Fisk, Crawford coal plants to shut down early, resulting in jobs loss
May 31, 2012

By Miriam Y. Cintron

The day that environmental activists in Pilsen, Little Village, and throughout the city have been waiting to see for more than a decade now is closer than expected.

Edison International announced last month that its subsidiary Midwest Generation will shut down both its Chicago-based coal-fired power plants in September.

An agreement the company reached with the City of Chicago originally had called 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 close by the end of 2014.

The decision to shutter the plants ahead of schedule came after Edison Mission Group revealed its first quarter earnings loss was due in part to higher fuel costs at Midwest Generation, which plans to refocus its business strategy on its larger stations.

“It is unfortunate for the employees of the plant,” said Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) and member of the Fisk and Crawford reuse task force, a committee created by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to seek community input on potential future uses for the coal plant sites. “But this indicates that fossil fuels are not a good investment.”

Wasserman pointed to many benefits expected from the plants’ closures, including reduced noise pollution, less soot, and better air quality. Air quality in the area should improve by the end of the year, but any decreases in respiratory health issues in the surrounding area cannot be tracked for another three to five years, explained Wasserman.

A 2001 Harvard University School of Public Health Study attributed 2,800 asthma attacks, 550 emergency room visits, and 41 premature deaths to Fisk and Crawford’s emissions. More recently, a 2010 Clean Air Task Force study pointed to the coal-fired plants as being among the largest sources of pollution in Chicago. Wasserman said the task force is soliciting community feedback on “how we can attract what we need to this space,” citing, for example, that the area lacks trade schools.

She also encouraged the community to reach out to groups such as LVEJO and the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO) to voice their opinions on what to do with the sites.

“What we all hope is to bring good-paying jobs, something that can provide living-wage jobs,” said Nelson Soza, executive director of Pilsen Alliance and member of the reuse task force. Other task force members are Jerry Mead-Lucero of PERRO, Doug McFarlan of Edison Mission Group, Aldermen Ricardo Munoz (22nd) and Danny Solis (25th), Tom Villanova of the Chicago and Cook County Building Trades Council, Kathy Dickhut of the Department of Housing and Economic Development, and Bill McNeil of Commonwealth Edison.

Soza said the task force and the City face a long road ahead, with much care needed to ensure the redeveloped sites benefit community residents and economic development.

He noted that, on one hand, the closures mean losing a part of the city’s history, with Fisk and Crawford being revolutionary for their timewhen they opened in 1903 and 1924, respectively. But the shutdowns also reflect the loss of “a way of doing things that needed to change,” he said.

For Soza, the benefits of closing the plants come with the price of nearly 200 employees losing their jobs. He stressed the importance of respecting those employees and recognizing their work.

“We are doing what we can in this planning process for those workers and others [in the community] to minimize this kind of impact,” added Soza. “A lot of reducing that pain is finding common ways to deal” with the redevelopment.