WBEZ | coal http://www.wbez.org/tags/coal Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Obama's climate plan aims to break political deadlock by taking it head on http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-06/obamas-climate-plan-aims-break-political-deadlock-taking-it-head-107845 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/yooperann/7936573880/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/coal%20train%20by%20yooperann.jpg" style="height: 343px; width: 610px;" title="A coal train in DuPage County. (Flickr/Ann Fisher)" /></a></div><p>President Barack Obama <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/power-plant-limits-center-obama-climate-plan-107830">laid out his plan to tackle climate change in a speech Tuesday at Georgetown University</a>. The centerpiece initiative, limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, <a href="http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2013/06/25/environmental-groups-rally-to-support-power-plant-rules/">is something environmental groups have long called for</a>.</p><p>The speech, given in front of the same university building George Washington spoke from in 1797, effectively embraced a narrative that many environmentalists feared had fallen on deaf ears after the demise of cap-and-trade legislation gave way to a period of relative silence and inaction on climate change. <a href="http://blog.algore.com/2013/06/statement_on_president_obamas_1.html">Al Gore called Obama&#39;s remarks</a> &ldquo;by far the best address on climate by any president ever.&rdquo;</p><p><strong><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&amp;v=syEvjcNGFTI">Watch the President&rsquo;s full speech here</a>, and <a href="http://thehill.com/images/stories/news/2013/06_june/25/obama-climate-plan.pdf">read the administration&#39;s climate action plan here</a>. <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/share/climate-action-plan?utm_source=email&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_content=062513p2&amp;utm_campaign=climatechange" target="_blank">Here it is in graphic form</a>.</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/climate-change-warnings-sharp-relief-104942">The latest in a series of National Climate Assessments requested by Congress</a> warned of dire consequences to inaction, many of which Obama acknowledged in setting the stage for his long awaited plan of action &mdash; climate change contributed to the swollen storm surge in New York harbor, exacerbating the effects of Hurricane Sandy; Midwest farms <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/all-snow-are-we-still-drought-105764">scorched by drought</a> were then <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/climate-change-could-worsen-chicago-floods-106174">scoured by extreme floods</a>.</p><p>So were the proposals as significant as the framing? The plan largely circumvents Congress, relying on a few key efforts:</p><ul><li>Limit greenhouse gas emissions from both new <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/power-plant-limits-center-obama-climate-plan-107830">and existing power plants</a>, using the Environmental Protetion Agency&#39;s authority under the Clean Air Act. The plan also includes up to $8 billion in Energy Department loan guarantees for carbon capture technology that could rein in pollution from power plants, which contribute roughly one third of the nation&rsquo;s greenhouse gases.</li><li>Speed up and expand renewable energy permitting on federal land. Obama pledged that the federal government will get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2020.</li><li>Tighten energy efficiency standards for appliances and vehicles.</li><li>Invest in climate adaptation. Any new project with federal funds needs to prove preparedness for heavier floods, Obama said, and cities and states must assess climate risks.</li><li>Help other countries leap frog polluting technology. Obama said the government would apply &ldquo;private sector tech know-how in countries that transition to natural gas,&rdquo; which he praised as a &ldquo;transition fuel&rdquo; bridging coal and future renewables-based electricity generation. He called for &quot;global free trade in environmental goods and services,&quot; including an end to most public financing for new coal plants overseas. &ldquo;They don&rsquo;t have to repeat all the same mistakes that we made,&rdquo; Obama said.</li><li>Reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) &mdash; an incredibly potent greenhouse gas.</li></ul><p>Those are substantive steps, and not just when measured against the status quo doldrums. David Roberts at <em>Grist</em> has a great post on <a href="http://grist.org/politics/no-drama-obama-unveils-series-of-modest-sensible-steps-on-climate-change/?utm_campaign=daily&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_source=newsletter&amp;sub_email=cabentley234@gmail.com">how Obama&#39;s seemingly bureaucratic indifference to the climate movement actually belies a pragmatic devotion to behind-the-scenes progress</a>. And while it&rsquo;s no carbon tax, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/25/is-a-carbon-tax-more-effective-than-epa-rules-you-might-be-surprised/?a">exercising the Environmental Protection Agency&#39;s legal authority to limit carbon emissions just might be more effective</a>.</p><p>Emissions reduction by regulation, instead of a sweeping market-based solution like cap-and-trade or a carbon tax, is a blunt instrument. But it&#39;s the one Obama has. And depending on how the rules shake out (Will offending power plants be given the option of offsetting emissions with investments in energy efficiency in and around their facilities, as well as reducing their own emissions? What role do state EPAs play?), the downward pressure on greenhouse gas emissions could create a de facto price for carbon in a roundabout way.</p><p>Though most observers expected him to avoid the issue of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico, Obama made <a href="http://grist.org/news/obama-will-ok-keystone-only-if-it-wont-increase-carbon-emissions/">a surprise announcement</a> about the controversial project (emphasis mine):</p><p style="margin-left:.5in;">&ldquo;Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation&rsquo;s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. <strong>The net effects of the pipeline&rsquo;s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward</strong>.&rdquo;</p><p>People on both sides of the issue were heartened by the announcement. It <a href="https://twitter.com/samsteinhp/status/349578426765676545">buoyed the hopes of those against the pipeline</a>, but <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/25/did-obama-leave-himself-some-wiggle-room-to-approve-keystone-xl/">left sufficient wiggle room for the President to still approve the project</a>:</p><p>&nbsp;</p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Clarification to what <a href="https://twitter.com/samsteinhp">@samsteinhp</a> posted: Obama will say <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23KXL&amp;src=hash">#KXL</a> won&#39;t be approved if it would emit more GhG than not building it, sources say.</p>&mdash; Juliet Eilperin (@eilperin) <a href="https://twitter.com/eilperin/statuses/349583024679157763">June 25, 2013</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><p>&nbsp;</p><p>It&rsquo;s still a major shift in the national dialogue &mdash;&nbsp;carbon is now at the center of what was previously too often cast as a jobs-versus-dirty-hippies dichotomy.