Chicago's 2 coal-fired plants to close

February 29, 2012 (CHICAGO)

It is welcome news for residents living near the plants who have been complaining about pollution for years.

A deal calls for the Fisk and Crawford power plants in the Little Village and Pilsen communities to cease operation by 2014.

The plants were slated to stay open through 2018. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel helped broker an agreement to make that happen much sooner.

The Fisk plant on Cermak Road will close at the end of the year, and the Crawford plant on Pulaski will shut down by the end of 2014. Mayor Emanuel brokered the deal with the help of several aldermen, including Danny Solis. The 25th Ward alderman originally opposed the closures, but switched his position. He and others credit the hard work of local residents who fought for years for this day.

Leila Mendez was diagnosed with cancer 14 years ago. At that time she had no idea what caused it until she was convinced it was related to the Fisk power plant just a block from her Pilsen home. So, 10 years ago, the daycare owner joined a handful of community activists to fight for the closure of Fisk and the Crawford plant in Little Village.

"A decade-long fight. At times, I didn't want to get discouraged. I wanted to believe something would happen," said Mendez.

And it did. Both plants will shut down after the owner, Midwest Generation, agreed to a deal with the city and several environmental groups.

"There are studies that attribute 40 deaths per year to the pollution from these plants," said Faith Bugel, of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Cook County Hospitals Chairman of Pulmonary Medicine Dr. Robert Cohen has treated several Pilsen and Little Village residents for a variety of health-related problems associated with the plants.

"I work very hard taking care of people with asthma, people with chromic obstructed pulmonary disease, emphysema, and they have to breathe in that pretty bad air, and if we can remove some of these exposures, we are overjoyed," Cohen said.

While the mayor is being credited for brokering the deal to shut the plants down, the hard work began locally with Mendez's group, the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, known as PERRO.

"We are here. We won. We made them listen," said PERRO member Maria Torres.

"I will always remember the people that died, because I was close to being one of those...So, I thought, wow, finally justice for those who died and were affected," said Mendez.

The group PERRO says Wednesday's victory is proof that the little guy can beat the big guy.

In a joint statement released by the mayor's office, Midwest Generation says it had to shut down because it is too costly to retrofit the plants to meet environmental regulations.

The next step in this process is what happens to the land.

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