City Council Defers Action on Clean Air Ordinance

Friday May 06 2011

Neighbors to Keep the Pressure
Next Community Meeting:
Wednesday May 11, 6.30 PM, Casa Aztlan (1831 S. Racine)

Pilsen Alliance members joined hundreds of supporters of the Chicago Clean Air Ordinance at a joint City Council committee hearing April 21 to highlight urgent need for action against toxic emissions in the community. Unfortunately, the vote meant to move the ordinance to its final stretch in the full City Council was once again postponed. For now, Pilsen residents will have to keep waiting.

The Chicago Clean Air Ordinance was introduced by Ald. Joe Moore (49th) a year ago, and it aims at reducing toxic emissions from the last two remaining energy producing coal plants in Chicago: Fisk, in Pilsen, and Crawford, Little Village, further west. Both neighborhoods are densely populated and serve as home to blue collar, immigrant communities.

The ordinance essentially mandates Power Generation, owner of the two plants, to either switch to a cleaner source of energy, such as gas, or shut down by 2018. Present at the hearing were also Power Generation workers, fearful of a potential threat to their jobs.

The issue of clean air in Pilsen has taken new urgency since the Chicago Tribune denounced alarming levels of lead content in the area’s air. In 2010, the lead content in Pilsen’s air was recorded for a full year from the roof of Manuel Perez Jr. Elementary School, 1241 West 19th Street. According to the numbers, lead levels recorded from the site where 500 students attend classes daily were above federal standards during three out of four three-month periods in 2010, once up to 10 times the levels recommended by health specialists.

The issue of air pollution in Pilsen became a pivotal theme in the last municipal election, three weeks ago. In the midst of a tight runoff race, powerful Chicago alderman Daniel Solis (25th), whose ward includes Pilsen, decided to put aside his declared skepticism about the ordinance and committed his full support for it. Separately, Solis has introduced his own ordinance focusing on lead pollution.

The prospects of residents’ achieving an answer to their demands for action have gained momentum and key support after years of inaction by the polluters and the authorities. Unfortunately, while neighbors may be closer to a solution than ever, after a new deferment by city leaders Thursday, for now they will have to keep waiting.