</p><p>Before the plan was even on the table, <a href="http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2013/05/epa-could-lose-its-power-fight-climate-change-using-it/65354/">legal challenges and political opposition were a foregone conclusion</a>. A National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman told <em>The Hill</em> that Obama&rsquo;s plan will &ldquo;effectively crush the economy in West Virginia, Kentucky, Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana &mdash; not to mention plenty of other states like Michigan.&rdquo;&nbsp; House Speaker John Boehner called it &ldquo;absolutely crazy.&rdquo;</p><p><a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/307507-obama-unveils-climate-plan-that-goes-around-congress">The President&rsquo;s opponents could use the Congressional Review Act, a law from the 1990s that lets Congress overturn agency regulations</a>, or <a href="http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2013/05/epa-could-lose-its-power-fight-climate-change-using-it/65354/">challenge the plan in court</a>.</p><p>Conservative politicans<i>&nbsp;</i>have labeled the plan &quot;<a href="http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/06/25/obama-declares-war-on-coal/" target="_blank">Obama&#39;s war on coal</a>,&quot; seizing on the administration&#39;s preference for comparatively cleaner burning natural gas. Coal <a href="http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/sources/electricity.html" target="_blank">contributes about 40 percent of the country&#39;s electricity, but 80 percent of the sector&#39;s CO<sub>2</sub> emissions</a>. New natural gas-fired power plants have helped expand the domestic energy supply just as efficiency programs have reduced demand. Wholesale electricity market rates have dropped along with stock prices for coal companies.</p><p>Anticipating political antagonism, Obama implored people to speak up, &ldquo;push back on misinformation,&rdquo; and &ldquo;broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future.&rdquo; He also apparently endorsed, in passing, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/chicago-students-push-divestment-fossil-fuels-105650">the burgeoning divestment movement underway on hundreds of college campuses</a>. (Or if not their campaigns explicitly, their central message of divesting from outmoded and uneconomic technology.)</p><p>&ldquo;The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it&rsquo;s too late,&rdquo; Obama said. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.&rdquo; That barb turned out to be more pointed than perhaps the President intended &mdash; even the leader Flat Earth Society (yes, it exists) <a href="http://www.salon.com/2013/06/25/flat_earth_society_believes_in_climate_change/">believes the (flat) Earth is warming</a>:</p><p>&nbsp;</p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Even the president of the Flat Earth Society now thinks humans are warming the planet: <a href="http://t.co/qlS4869DAb">http://t.co/qlS4869DAb</a></p>&mdash; brad plumer (@bradplumer) <a href="https://twitter.com/bradplumer/statuses/349615293695410177">June 25, 2013</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="343" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/syEvjcNGFTI" width="610"></iframe></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="http://www.twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley</a></em>.</p></p> Tue, 25 Jun 2013 16:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-06/obamas-climate-plan-aims-break-political-deadlock-taking-it-head-107845 Obama hints at big climate move that could hit Illinois emitters http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-06/obama-hints-big-climate-move-could-hit-illinois-emitters-107799 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicksuydam/3271556351/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/powerton-coal-by-nick-suydam.jpg" title="Trains sit at the south end of the yard in Powerton, Ill., near the power plant. Powerton's coal plant was the second biggest greenhouse gas emitter in Illinois, according to EPA data. (Flickr/Nick Suydam)" /></a></div></div></div><p>President Barack Obama&rsquo;s senior officials this week let on that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/20/science/earth/obama-preparing-big-effort-to-curb-climate-change.html?ref=earth" target="_blank">he would attempt to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants</a>, in what would be the most significant action addressing climate change by his administration to date. (Although <a href="http://grist.org/climate-energy/the-obama-climate-move-that-nobody-noticed/" target="_blank">an under-the-radar tweak to how the government computes the cost of carbon</a> deserves a nod, as do improved fuel economy standards.)</p><p>It&rsquo;s something <a href="http://www.nrdc.org/air/pollution-standards/" target="_blank">environmental groups</a> and <a href="http://grist.org/climate-energy/obama-can-tackle-carbon-and-doesnt-need-congress/" target="_blank">climate hawks have increased calls for</a> since the President won reelection in a race that, it should be noted, <a href="http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/23/the-issue-that-dare-not-speak-its-name/" target="_blank">avoided explicit mention of the issue for the first time since 1988</a>. It&rsquo;s also likely to further polarize Republican lawmakers and carbon-intensive industries, who will probably mount legal challenges.</p><p>Nevertheless, remarks by Obama&rsquo;s top aide on climate change, Heather Zichal, <a href="http://www.eenews.net/stories/1059983178" target="_blank">indicate he might frame the issue as a post-partisan one</a> and attempt to &ldquo;depoliticize&rdquo; an issue the President <a href="http://www.wri.org/press/2013/06/wri-statement-berlin-pres-obama-calls-climate-change-global-threat-our-time" target="_blank">has called</a> &ldquo;the global threat of our time.&rdquo;</p><p><a href="http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/usinventoryreport.html" target="_blank">Electricity generation accounts for roughly a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions</a>, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. So if Obama wants to circumvent the currently deadlocked legislative path to reining in carbon dioxide emissions, tackling existing power plants is a good place to start.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomas-merton/4883559607/"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/coal-train-by-contemplative-imaging.jpg" title="A CWEX coal train, left, stretches into the distance near the La Fox Metra station in Kane County. (Flickr/Ron Zack)" /></a></div><p>Which power plants in Illinois are the biggest greenhouse gas emitters? According to <a href="http://ghgdata.epa.gov/ghgp/main.do" target="_blank">the EPA&#39;s Greenhouse Gas Inventory</a>, with 2011 (the latest verified data available) emissions in metric tons of CO<sub>2</sub> equivalent in parentheses:</p><p>1.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Baldwin Energy Complex, a coal and oil plant in Baldwin, Ill. (12,815,215)</p><p>2.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Powerton, a coal plant in Pekin, Ill. (10,871,825)</p><p>3.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Joppa Steam, a coal plant in Joppa, Ill. (8,036,531)</p><p>4.