
Moore, one of the council's staunchest union supporters, said the city would work with Midwest Generation to ensure jobs won't be lost.
The ordinance had long languished until influential Ald. Daniel Solis, 25th, was forced into a runoff election by an opponent who backed the effort. Solis then changed his stance on the issue, which gave the proposal new life, although it's not uncommon for a major council hearing to result in legislative inaction.