Quinn signs bill for coal-to-gas plant

July 13, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Governor Quinn Says a new plant in Chicago to convert coal to natural gas would add over 1,000 jobs. But environmentalists say the proposed new plant is not a good idea.

The multi-billion dollar project is proposed for the site of a former steel mill on Chicago's Southeast Side, an area devastated when steel mills and other factories began closing one after another about three decades ago.

Wednesday, the state green lighted a new age industry on one of the abandoned sites.

Politicians and union leaders made up most of the crowd surrounding Illinois Governor Pat Quinn as he signed the bill granting the state's permits for a $3 billion coal gasification plant on the city's Far Southeast Side.

"We're gonna take black gold, gasify it and turn it into a sustainable energy product," said Sen. Donne Trotter, (D) Chicago. The plant would convert coal -- much of it mined in southern Illinois -- into synthetic natural gas to be purchased by local utilities and resold to homeowners and businesses.

The governor, who vetoed a similar bill last March because of consumer cost concerns, likes the new version.

"There are rate caps to protect consumers," said Quinn.

Leucadia National Corporation would hire about 200 workers to clean up the rusted, contaminated site once occupied by the now-defunct LTV Steel company.

Contractors would hire another 1,100 workers to build the coal gasification plant that consultants say would be environmentally much safer than a steel mill or coal burning power plant.

"The technology is 99 percent cleaner than conventional uses of these same fuels," said consultant Hoyte Hudson. "And as well, we're cleaning up a brown field site here. So if that's not green, I don't know what is."

The Sierra Club disagrees.

"We think creating synthetic natural gas in this manner is dirty, dangerous, and it's especially dangerous for public health," said Jennifer Hensley, Sierra Club Illinois.

But State Rep. Marlow Colvin says the developer would clean up LTV's environmental disaster.

"It has left an incredible amount of pollution far into the ground," said Colvin.

During its heyday, thousands worked at the 140-acre site making steel, and when the plant closed the neighborhood was devastated.

The coal gasification plant would hire about 200 permanent workers.

"If it would create that many jobs in the area, I say give it a good shot," said Cookie Williams, neighborhood resident.

"It's a very poor area. They need the jobs, but not if it's going to take people's health," said Eve Figaueroa, neighborhood resident.

Beyond the state permission, the project has other layers of state as well as federal regulation to meet before construction may begin.

The developer has written about having the project online by 2015 or thereabouts. But if offers no guarantee it will happen that soon.

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