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Newton, a coal plant in Newton, Ill. (7,284,487)</p><p>5.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Joliet 29, a coal plant in Joliet, Ill. (6,000,070)</p><p>As for the Chicago region&rsquo;s biggest emitters, <a href="http://chicagoist.com/2013/01/13/carbon_caravan_a_tour_of_the_areas.php#photo-1"><em>Chicagoist</em>&#39;s Josh Mogerman has a good round-up here</a>.</p><p>In the absence of comprehensive climate legislation, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/environmentalists-protest-keystone-xl-pipeline-105576">environmentalists have made their most visible cause stopping the Keystone XL pipeline</a> &mdash;&nbsp;an issue that has <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-17/obama-s-keystone-silence-is-driving-green-activists-away.html">split the President&#39;s own policy group, Organizing for Action</a>. Next month&rsquo;s expected action could help mend the rift, or widen it further.</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="http://www.twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 21 Jun 2013 11:22:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-06/obama-hints-big-climate-move-could-hit-illinois-emitters-107799 Does electricity aggregation do enough for renewable energy? http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/does-electricity-aggregation-do-enough-renewable-energy-106760 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/photos_by_laurence/5130848556/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/%28Courtesy-Laurence-Pearlman-via-Flickr%29.jpg" title="Transmission lines in Des Plaines, Ill. (Courtesy-Laurence-Pearlman-via-Flickr)" /></a></p><p>When Chicagoans <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/municipal-electricity-aggregation-explained-103585">voted for electricity aggregation in 2012</a>, becoming the largest city in the U.S. to do so, they gave the city power to negotiate a new price for electricity on their behalf.</p><p>Pooling customers saves money, but it also gives them a unified voice that they can use to demand renewable energy.</p><p>Somewhat ironically, however, state requirements meant to encourage renewable energy development in Illinois could dampen aggregation&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/referendum-could-mean-more-renewable-energy-chicago-102911">potential to do just that</a>.</p><p>The state&rsquo;s Renewable Portfolio Standard requires Illinois energy suppliers purchase 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025. But they can meet half of that requirement by buying renewable energy credits (RECs) from out-of-state producers. <a href="http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2012/08/10/experts-chicago-aggregation-could-hurt-renewable-energy-unless-the-rps-is-fixed/">A quirk in the law</a> could actually <a href="http://grist.org/climate-energy/how-to-make-illinois-into-a-clean-energy-leader/">prevent money collected through aggregation for the purpose of funding renewable energy</a> from spurring any new renewable development.</p><p>Jack Darin of the Sierra Club hopes the state will fix that glitch. Even if it does, cities buying renewable energy are actually buying credits&mdash;&nbsp;not renewably generated electricity itself.</p><p>&ldquo;RECs are renewable energy derivatives, essentially,&rdquo; said Kevin Borgia, policy manager for Wind on the Wires.</p><p>A wind farm in Texas, where there is no state requirement for renewable energy, could build up RECs that would find their way to Illinois towns looking to meet the standards they set forth in an aggregation deal.</p><p>&ldquo;They don&rsquo;t move growth in renewables the way purchasing actual electricity would,&quot; Borgia said. &quot;The use of RECs in general is somewhat a missed opportunity.&rdquo;</p><p>Since the state allowed aggregation in 2009, <a href="http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=a4f51b5b-3000-44e5-95ee-1f666723990b">more than 200 Illinois communities</a> have approved their own deals. Elgin&rsquo;s contract with Direct Energy costs 4.915 cents per kilowatt-hour and is 100 percent renewable. Oak Forest pays an extra eight-tenths of a penny per kWh to purchase enough renewable energy credits to cover 100 percent of the town&rsquo;s power. Evanston and Oak Park have also pursued 100 percent renewable power. But that doesn&rsquo;t mean every light bulb in those cities is channeling wind energy.</p><p>The Illinois house <a href="http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=2623&amp;GAID=12&amp;GA=98&amp;DocTypeID=HB&amp;LegID=74429&amp;SessionID=85">this week passed legislation</a> that spelled out ratepayers&rsquo; right to know the source of their power. Chicago is large enough to command the market&rsquo;s attention, but small towns don&rsquo;t have energy experts advising them. Darin of the Sierra Club said the new state law might inspire other aggregated communities to push for more green energy.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s all a matter of how communities use their aggregation buying power,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I think we&rsquo;re going to see more creativity and more exciting things as cities realize what they can do.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/virtualphotographers/4978307600/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/pontiac%20wind%20farm%20%28courtesy%20virtualphotographers%20via%20Flickr%29.jpg" style="height: 203px; width: 305px; float: right;" title="A wind farm in Pontiac, Ill. (courtesy virtualphotographers via Flickr)" /></a></div><p><a href="http://www.sustainable-chicago.com/2012/06/21/power-to-the-people-electrical-aggregation/">According to the Northern Illinois Municipal Electric Collaborative</a>, 40 percent of their municipal clients that opt for a renewable energy rate hike go for full renewable coverage.</p><p>Chicago struck a two-year contract with Integrys Energy Services, replacing Exelon subsidiary Commonwealth Edison and reportedly saving households $150 on average per year by 2015. Energy prices change daily, and low prices are not guaranteed forever, but the contract requires Integrys to provide electricity cheaper than ComEd, and gives the city an option to switch after May 2014. It also banned coal, which provides roughly 40 percent of Chicago&rsquo;s power, from the city&rsquo;s fuel mix. A spokeswoman from Integrys said the majority of that displaced power would come from natural gas.</p><p>Compare that to San Francisco. The city&rsquo;s CleanPowerSF program is focused on providing consumers with more renewable energy. It offers 100 percent green power, mainly from wind, with an opt-out choice for customers who do not want to pay more for renewable energy. It&rsquo;s also rolled out gradually, with only 90,000 customers enrolled this year and the rest over the next two years. And it has the option of direct purchasing, so ratepayers buy renewable energy instead of credits.</p><p>In Chicago aggregation was an easy sell &mdash; prices fell immediately. In contrast with Chicago&rsquo;s Emanuel-driven 50-0 vote, three of San Francisco&rsquo;s 11 City Council members were against the proposal, and so was the mayor.