More people die in Illinois from coal-related deaths than any other state in this country with the exception of New York and Pennsylvania, according to the 2010 Toll for Coal Report of the Clean Air Task Force (read the full report here). Coal is a big industry in our area.
Midwest Generation, for example, operates six coal plants in Illinois: two in Chicago; others in Joliet, Pekin, Romeoville, and Waukegan. It’s undisputed that these coal plants are among the biggest contributors to the region’s poor air quality.
Midwest Generation contributes things that create smog in the air and soot on surfaces: e.g., nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, along with releasing mercury in local waterways where the fish live and we swim. Midwest Generation knows this; the federal and state governments know this; the information has been made available to the public and Midwest Generation is supposed to be cleaning things up.
However, in papers Midwest Generation filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission this week, who knows when this clean up of Illinois air, water, and earth is going to take place. Midwest Generation reports to the SEC that it will be taking “…the maximum time available…” to place pollution controls in its coal-fired power plants because … well, it can. The company isn’t reporting that its going to miss a deadline, just that it’s not going to hurry up to meet it.
Till then, those six coal plants are gonna keep churning out their toxins and people are going to get sick from them. How bad is this situation, really?
Well, consider the November 2010 Enviromental Protection Agency report on Midwest Generation’s Waukegan coal plant (read the full report here). According to the EPA press release regarding the report (emphasis added):
… has caused up to $690 million in health and related damages in the last 8 years, according to a report released today by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC). The report uses data from the National Research Council finding that particulate matter (soot), from the Waukegan coal plant creates about $86 million in health and related damages annually. Overall, this coal plant has created between $520 million and $690 million in public health damages since 2002.
“The Waukegan coal plant is polluting our air, harming our health and draining our wallets,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “It’s time for Midwest Generation to be socially responsible and invest in modern pollution control equipment to clean up this old plant up, or shut it down. Enough is enough.”
The Waukegan coal plant is located on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Northeastern Illinois, about 40 miles north of Chicago and 50 miles south of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. More than 67,000 people live within three miles of the plant. The plant still operates using equipment built between 1958 and 1963, and Midwest Generation, the plant’s owner, has not installed modern pollution controls such as scrubbers….
According to Greenpeace, “… [c]hildren living in the Little Village and Pilsen communities surrounding these plants suffer from a 44% asthma rate. According to a Clean Air Task Force study, pollution from Fisk and Crawford kills 40 people every year….” As a result, Greenpeace is calling for closures of Midwest Generation coal plants.
Is politics at play here? Sure. Are profits a concern? Of course. These coal plants have until 2018 to get things right. Time for these victims to file a lawsuit for the harm they’ve experienced, the tragic deaths of loved ones and family providers they’ve suffered? No need to wait there — those courageous plaintiffs may be able to do what the federal government and the non-profits like Greenpeace have not: find justice.