Eight organizations on Chicago's Southeast Side have formed a coalition, the Environmental Justice Alliance of Greater Southeast Chicago, to help ensure that new and existing companies comply with air- and water-pollution limits. The groups include People for Community Recovery, the Southeast Environmental Task Force, East Side United Methodist Church and the Sierra Club. A harsh contradiction moved the groups to act: Within a month after Governor Pat Quinn beefed up laws intended to protect poor and minority communities from toxic pollution, he signed legislation that cleared the way for the Leucadia National Corporation coal-to-gas plant (proposed for site at left) in a low-income Chicago neighborhood where people already breathe some of the nation's dirtiest air.
The activists vowed to hold public officials and environmental regulators accountable for their promises to safeguard children, the elderly and others who are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals and heavy metals. The activists want jobs, but they want jobs and industry that don't pollute our neighborhoods and make their children sick.
Nearly two dozen of the region's top polluters are within eight miles of Altgeld Gardens and other neighborhoods ringing Lake Calumet in the city's southeast corner. Activists led by Johnson's are angry that Quinn signed legislation in July paving the way for a new plant that plans to turn coal and oil refinery waste into natural gas. The site is two blocks from Washington High School, 3535 E. 114th St., where a monitor shows the neighborhood's air already has the state's highest levels of toxic chromium and cadmium, as well as sulfates, which can trigger asthma attacks. It also has some of the state's highest levels of lung-damaging soot and brain-damaging lead.
Developers of the coal-to-gas plant say it will turn dirty coal into cleaner natural gas, create 1,000 construction jobs and add 200 permanent jobs in an area decimated by plant closings. But it could be sidetracked for reasons other than the extra pollution it would create. The holding company for Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas announced last week that it won't buy the plant's synthetic gas, saying customers would be forced to subsidize it through heating bills that could jump by 9 percent a year. The move could make it more difficult for New York-based Leucadia National Corporation to obtain financing for the project.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency also opposes a bid by the site's current owner to transfer pollution credits that would enable the coal-to-gas plant to operate in an area where overall air pollution already violates federal and state standards. (Chicago Tribune, 9/15/2011)