</p><p>The two deals, though similar in size, come from a different set of circumstances. California&rsquo;s Renewable Portfolio Standard is more demanding than <a href="http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=IL04R">Illinois&#39;</a> (33 percent by 2020 vs. Illinois&rsquo; 25 percent by 2025). But researchers at Yale and George Mason universities found <a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/southflorida/blog/2012/11/renewable-energy-yale-survey.html?page=all">88 percent of Americans say the U.S. should make an effort to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs</a>. If ratepayers demand it, renewable energy (not just credits) could make up a greater share of the fuel mix in communities that have approved aggregation.</p><p>And if the two-year deal works out, analysts like Borgia hope Chicago will look at longer contracts. A new wind farm won&rsquo;t likely turn a profit in just two years, so a longer contract could spur wind and solar farm construction and bring in-state jobs, while providing a hedge against future fluctuations in the price of fossil fuels like natural gas.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just about feel-good renewables,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;This is about economic sense.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about environmental issues. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Sun, 21 Apr 2013 16:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/does-electricity-aggregation-do-enough-renewable-energy-106760 Six months after Fisk and Crawford, Chicago area coal still struggling http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/six-months-after-fisk-and-crawford-chicago-area-coal-still-struggling <p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/akagoldfish/2926002818/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/coal-train.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="A coal train outside Chicago in 2008. (Flickr/Courtesy the pieces are here) " /></a></div><p>The last barge carrying coal to Pilsen&rsquo;s Fisk Power Plant lumbered up the Chicago canal in late August, dumping a final 1,500 tons of coal to burn in a community whose members were more than happy to see their industrial neighbor go.</p><p>Before they shut down, the Fisk and Crawford coal plants were among the state&rsquo;s largest emitters of toxic chemicals. In 2010, the latest year of data available in the EPA&rsquo;s <a href="http://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_release.chemical" target="_blank">Toxics Release Inventory</a>, the power plants were among the leading sources of barium compounds,&nbsp;hydrochloric acid,&nbsp;hydrogen fluoride,&nbsp;mercury compounds and&nbsp;sulfuric acid. A 2002 Harvard School of Public Health study linked the plants to 41 premature deaths and 2,800 asthma attacks annually.</p><p>It has been a little more than six months since the plants closed, and <a href="http://wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/fisk-and-crawford-pass-air-and-radiation-tests-lead-persists-nearby" target="_blank">recent tests by the EPA</a> showed <a href="http://www.epa.gov/airquality/particlepollution/" target="_blank">particulate matter</a> concentrations and radiation levels typical for Chicago in the area around Fisk. The readings came from four stationary sensors and a mobile unit mounted to a baby carriage to make sure no odd winds swept pollution between the reach of the monitors.</p><p>&ldquo;Overall it&rsquo;s not unreasonable to expect some air quality improvement since the plants closed,&rdquo; said the state EPA&rsquo;s Andrew Mason.</p><p>There is considerable lag time in analyzing air quality data, and on a regional basis it is difficult to single out individual sources, Mason said, so a definitive breakdown of just what impact the plant closures had on Chicago&rsquo;s air quality doesn&rsquo;t exist.</p><p>But anecdotal evidence abounds. Sulfur oxides can smell like rotting eggs &mdash; an aroma residents are happy to report no longer lingers over their neighborhood. Those compounds, along with nitrogen oxides, also contribute to smog and haze.</p><p>The recent tests seemed to confirm the shuttered coal plants were no longer an air quality concern for neighborhood, but coal is not the only source of particulate matter pollution.</p><p>A <a href="http://www.sciencecodex.com/road_traffic_pollution_as_serious_as_passive_smoke_in_the_development_of_childhood_asthma-109075" target="_blank">new study in the European Respiratory Journal</a> found 14 percent of chronic asthma in kids is caused by car exhaust &mdash; in the same range as the 4 to 18 percent bracket of childhood asthma cases resulting from exposure to second-hand smoke, per World Health Organization estimates. It was the first time they estimated the percentage of cases that might not have occurred if Europeans had not been exposed to road traffic pollution.</p><p>Around the region, coal plants are struggling to compete with low natural gas prices and <a href="http://www.epa.gov/pm/actions.html" target="_blank">tightening EPA restrictions</a>. Dominion Energy, which recently <a href="http://wbez.org/news/dominion-wants-sell-3-power-stations-including-one-outside-chicago-102227" target="_blank">sold off some Chicago area holdings</a>, just settled <a href="http://www.fierceenergy.com/story/dominion-will-pay-mightily-emissions/2013-04-09" target="_blank">to the tune of more than $13 million</a> to resolve Clean Air Act violations. The settlement required Dominion to spend $9.75 million of that on environmental projects, including land acquisition and restoration near the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.</p><p>But <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-28/news/ct-met-will-coal-plants-20120928_1_midwest-generation-plants-fisk-and-crawford-coal-plants" target="_blank">two coal plants in Will County </a>are not among the more than 100 coal plants shuttered nationwide in recent years. A Romeoville plant emitted more than six million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2012, according to the <a href="http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/usinventoryreport.html" target="_blank">EPA&rsquo;s greenhouse gas inventory</a>, making it the biggest carbon polluter in the Chicago area. Midwest Generation, which owns three operational coal-fired power plants in the area, last week <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-04-04/news/ct-met-coal-plant-delays-20130405_1_coal-plants-sulfur-dioxide-midwest-generation" target="_blank">won a two-year reprieve</a>&nbsp;from new sulfur dioxide emissions standards in light of its December bankruptcy filing.</p><p>While coal&rsquo;s share of the U.S. electricity mix <a href="http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/report/coal.cfm" target="_blank">has fallen</a> markedly in recent years, it remains a major source of electricity. Coal-fired power plants collectively produce more pollution than any other source in the country.</p><p>Chicago&#39;s recent decision to aggregate electricity purchases gave coal the boot from the city&#39;s fuel mix, in a nod not only to the decades of environmental concerns that sped the closures of Fisk and Crawford, but to the flagging economic profile of the fuel source whose command of the country&#39;s electricity portfolio is beginning to wane.</p></p> Wed, 10 Apr 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/six-months-after-fisk-and-crawford-chicago-area-coal-still-struggling Delay and denial in Pines http://www.wbez.org/news/delay-and-denial-pines-106548 <p><p>The Town of Pines, Ind., is an unassuming place. There&rsquo;s no factory or skyline to compete with the smoky towers of Gary and nearby Michigan City. Sitting at the edge of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Pines is home to just over 700 people, two gas stations, one church and one bank. It&rsquo;s easy to miss unless you&#39;re looking for it, as it&#39;s tucked among groves of trees along U.S. Highway 12.