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Scrapbook: Activists Push to Bring Clean Power Measure Across Finish Line in Chicago

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August 04, 2011

Activists Push to Bring Clean Power Measure Across Finish Line in Chicago


For the last year-and-a-half the Sierra Club's Illinois ChapterChicago Group Air and Energy Committee, and Beyond Coal Campaign have been working with local residents and community groups to support passage of the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance.

On July 28 more than 150 Sierra Club members and Chicago Clean Power Coalition supporters, above, gathered in City Hall for the reintroduction of the ordinance by the city council. First introduced in April 2010 by Alderman Joe Moore, below, the ordinance would address air pollution issues from the aging Fisk and Crawford coal plants on the city's Southwest Side.

Photo courtesy of Eco-Justice Collaborative

The reintroduction garnered extensive coverage in the local media. "The company that owns two pollution-spewing coal-fired power plants targeted by environmental activists could be forced to talk clean-up with Mayor Rahm Emanuel after an ordinance was unveiled today that could halt their operations," began the story in the Chicago Tribune.

"This is a testament to grassroots pressure, particularly during the recent local elections, where it was a major issue in some key races," Sierra Club organizer Christine Nannicelli told Midwest Energy News. "We made it clear this is an issue the public really cares about." That's Nannicelli, below, discussing the Chicago and Illinois coal work with Sierra Club Executive Direcor Michael Brune while the two were in Washington, D.C., in late July for the announcement of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's $50 million gift to the Beyond Coal Campaign.


The Sierra Club and its allies have for years made the Fisk and Crawford power plants, built in 1903 and 1924, symbols of their nationwide campaigns against coal-fired power. This February, the Club helped turn out hundreds of people to support the ordinance at an ad hoc hearing at City Hall. In May, eight Greenpeace activists scaled the 450-foot smokestack of the Fisk plant and stayed on a small platform for 26 hours, painting "Quit Coal" on the stack.

Below, Club volunteers at a phonebank urging members and other clean energy supporters to turn out for the Clean Power Ordinance's July 28 reintroduction.


The weekend before the ordinance was reintroduced, the Sierra Club helped its local environmental justice partner PERRO (Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization) host a booth at Fiesta del Sol, one of the largest street festivals in Chicago and the largest Latino festival in the Midwest. Below, young residents of the Pilsen neighborhood play "Coal Hole" at the Fiesta.


"We talked to thousands of people, passed out thousands of Spanish and English fliers, and gathered over 1,200 petition signatures to give to Mayor Emanuel," Nannicelli says. "This was made possible by the hard work of volunteers and contributions from several coalition groups. The Sierra Club was central to coordinating this effort."

Nannicelli gives a special shout-out to Club volunteers Tony Fuller, Rose Gomez, Caroline Wooten, and Ryan Baker, Club organizer Allison Fisher, and Sierra Student Coalition organizer Graham Jordison. Below, neighborhood residents at the Pilsen Barbeque, which the Sierra Club helped organize the weekend before the reintroduction to recruit people to come to City Hall.


When Alderman Moore first introduced the Clean Power Ordinance last year, it had four co-sponsors. At the reintroduction last week, the number of co-sponsors stood at 34.

"After a solid year of intense organizing throughout many neighborhoods, the ordinance was reintroduced with a veto-proof majority," says Nannicelli. "This is largely due to the countless hours put in by volunteers and staff to raise the profile of this issue, from phonebanks to canvasses to media actions and marches. We were finally able to break through the hard-nosed machine politics that dominate this town and make sure the voice of the people was heard."


"We have a new mayor who indicates he supports the cleaning up of these two plants," Alderman Moore told Midwest Energy News at the reintroduction. "This is a Chicago issue, an issue across the region, a national issue."

Another key backer of the ordinance is Alderman Daniel Solis, who previously felt the matter was best left to the federal government. The highest recipient of campaign contributions from Midwest Generation, Solis only came on board after significant grassroots pressure from the coalition of groups in Chicago to support the Clean Power Ordinance. He was pushed into a run-off election because of the issue and finally agreed to not only support but join as a co-lead sponsor. "We should speak up," Solis told the Tribune. "Let's pass an ordinance that will push the feds and the state."

Mayor Emanuel has stopped short of endorsing passage of the ordinance, instead issuing a message to top officials at Midwest Generation, which owns the Fisk and Crawford plants.

"We are paying a health-care cost as a city because of the plants," Emmanuel told the Tribune. "I want [Midwest Generation] to be a responsible citizen to the people of the city of Chicago. I'm happy there are jobs there—I get that—but those jobs should not come at the expense of the public health cost to our children and to our taxpayers. And I'm planning on having that conversation with them."
The ordinance will move into committee in September. "August will be spent making sure Mayor Emanuel is dead serious about passing this ordinance," says Nannicelli.


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