January 24, 2012 (photo from the chicago tribune web site)
If there were any doubts about the role coal power plants play in the local environmental picture, these were dispelled last week by a new database presented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Based on an analysis of the new data, the two power plants operating in low income, minority communities are by far the largest emitters of heat-trapping gases in Chicago.
“These plants are not only killing our lungs, they are also killing our environment,” said Rosalie Mancera, a member of the Pilsen Alliance board of directors. “Now that we have more data, we don’t know what is keeping the authorities from closing these illness factories down.”
A cover story in the Chicago Tribune this weekend analyzed the newly published data, concluding that in Chicago “no other polluter comes close” to Midwest Generation’s Fisk and Crawford plants. Combined, Fisk and Crawford released 4.2 million metric tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in 2010.
“Illinois’ largest single corporate polluter is Midwest Generation, the company that owns the Crawford and Fisk coal plants in Chicago and four more in the suburbs of Joliet, Romeoville and Waukegan and in Pekin in central Illinois,” the Tribune wrote. “These plants combined emitted more than 31 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2010, an amount equivalent to the tailpipe emissions of about 6 million cars.”
According to the Tribune, coal plants represent all but four of the top 100 emitters nationally, as well as more than 70 percent of emissions from other large industrial sources. The pollutants in the database are widely associated with global warming.
Under a 2008 federal law, 6,700 industrial plants around the country are mandated to make their emissions of carbon dioxide public. Five other gases contributing to global warming are also on the list. The U.S. EPA database consolidates the data from all these plants and allows for comparisons among them. In Chicago, Fisk and Crawford are the top polluters by large margins. Taking second place from Fisk and Crawford’s 4.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide is a University of Illinois at Chicago heating plant, which emitted 132,000 metric tons.
Contributing to an increasingly hotter planet is only one of the downsides of industrial coal burning. A Clean Air Task Force study recently cited by Time Magazine concluded in 2010 that pollution from Fisk and Crawford leads to roughly 42 premature deaths, 66 heart attacks and 720 asthma attacks every year.
Besides carbon dioxide, coal plants also release lead into the air. Last year the federal government officially made Pilsen one of two Illinois communities in violation of the 2008 standards for lead in the air. This designation was the result of new data gathered by the U.S. EPA since 2010. The data was collected from monitors atop Manuel Perez Jr. Elementary school. The U.S.EPA points at the Fisk power plant as one of those responsible for the high levels of lead.