</p><p dir="ltr">Pines does, however, have a landmark of sorts.</p><p dir="ltr">The unceremoniously-named Yard 520 is an out-of-use landfill that sits kitty-corner from Pines&#39; public park. There&#39;s no household garbage under the yard&#39;s rolling expanse of green grass; instead, the landfill holds an estimated 1.5 million tons of ash from coal burned at a Michigan City power plant, which sits about three miles away. Half of Yard 520&rsquo;s fill is unlined.</p><p dir="ltr">The ash dumping in Yard 520 started almost fifty years ago. Twelve years ago, the town learned the water was contaminated with pollutants that can leach from coal ash. Nine years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared most of Pines a cleanup site. And still today, the Pines cleanup is a web of distrust between residents, the companies responsible for the ash and the EPA.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;My husband and I bought our home here to raise our family,&rdquo; said Cathi Murray, the vice president of Pines&rsquo; town council. &ldquo;We thought we found our own little piece of paradise. Well, it turns out to be pretty much our own little piece of hell.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pines&#39; blue lawn ornaments</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The people in Pines first learned there was a problem in 2000, when a resident tasted something funny in her well water and complained to environmental authorities. After that, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the EPA conducted tests that turned up elevated levels of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/region5/cleanup/pines/pdfs/pines_fs_200301.pdf" target="_blank">manganese, boron, molybdenum, arsenic and lead</a>. Residents and their environmentalist allies <a href="http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/Not_in_My_Lifetime.pdf" target="_blank">spent years agitating over the issue</a>, and the EPA made almost the entire town a cleanup site in 2004.</p><p dir="ltr">For Murray, the damage was already done. She had moved to Pines with her husband years earlier and put down roots, working as a school teacher and raising two kids. She&#39;d already spent a decade drinking tap water that came straight out of the ground in Pines; while she was pregnant, she says, she swore off pop and coffee and drank only well water.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/pines inline 1.JPG" style="float: right; height: 263px; width: 330px;" title="George Adey and Cathi Murray have lived in Pines since before the coal ash contamination was uncovered. They now worry about their families’ health. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p dir="ltr">&quot;So I have an older daughter who was born with a rare bowel disorder, and I have a younger daughter who was born hearing impaired,&quot; she said. &quot;Do you think I will ever stop wondering, did the water I drink have anything to do with that?&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The EPA began circling around a suspect: coal combustion waste, or coal ash, the material stored in Yard 520. The presumption was that as water struck underground ash deposits, it would pick up traces of arsenic, boron, and other elements that can be dangerous if consumed at high levels. The contaminated water would continue moving underground, only to be drawn into residents&#39; drinking wells.</p><p dir="ltr">NIPSCO, the utility that had dumped most of the ash, and the landfill owner, Brown, agreed to pipe in municipal water from Michigan City to two separate parts of Pines. After residents without municipal water (including Murray) sued the companies, they extended the water lines to most of the town under&nbsp;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/region5/cleanup/pines/pinesfs200404b.htm" target="_blank">a new agreement with the EPA</a>. About 50 homes in Pines still have no access to the new municipal pipes. For the past nine years they&#39;ve drunk bottled water provided by the companies; today you can spot big, blue containers on some homes&rsquo; front lawns or driveways.</p><p dir="ltr">And Yard 520 is not the only potential source of contamination in the town. In the sixties and seventies coal ash was used as road base and structural fill throughout Pines. You can literally pick the light, shimmery black stuff off the ground in roadways, driveways and even yards. Murray says her children used to play with it before anyone realized the potential danger.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>An alternative approach?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;You have to cook with bottled water, boil spaghetti, potatoes ... drink bottled water,&rdquo; said Shirley McColpin. She and her husband own one of about fifty homes in Pines that still have well water in their pipes. &ldquo;I just don&rsquo;t think people should have to live like that.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The responsible companies pay for water for people like McColpin, but she&rsquo;s tired of waiting for the outcome of the official cleanup. She says she&rsquo;s never had her well tested, and she&rsquo;s afraid to wash in the water. McColpin says her husband dodged a bout with skin cancer just a couple years ago.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Somebody polluted our water and somebody&rsquo;s responsible for this,&rdquo; McColpin said. &ldquo;Fess up ... and give us our water.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">From the vantage of people like McColpin, the cleanup begun in 2004 has been slow and the definition of &quot;cleanup&quot; slippery. But the EPA and NIPSCO say they&rsquo;ve done all they can to involve the community in what&#39;s called a &ldquo;Superfund Alternative Agreement,&rdquo; a less formal version of the official&nbsp;<a href="http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/news/superfund/?ar_a=1" target="_blank">Superfund cleanup program</a>. The &ldquo;alternative&rdquo; approach, they say, can save time and money by allowing polluters to enter into voluntary but legally-binding agreements.</p><p dir="ltr"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/pines inline 2.JPG" style="height: 510px; width: 680px;" title="The Yard 520 landfill is the biggest thing in the 700-person town of Pines. It holds more than a million tons of coal ash. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" />Superfund Alternative sites are not listed on the EPA&rsquo;s National Priorities List for hazardous contamination sites, although they meet the exact same criteria for the severity of the pollution. The strategy is logical: Superfund cleanups are notoriously complicated and time-consuming, and listing a site on the NPL can involve lengthy litigation. With the Superfund Alternative, the EPA drops legal battles, while industry avoids the bad P.R. smell that comes with having a Superfund site under your nose.