Groups to sue Little Village, Pilsen plants

July 28, 2009 3:00:29 PM PDT
A coalition of environmental groups accuses Midwest Generation of violating the Clean Air Act.Midwest Generation owns two coal-fired plants in Pilsen and Little Village. Several environmental groups believe those coal-fired plants have led to dirty air, which has led to hundreds of premature deaths and thousands of emergency room visits.

After more than a decade, the clean air fight is going to court. A coalition - including the Sierra Club and respiratory health and environmental groups- will file a suit accusing Midwest Generation of violating the Clean Air Act.

It's a familiar sight to residents in the Pilsen neighborhood-- smoke coming out of the Fisk Station Plant along Cermak Road. That plant is owned by Midwest Generation and powered by coal.

"Over 40 people die from these companies. Over 500 are in the emergency room. I don't understand why Mayor Daley is sitting up there not doing a thing. I'm sick of Mayor Daley not doing a thing. He doesn't care. And this is supposed to be a green city," said Leila Mendez, Pilsen Resident.

The lawsuit will be filed in federal court in the next 60 days. At issue: the particles that come out of the smokestacks.

"In short, those fine particles kill. The more that are in the air, the more people get sick, and the more people die," said Brian Urbaszewski, Respiratory Health Assn. of Metropolitan Chicago.

The coalition said it has been asking Midwest Generation, the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois and the federal government for more than a decade to put in modern controls on the 1950's era plants.

Midwest Generation owns six coal facilities in Pilsen, Little Village, Joliet, Romeoville, Waukegan and Pekin. According to the coalition , the federal EPA found Midwest Generation in violation of the Clean Air Act 2 years ago, but has taken no action against the company.

Midwest reportedly files regular reports on the amount of its emissions.

"This is akin to Midwest Generation walking up to a police station and saying, 'Hey, I've been breaking the law. I broke the law thousands of times and I will give you a list of all those times.' And the police have said, 'It's OK, go home, don't worry about it.' We are here to say that we are not ok with it," said Faith Bugel, Environmental Law and Policy Center.

In response, Midwest Generation released a statement that read since the company bought the plants from ComEd in 1999, it has lowered nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions and installed controls for mercury emissions. "This is a record of continuous improvement that is contributing to cleaner air in Chicago land and helping ensure that we maintain a reliable supply of electricity," said Midwest Generation in statement.

Some community members may be fearful of losing the jobs and electricity produced by the plants.

The Harvard School of Public Health also estimates emissions from all six plants lead to more than 21,000 asthma attacks each year.


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