Activists win battle to shut Fisk, Crawford coal plants
April 5, 2012
A press conference and demonstration were held at Dvorak Park, announcing the closing of the Fisk and Crawford coal plants. (Persepolitan Images by: Amir Normandi)

By Miriam Y. Cintrón

Environmentalists in Pilsen, Little Village, and throughout the city claimed a major victory recently when Midwest Generation announced it would shut down the two coal-fired power plants it operates within city limits.

Anagreement between Midwest Generation and the City of Chicago calls for Fisk Generating Station at 1111 W. Cermak Rd. in Pilsen to close by the end of the year and for Crawford Generating Station at 3501 S.Pulaski Rd. in Little Village to shut down operations by the end of 2014. Both plants are among the largest sources of pollution in the city, according to a 2010 Clean Air Task Force report.

Midwest Generation and the City had been in negotiations to determine how the company could get the aging plants to comply with the proposed Chicago Clean Power Ordinance when Midwest Generation acknowledged it would be cost-prohibitive to bring the plants into compliance with new pollution emission limits.

“Unfortunately, conditions in the wholesale power market simply do not give us a path for continuing to invest in further retrofits at these two facilities,” said Pedro Pizarro, president of Midwest Generation parent company Edison Mission Group.

Under the deal, community, public health, and environmental groups agreed not to pursue pending litigation against the company.

“Midwest Generation has made an important and appropriate decision, which will be good for the company, the city, and the residents of Chicago,”Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “I acknowledge Aldermen [Joseph] Moore, [Daniel] Solis, and [George]Cardenas for theirwork on this issue and the community groups who helped to ensure all voices were heard in the process.”

PJM Interconnection, which manages the electric grid for 13 states, still must determine whether closing the plants presents a risk to the grid’s reliability, but City officials do not expect that to be the case. The closures will eliminate nearly 200 jobs. Pizarro said Edison will work with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union to help transition employees.

Representatives of local community groups who had been fighting to close the Fisk and Crawford addressed the crowd at Dvorak Park. (Persepolitan Images by: Amir Normandi)
Also, Mayor Emanuel has made bringing jobs to the area a priority: on the heels of the plant closure agreement, he announced a plan to redevelop the Fisk site,with the aim of encouraging job creation and economic development. The plan’s first phase calls for an advisory group—consisting of three community members, a Midwest Generation representative, Alderman Solis of the 25th Ward, a labor representative, and two economic development experts from City Hall—to assess the site, seek community input, and create a plan for economic development.

Local brownfield redevelopment nonprofit group the Delta Institute then will facilitate generating a final report. The Joyce Foundation and Sierra Club each have pledged $50,000 toward this effort.

Several community groups, including the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization and the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, worked for ten years to have the plants shut down or forced to install additional pollution controls to limit emissions of particulate matter and carbon dioxide.

“We’re thrilled,” said Jerry Mead-Lucero of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization. “It’s been a long time coming, and now we have to start thinking about the future.”

Mead-Lucero maintains the community groups’ work is not done and pledged they would be a vocal part of the sites’ redevelopment plans. Among the groups’ major concerns are remediation of the plants’ contaminated land and ensuring no high-end real estate replaces the plants and feeds the gentrification that already has begun creeping into the area, Mead-Lucerosaid. “Ideally, there would be green manufacturing facilities,” he added. “We need jobs here.”

Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health policy for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, said his group is concerned about pollutants being released when the lants are dismantled but noted the City likely will address that appropriately. For Urbaszewski, the plant closures serve as a reminder to keep the bigger picture in mind. “We’re very excited that the company decided to close the plants and eliminate those sources of pollution,” he said. But “Fisk was only part of the problem,” he added, noting 20 coal plants still operate in Illinois and several more operate in nearby Indiana.

“Shutting down Fisk will not make the air sparkling clean,” he said. Urbaszewski called on state lawmakers to force Illinois plants to install additional pollution controls and further reduce soot emission.