</p><p dir="ltr">But observers of Pines and other cleanup sites question whether this &nbsp;route is actually transparent and expedient. A&nbsp;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/evaluate/pdf/waste/effectiveness-assessment-region-4-superfund-alternative-approach.pdf" target="_blank">recent EPA assessment says the alternative approach doesn&rsquo;t necessarily make cleanups cheaper or faster.</a> And Pines residents have repeatedly accused the EPA and the companies of making decisions about the cleanup behind closed doors.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We feel that we&rsquo;ve done more community involvement at the Pines site than some of our NPL sites,&rdquo; said Rick Karl, who heads the EPA Region 5 Superfund Division. He says there&rsquo;s no real difference in transparency or oversight from a regular Superfund cleanup aside from the formality of NPL listing.</p><p dir="ltr">Between 2002 and 2011, Region 5 established more alternative sites than the rest of the country combined. But Karl says he has not evaluated whether Superfund Alternative cleanups are faster or cheaper.</p><p dir="ltr">That&rsquo;s not surprising, or so says Lisa Evans, an environmental activist and lawyer who worked for the EPA in the 1980s. &ldquo;Are cleanups being done faster, does the community have more involvement in those sites, is it costing industry or the government less money?&rdquo; Evans said. &ldquo;None of that is true. What the advantage is, is that industry doesn&rsquo;t have the stigma of having a Superfund site.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, NIPSCO and their consultants are quick to point out that Pines is not a regular Superfund site and they are only &ldquo;potentially responsible parties&rdquo; under the alternative agreement. In other words, they&rsquo;ve agreed to pay the price for cleanup, but they haven&rsquo;t necessarily accepted blame for Pines&rsquo; groundwater contamination. The irony is that people like Shirley McColpin haven&rsquo;t avoided the stigma of living in a contamination zone.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve just been held prisoner,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t sell your home, real estate agents won&rsquo;t come. They don&rsquo;t say, &lsquo;You have poison water we&rsquo;re not coming.&rsquo; But that&rsquo;s the reason they don&rsquo;t come.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The slow grind</strong></p><p dir="ltr">A likely culprit behind the pace of Superfund cleanups is the principle of the &ldquo;polluter pays.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">As in most Superfund sites, the companies responsible for coal ash in Pines bankrolled the environmental investigation. They hired their own consultants, but they also issued grants to a citizen&rsquo;s group, People in Need of Environmental Safety (P.I.N.E.S.), to hire an independent technical advisor to review the studies of environmental and human health risks from coal ash in Pines.</p><p dir="ltr">The result? The experts (again, one representing the company, another representing the citizens&rsquo; group) spar over technical details, while the residents absorb mixed messages about the contamination&rsquo;s severity and sources. According to P.I.N.E.S. technical advisor, Chuck Norris of GeoHydro, fundamental questions remain unanswered &mdash; despite the fact that the EPA is nine years into its investigation.</p><p dir="ltr">For example, Norris says the EPA and AECOM haven&rsquo;t adequately measured how much coal ash was buried and spread around Pines, where it&rsquo;s located, or how much of the contamination can be accurately attributed to coal ash used as road fill. And, he says, the arsenic showing up in monitoring wells near the landfill has never been located in soil or water samples taken in other places, despite the fact that it&rsquo;s presumably spreading with the groundwater plume or filtering out into the soil.</p><p dir="ltr">Norris is also perplexed about the lack of a definitive groundwater model. In other words, NIPSCO&rsquo;s consultants offered several predictions about where the contaminated plume of water is moving, none of which were accepted by the EPA. That debate took years, and still left the cleanup with no groundwater model at all, a move Norris calls &ldquo;very unusual&rdquo; for a groundwater contamination site.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/pines inline 3.JPG" style="height: 285px; width: 380px; float: right;" title="Some Pines residents have been drinking and cooking with bottled water for almost ten years. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p dir="ltr">The EPA approved the environmental reports sanctioned by NIPSCO at each stage even when those reports lacked what Norris considers key information. Norris finds this disconcerting.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;re going to leave the gorilla in the room, but we&rsquo;re not going to make you acknowledge that the gorilla&rsquo;s there,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Even though whether or not it&rsquo;s there seems to be important.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">But Norris says it&rsquo;s too soon to declare the cleanup a success or failure; the proof, he says, will be in the pudding. And, he says, it can be hard for affected residents to face the fact that a &ldquo;cleanup&rdquo; of groundwater contamination is never really over.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s always a balance between what technically can be done, what it costs to do it and how much damage will be allowed to continue in lieu of trying to do more,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;A perfect cleanup doesn&rsquo;t exist. Once these contaminants are out, they&rsquo;re out.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">And here&rsquo;s the latest message Pines residents have had to absorb: The&nbsp;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/region5/cleanup/pines/pdfs/pines_fs_200301.pdf" target="_blank">most recent studies of the site</a> approved by the EPA find no significant risk to human health from coal ash contamination.</p><p dir="ltr">This seemingly reassuring news is the word of the consultant overseeing the science in Pines on behalf of the companies. That person also happens to be a leading advocate for the coal ash industry.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>At the helm: An advocate for coal ash reuse</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Lisa Bradley has managed the environmental investigation in Pines since 2004 as an employee of AECOM, an international consulting giant. AECOM already has a coal ash track record: In 2009 the Inspector General for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the utility responsible for the wet ash disaster in Kingston, accused&nbsp;<a href="http://oig.tva.gov/PDF/09rpts/2008-12283-02.pdf" target="_blank">AECOM of understating the company&rsquo;s responsibility</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">And last year, Lisa Bradley joined the executive committee of the powerful&nbsp;<a href="http://www.acaa-usa.org/" target="_blank">American Coal Ash Association</a>, an association of utilities and marketers in the business of promoting what they call the &ldquo;beneficial use&rdquo; of coal ash.</p><p dir="ltr">The national industry in coal ash recycling is worth more than $2 billion a year. Companies say various types of dry ash from coal combustion can be safely used in roads, in concrete, or even in toothpaste. The EPA&rsquo;s currently&nbsp;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/special/fossil/ccr-rule/index.htm" target="_blank">weighing two proposed regulations</a> on the use of coal ash; industry broadly favors one that&rsquo;s less restrictive. The agency&rsquo;s sat silent on both since 2011.