Chicago Kills Coal

Great news out of Chicago yesterday. After a two-and-a-half year campaign, a well networked citizens campaign has managed to secure the closure of two outdated and heavily polluting coal-fired power plants.

The Fisk and Crawford power plants are located in residential neighbourhoods on Chicago's Southwest Side. They are relics from a time when horses and carriages still out-numbered cars on the city's streets. Built in 1903, their emissions are the cause of high levels of respiratory illness, asthma, cancer, and heart disease. They are a significant source of carbon emissions.


Residents have long been fighting to have the plants closed. This most recent campaign brought together an impressive spectrum of local and national groups, and that coalition seems to have done the trick. The twenty member Chicago Clean Power Coalition, includes local groups like Chicago Youth Climate Coalition and the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. But it also brought in internationally active groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.

People who've been following the campaign know that it's been a tough battle. At one point in 2011 Midwest Generation, which owns the plants, bussed in workers from other parts of the state to pack committee hearings on a proposed Clean Power Ordinance that would have effectively required the closure of the plants. The ordinance was never adopted. But, after sustained pressure on City Hall and Midwest, an agreement was signed that will close one plant this year, and the other in 2014.

The way this multi-scalar network of activists and citizens closed two of the US' oldest and most polluting plants is inspiring.

The War on Coal
The victory also highlights something new in the way that climate politics, is playing out. With hope of national or international carbon regulations now a distant memory, coal has become the new hard target for climate efforts in the US. Coal accounts for almost half of America's electricity and 30% of its carbon emissions. That means that closing outdated plants and shifting new plant construction onto other fuels can have a big impact on US emissions.

But the local health impacts of coal are also so significant that an anti-coal campaign can mobilize a much broader and more effective group of supporters that campaigns to focus only on climate change. Time magazine has dubbed it "The War on Coal."


Cities are playing an important role in this shift in tactics, not least because they are places where the impacts of air quality are most keenly felt. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently donated $50 million to the Sierra Club's $150 million Beyond Coal campaign. The Chicago plant closures are one of the campaign's most high-profile successes, and are the 98th and 99th plants to be retired since the campaign began. The EPA is also drafting stricter new regulations on coal set to come in under the Clean Air Act.

Beyond Beyond: What's Next?
Clearly though, "Beyond Coal" implies more than just shuttering old plants.  Something new needs to take their place. I'll be blogging soon about ways that communities can also play an important part in speeding the implementation of renewable energy.  Stay tuned.

Comments

1 Response to "Chicago Kills Coal"

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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

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