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May 22, 2003

Groups Join To Fight Largest Threat 
To Chicago's Air In Years

Dirty Coal Plant Would Discharge Thousands of Tons of Soot and Smog


Clean Air Factsheet


Bruce Nilles
Sierra Club
312-251-1511 312-217-9725

Brian Urbaszewski
American Lung Assoc.

Elwood, IL - Environmental groups, public health experts and consumer advocates from throughout northeast Illinois joined together today at a public hearing to oppose a giant, coal-fired power plant proposed in Will County. Their target is the Indeck Energy Corporation's proposed coal plant, which would sit 55 miles south of Chicago in nearby Will County and would dump over 9,600 tons of new air pollution into the Greater Chicago region, an area that already violates federal air quality standards.


The proposed plant poses environmental, financial and safety threats to Chicago-area residents by adding more pollution to the region, costing taxpayers $50 million in subsidies during a state fiscal crisis, and threatening the health of a nationally-designated tallgrass prairie


"Indeck's dirty coal plant is the single biggest threat to the region's air quality we have seen in many years," said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs for the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago. "The Chicago region already has asthma rates well above the national average, and a coal power plant will only place more communities and more children at risk."


The Chicago region is already in the midst of an asthma epidemic without adding new sources of air pollution. The Chicago Tribune reported two weeks ago that the region's asthma rates are 30 to 40 percent higher than the national average and more people die from asthma here than in any other place in the United States.


"The air pollution from Indeck's dirty coal plant will impact every Illinois community between Joliet and the Wisconsin state line," said Bruce Nilles, Sierra Club's Regional Representative. "There is no guarantee that these communities will even see any of the energy Indeck proposes to produce. With Illinois already exporting energy to other states, all our communities may get is dirty air and higher rates of asthma attacks."


Verena Owen, Lake County Conservation Alliance added, "operating permits benefit the public. They contain information about a source's emissions limits and they require monitoring and reporting of pollution, as well as reporting of violations of permit conditions. Operating permits bring about greater accountability by the industry and more effective enforcement, both leading to improvements in air quality."


The Chicago region is designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as exceeding federal air quality standards. Last summer, smog levels in the Chicago area, which includes Will County, violated federal air quality standards on seventeen days-nearly one day a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day when the air was unsafe to breathe. This smog pollution causes a host of breathing problems, including more frequent and more severe asthma attacks.


"Adding thousands of tons of new pollution is bad for Lake County residents who are already suffering from existing pollution sources," said Susan Zingle of the Lake County Conservation Alliance.


Illinois' existing dirty coal plants are the state's largest sources of air pollution. A 2002 Harvard study found that the nine existing, dirty coal plants in and around Chicago are responsible for 320 premature deaths and 21,500 asthma attacks, each year.


We can do better than a dirty coal plant with outdated technology,  said John Thompson, Clean Air Task Force's Regional Representative.  Fortunately, the technologies exist to get us there. Switching to a plant fired by natural gas would be 300 times cleaner, and a wind-powered project would eliminate air pollution altogether. 

In the belt-tightening times when the state is proposing to cut services to our most needy residents, the state should reject Indeck's request for corporate welfare to the tune of $50 million,  said Tim Tacker of the Will County Green Party.  Even if Illinois were not proposing to cut funding for education and healthcare priorities, taxes should not be spent on projects that will hurt our communities. 


Dirty coal-fired power plants are also Illinois's largest source of mercury pollution. Mercury has poisoned every lake, river, and stream in Illinois to the point that there is a statewide advisory against eating most fish. Not only does mercury poison our waterways, but studies link mercury to developmental disorders in children.  Indeck's dirty coal plant would add over two hundred pounds of new mercury into Illinois' lakes, rivers and streams,  said Diane Brown, of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group.  We need to clean up existing power plants not produce more soot, smog and mercury pollution. 


Indeck's dirty coal proposal is inconsistent with the state's ongoing efforts to clean up existing dirty coal plants,  said Illinois Environmental Council's Jonathan Goldman.  To clean up our air we need to clean up existing plants, reject dirty coal plants like Indeck's proposal, and only build state-of-the-art power plants that meet strict pollution control standards. 


The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie Alliance is opposing this dirty coal plant because Indeck proposes to put its coal storage pile in the buffer zone that had been set aside to protect the prairie from the neighboring Industrial Park and to construct new, larger power lines across the Midewin,  said Jerry Heinrich of the Midewin Alliance.