</p><p dir="ltr">Also, the EPA itself supports coal ash reuse, and in 2011 the inspector general&nbsp;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2011/20110323-11-P-0173.pdf" target="_blank">slapped the agency&rsquo;s wrist</a> over the issue. The agency, the IG wrote, had collaborated with industry to support the practice of coal ash reuse, despite the lack of data about the potential risks.</p><p dir="ltr">Bradley attends industry events, where she&nbsp;<a href="http://www.flyash.info/2011/Plenary-Bradley-2011.pdf" target="_blank">promotes the idea that coal ash is similar in composition to soil</a>. Environmentalist groups have <a href="http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/ACAAreport.pdf" target="_blank">smeared her work as &ldquo;junk science.&rdquo;</a> But she doesn&rsquo;t believe her advocacy makes her unqualified for the Pines jobs.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t see it as a conflict,&rdquo; said Bradley. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m very well trained in what I do. I&rsquo;ve been doing it for a long time. Certainly everything we&rsquo;ve done for Pines has followed EPA guidance and regulations.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">All of this is incontrovertible. Bradley&rsquo;s been a toxicologist at AECOM for 22 years. And in any EPA cleanup, the agency ultimately approves all the reports and decides the outcome based on its own regulatory powers.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet the EPA&rsquo;s&nbsp;<a href="http://www.fightingbob.com/files/Coalwaste.pdf" target="_blank">own research</a> has documented two dozen proven cases of environmental or health problems caused by coal ash, and dozens more potential cases. Numerous scientific studies demonstrate that the elements present in coal ash can harm human health, animals and the environment. An&nbsp;<a href="http://www.publicintegrity.org/2009/02/19/2942/coal-ash-hidden-story" target="_blank">investigative report</a> by the Center for Public Integrity finds industry has had a hand in holding back state regulations and fighting against federal ones.</p><p dir="ltr">So how could a figure like Bradley end up in such a key position in Pines?</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;They&rsquo;re providing facts and information just as any other toxicologist would provide,&rdquo; said Nick Meyer, a spokesman for NIPSCO. He says the company selected AECOM as consultants through a standard bidding process. The data the consultants provide, he says, is not subjective. &ldquo;A 12-inch ruler is gonna measure something the same as it measures something down the road.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">But the comparison is not apt. Environmental reports are hundreds of pages long and include thousands of pieces of data gathered from wells and soil samples. EPA feedback on those reports is even more substantive; I&rsquo;ve been told a Freedom of Information Act request for comments and communications about the Pines reports will take six months to fulfill.</p><p dir="ltr">When I asked Rick Karl of EPA Region 5 about concerns that this cleanup could be influenced by the coal ash industry, his response was simple.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We use our own scientists to review and prepare comments on any document that is developed by a responsible party,&rdquo; Karl said.</p><p dir="ltr">In other words, the buck stops with the EPA. Though, of course, not everyone sees it that way, particularly those who think the EPA&rsquo;s dropped the ball on coal ash.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The problem lies in relying on the polluter to do the investigation,&rdquo; said Evans, adding that having the EPA make corrections after the fact is a waste of time at best. &ldquo;Because the polluter has a vested interest in keeping those costs low. It&rsquo;s a situation of the fox guarding the chicken coop.&rdquo;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/pines%20inline%204.JPG" style="float: left; height: 248px; width: 380px;" title="George Adey shows off bottom ash that had been deposited on a road in Pines long ago. In the 60s and 70s, coal combustion waste was used to fill roads in the town. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p dir="ltr">Evans argues potential gaps in oversight are built into &ldquo;the polluter pays&rdquo; model of almost all EPA cleanups. Keep in mind that there are more than 1,000 of these sites around the country, and Pines is neither the most contaminated, nor the most controversial.</p><p dir="ltr">But despite the confusion it can cause for residents and the potential for conflicts of interest, the &ldquo;polluter pays&rdquo; model is all the EPA has to work with. The EPA&rsquo;s Superfund program <a href="http://www.publicintegrity.org/2007/04/26/5621/superfund-today" target="_blank">hasn&rsquo;t received new funding since 1995</a>, and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/20/AR2010062001789.html" target="_blank">the Obama administration&rsquo;s efforts to reinstate the Superfund tax</a> have gone nowhere. In the meantime, the EPA is placing fewer new sites on the National Priorities List, and Superfund Alternative Approach sites are on the rise.</p><p dir="ltr">As it stands now (in Pines, and around the country), if the polluter doesn&rsquo;t pay, no one does.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The clock will keep ticking</strong></p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The coal industry wants a free hand to dispose of this stuff how they see fit,&rdquo; said George Adey, the Pines Town Council president. &ldquo;Our community is a perfect example of why we need a stronger EPA and stronger regulation for coal ash.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">That kind of sentiment&rsquo;s drawing more attention lately, especially after the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/27/us/27sludge.html?_r=0" target="_blank">Kingston disaster</a>. That incident reminded environmentalists and lawmakers that towns such as Pines had been treated like coal ash dumps, though it hasn&rsquo;t led to much action. The EPA has been sitting on two proposed regulations on the disposal of coal ash since 2010, and the states offer a hodge-podge of guidelines. As it stands, the states regulate the disposal of coal ash in more than a thousand ponds and landfills around the country, many of them unlined.</p><p dir="ltr">Coal remains a major source of energy in the Chicago region as well as the entire nation. And environmentalists say &ldquo;clean coal&rdquo; is a fallacy if you <a href="http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1870599,00.html" target="_blank">consider the continued production of unregulated coal ash.</a></p><p dir="ltr">New regulatory developments are likely to pass Pines by, since NIPSCO no longer dumps ash there. The clock, though, will still be running on the cleanup. The EPA says it expects to announce what cleanup requirements it will impose on NIPSCO and Brown in early 2015.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the Yard 520 landfill still sits at the edge of the town. There&rsquo;s a marshy ditch right next to Yard 520 that captures most of the contaminated runoff from the area and carries it through the town of Pines and through Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.