A proposed Illinois law aimed at ending coal-fueled energy production in Chicago passed a house committee Wednesday, but did not make it to the floor for a full vote before the end of veto session in Springfield a day later. From all perspectives, the passage of the bill would signal the end of the Fisk coal plant, a long-awaited moment for Pilsen, the neighborhood where the plant operates.
“Our community has spoken clearly: leaving coal behind is the right thing to do,” said James Becker, a Pilsen resident and Pilsen Alliance member who came to Springfield to lobby legislators with the Chicago Clean Power Coalition. “While no final action was taken today, it seems coal emissions in Pilsen will soon come to an end.”
The bill was introduced by State Representative Edward Acevedo, and is supported by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Senators Antonio Muñoz and Martin Sandoval, who represent Pilsen and Little Village respectively, also committed their support to the bill as co-sponsors.
In a study recently cited by Time Magazine, the Clean Air Task Force concluded that the Fisk power plant alone is responsible in the premature deaths of 15 people and the hospitalization of another 200 every year.
If approved, the statute would also impact the Crawford plant, in Little Village. Both Fisk and Crawford are owned by Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of California-based Edison International.
Crain’s Chicago Business reported in October that Mayor Rahm Emanuel was trying to broker a deal between the City, Midwest Generation and the Clean Power Coalition for the plants to stop burning fossil fuels. The Coalition has been promoting the Clean Power Ordinance in Chicago, which would force the plants to either invest in cleaner technology or shut down. In the deal sought by Emanuel, the company hoped for long-term contracts for its wind-generated electricity in exchange for closing the plants and reaching community agreement with local organizations. Midwest Generation has pledged to take the ordinance to the courts if it passed.
The bill in Springfield (SB 1617) takes matters a step further by making the proposed ordinance state law. In that case, the company would have no legal recourse, and since it is not willing to spend on the required upgrades, it would have to shut down.
Maria Torres, a Pilsen Alliance organizer and life-long Little Village resident, presented testimony at the hearing from the community’s perspective.
“Energy generation is vital to any society. But the people of Pilsen and Little Village are paying a very high price for it,” Torres told the committee. “We are here because the coal is making us sick… This has to stop.”