Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces ordinance banning new petcoke, coke, coal facilities

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a new ordinance that prohibits petcoke and coal facilities from opening in Chicago.
February 12, 2014 3:26:34 PM PST
You don't often hear about a mayor trying to run a business out of town, but that's what Mayor Rahm Emanuel hopes to do.

The businesses are petroleum coke storage facilities that store a black dust that is a gasoline production by-product. Some Southeast Side residents say it's polluting their neighborhood.

Changes in oil production mean there's a lot more of this product coming to places like Chicago-- but not for long, if the mayor gets his way.

Mini-mountains of muck are visible from the air, and a concern on the ground.

"It's a big scourge on the neighborhood because there's almost 90 acres of this black product here," said Tom Shepherd, Southeast Environment Task Force.

Shepherd and his Hegewish neighbors have been fighting for more than a year now against this neighbor. It's a storage facility for something called petcoke, a carbon-material that's a by-product of oil-refineries like BP's plant in Whiting, Ind.

The Southeast Environmental Task Force shared photos that they say prove petcoke dust and debris invades the neighborhood. One image purports to show a virtual tornado of petcoke dust surrounding a baseball field.

"They don't want it in Indiana, they don't want it in Detroit where they kicked 'em out. The fact of the matter is this stuff is going to be coming in big quantities," said Shepherd.

Indiana regulators won't allow BP to store the petcoke at its Indiana facility, so its shipped across the border here to Chicago.

Despite new efforts by the company to keep the dust down, Mayor Emanuel and his health commissioner told Eyewitness News they'll pass regulations not just to limit petcoke, as they did coal plants, but run them out of town.

"This will not allow them to expand, not allow anything new, but I'm not done from a regulatory oversight perspective, we can make it cost prohibitive to use Chicago as your dumping ground," said Mayor Emanuel.

"We talk about jobs and being a mayor for jobs. It seems like he's more interested in high-tech white-collar jobs downtown in the Loop than the industrial jobs that the neighborhoods really need," said Doug Whitley, Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

A spokesman for Koch Industries, which runs the Southeast Side storage facility, says it's air monitoring reveals no unusual discharge into the neighborhood. The company will consider building a huge storage facility to keep the petcoke covered, but the spokesman says they won't make that huge investment as long as the city and state continue to threaten to run them out of town.

And if you're wondering, Koch Industries is owned by the Koch Brothers, who are outspoken opponents of Mayor Emanuel's old boss, President Obama.

The mayor says this is about clean air, not bad blood.


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