Waukegan, North Chicago Community Members Unite in Effort to Move Lake County Beyond Coal

Residents and Advocacy Organizations Present New Effort to Phase Out Midwest Generation’s Waukegan Coal Plant and Move Lake County to a Clean and Healthy Future

WAUKEGAN–(ENEWSPF)–April 26, 2013.  Community residents from Waukegan and North Chicago held a press conference today to announce their working partnership to move Lake County beyond coal and protect clean air and clean water. Most Blessed Trinity Catholic Parish, the NAACP’s Lake County Branch, Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep School, the Exchange Club of North Chicago, Respiratory Health Association, League of Women Voters of Lake County, the Sierra Club, and others came together to voice their concerns about Midwest Generation’s Waukegan coal-fired power plant, a 50 year old coal-fired power plant that sits on the shores of Lake Michigan. The Waukegan coal plant produces the most sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and mercury emissions of all polluters in Lake County.

“What unites us is our love for our community and our call for clean air and clean water,” said Dulce Ortiz, a Waukegan community member and mother. “Minority communities are disproportionately impacted by coal pollution and the Waukegan coal plant here in our community is no different. One of the most frustrating things is that we do not even use the power from the coal plant – it is sold by Midwest Generation to out-of-state buyers. Our communities should not be sacrificed to make money and we all have the right to breathe clean air.”  

According to a 2010 report from Clean Air Task Force, the Waukegan coal-fired power plant contributes to an estimated 34 premature deaths, 570 asthma attacks and 50 heart attacks annually. So far, Midwest Generation has asked the Illinois Pollution Control Board for multiple delays in reducing its dangerous sulfur dioxide pollution.  

“Asthma is the leading health-related cause of school absences. For many young people living in an impoverished city, such as Waukegan, education is the only way out of economic discrimination,” said Czier-Anne May Gone, Senior at Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep. “As an asthmatic and Waukegan resident, I am personally aware of the need for Midwest Generation to set a retirement date for the coal plant so that students in our city can have the same opportunities available to those in neighboring communities.”

In 2012, the NAACP released its Coal Blooded report, which found that low-income and minority communities are disproportionately affected by health-threatening pollution from coal plants. Based on a national analysis, the report ranked the Waukegan power plant as the twelfth worst violator of environmental justice in the country, and gives the plant a letter grade of “F.” The report ranked Midwest Generation’s Fisk and Crawford plants in Chicago first and third, respectively. Both Fisk and Crawford coal plants have since closed.

 “We want what is best for our citizens, which includes health-conscious businesses in our community and companies that think of the public’s well-being before its own,” said Paula Carballido, President of the Exchange Club of North Chicago and member of the NAACP Lake County Branch. “Waukegan’s environmental justice violations are incomprehensible. A company should never knowingly expose its community to health dangers.”

“All communities deserve equal access to clean air and clean water,” said Hugo Rodriguez, community leader from Most Blessed Trinity Parish. “This is a moral issue: one city cannot suffer so another may prosper. The power generated at the Waukegan coal plant does not even serve the Waukegan or other Lake County communities. Waukegan has the potential to be a hub for a community based revival. We must collaborate as a community to establish a clear, long-term plan for the future of our city.” 

A report released recently by the Sierra Club found that future costs to operate Midwest Generation’s Waukegan coal-fired power plant in Illinois will outweigh the value of the power it produces. The report, Midwest Generation’s Coal Plants: Too Expensive to Compete?, highlighted looming pollution control compliance deadlines for the 50 year old coal plant, which will cause Midwest Generation’s financial stability to continue to deteriorate. The report concludes that Midwest Generation is very unlikely to continue to make money if it is finally forced to reduce its pollution now, or anytime in the next several years.

 “The truth is, there is no safe way to burn coal, even with the proposed pollution controls,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Environmental Health Director of Respiratory Health Association. “The best thing for the health of Lake county residents, particularly in Waukegan and North Chicago, would be for Midwest Generation to set a retirement date for the coal plant.”

Respiratory Health Association is now reaching out to schools in Waukegan, North Chicago, Zion and Round Lake to provide asthma education for students, staff and parents because of the higher childhood asthma rates in those communities.

“When I think of what happened just last year down in Chicago, in the Pilsen and Little Village communities that struggled for years to remove coal-fired power plants from their backyards,  I think of my mother and my best friend and their continued struggle with asthma,” continued Ortiz. “Then I think of my son and I reflect on those mothers from Pilsen and Little Village, how hard they worked to provide one of our most basic necessities; clean air for their children. Seeing what Little Village was able to do, I know Waukegan can do it too. This is only the beginning towards a clean and healthier future, not just for our children but for my beloved city of Waukegan. It’s time to step away from our industrial past and pave the way towards a beautiful, healthy, and revitalized lakefront.”

Source: sierraclub.org