</p><p dir="ltr">The final destination? Lake Michigan.</p><p dir="ltr">Lewis Wallace is a WBEZ Pritzker Journalism Fellow. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants" target="_blank">@lewispants</a>.</p></p> Mon, 08 Apr 2013 15:59:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/delay-and-denial-pines-106548 Durbin fired up over coal-fired ferry http://www.wbez.org/news/durbin-fired-over-coal-fired-ferry-106276 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/SS_Badger_and_SS_Spartan_Wikimedia Commons_by Zizmonz.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is crying foul over a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would allow a famous coal-fired ferry to keep running.</p><p>The 60-year-old S.S. Badger takes tourists back and forth across Lake Michigan a few hours north of Chicago. It&rsquo;s also the only remaining ferry in the country that runs on coal.</p><p>&ldquo;Every time that filthy scow goes across Lake Michigan, it dumps two tons of coal ash into our lake,&rdquo; said Durbin Monday.</p><p>The EPA order, which must be approved by a court in Grand Rapids, would require the Badger to stop putting ash in the lake by the end of 2014. The EPA issued the consent decree in lieu of responding to a 2012 permit renewal request by the S.S. Badger, and the decree would charge the Lake Michigan Carferry Service $25,000 for violation of clean water standards in 2012.</p><p>&ldquo;This consent decree offers the fastest and most certain path available to EPA to stop the discharge of coal ash from the Badger into Lake Michigan,&rdquo; said EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman. &ldquo;The enforcement agreement reduces the discharge of coal ash more quickly and with greater oversight than would occur during the appeal of a decision to issue or deny a permit &ndash; a process that often takes several years.&quot;</p><p>But Senator Durbin says the ship&rsquo;s owners should have already fixed the problem.</p><p>&ldquo;For ten years they&rsquo;ve promised to clean it up, put in a diesel engine at least,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I am fed up with it.&quot;</p><p>The owners of the Badger declined to comment.</p><p>A press release says the ship will continue burning coal, but dispose of the ash on land through a &ldquo;sophisticated ash retention system,&rdquo; the details of which remain unknown.</p><p><em>&mdash;Lewis Wallace is a WBEZ Pritzker Fellow. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants">@lewispants</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 25 Mar 2013 17:41:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/durbin-fired-over-coal-fired-ferry-106276 Energy suppliers challenge the lawfulness of a 'clean coal' subsidy http://www.wbez.org/news/energy-suppliers-challenge-lawfulness-clean-coal-subsidy-105828 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F81254444&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/938pre_02d8b79bfc7983a.jpg" style="float: left;" title="(WBEZ) A coal-fired power plant in Illinois" />A group of energy companies is challenging a likely increase in the price of electricity. They say energy from FutureGen, a proposed coal plant project in central Illinois, would cost more for consumers.</p><p>FutureGen is developing an ambitious coal plant and storage facility in Morgan County that would remove almost all of the carbon dioxide from emissions and transport it to a storage facility that would push the gas deep underground. The project&rsquo;s proponents include Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.</p><p>Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that has been linked to climate change.</p><p>In December, the Illinois Commerce Commission approved a plan that would require energy suppliers to buy part of their power from FutureGen over a 20-year period. The estimated price increase to consumers would be less than 1.5 percent, below the 2 percent cap state law places on new costs for clean energy projects.</p><p>But a group of private suppliers is fighting the ICC decision through the Illinois Appellate Court. Commonwealth Edison also has filed a separate challenge to the order.</p><div style="margin:0;">&ldquo;Why should consumers be subsidizing power that is above today&rsquo;s market price for electricity?&rdquo; said Kevin Wright, president of the Illinois Competitive Energy Association. He represents a consortium of companies who provide electricity. He said requiring his clients to participate in what he called a &quot;subsidy&quot; for so-called clean coal is unlawful and works to undermine a competitive electricity market. He also argued Illinois does not need any new power sources.</div><p>Advocates say FutureGen will turn Meredosia power plant into a cutting-edge clean coal facility. But the project has run into many roadblocks since its inception in 2006, including <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/scitech/science/illinois-lurch-futuregen" target="_blank">a struggle to find a location</a> in 2008, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/news/politics/report-math-error-killed-futuregen" target="_blank">political drama in 2009</a> over misestimating the cost of the plant, and a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/news/futuregen-hits-another-snag" target="_blank">loss of key funders</a> that same year.&nbsp;</p><p>In 2011, FutureGen was declared to be underway again, this time as FutureGen 2.0, and a $1 billion grant from the federal government gave the project new viability. A 2011 fact sheet from FutureGen puts the project cost at $1.3 billion, and says the plant will create 2,000 jobs.</p><p>On Wednesday Sen. Durbin released a statement putting ComEd&rsquo;s parent company Exelon on the hot seat for withdrawing from the FutureGen Alliance and then mounting a court challenge to the funding plan. Last month Exelon announced it would pull out of the group of companies lending support to the plan, although <a href="http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20130228/NEWS11/130229710/durbin-blasts-exelon-for-futuregen-betrayal" target="_blank">Crain&#39;s reported</a> Exelon said it was never officially a member of the Alliance.</p><p>&ldquo;Exelon sent its smiling representatives to press conferences lauding the value of FutureGen,&rdquo; said Durbin. &ldquo;Then last month, Exelon abruptly resigned from the FutureGen Alliance without explanation and today we learned Exelon has filed an appeal challenging the ICC ruling which is critical part of our FutureGen strategy. This heavy-handed corporate betrayal has few parallels in Illinois history.&rdquo;</p><p>Representatives of the FutureGen Alliance were not available to comment Wednesday, but a spokesperson said in an email that &ldquo;appeals are a normal part of the process and will be resolve (sic) in due time. In parallel, FutureGen 2.0&rsquo;s development activities will continue without disruption.&rdquo;</p><p>A spokesperson for the ICC declined to comment until she&rsquo;s seen the court filing, but said the commission stands by its December order.</p><p>Follow <a href="https://twitter.com/LewisPants" target="_blank">Lewis Wallace on Twitter.</a></p></p> Thu, 28 Feb 2013 15:39:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/energy-suppliers-challenge-lawfulness-clean-coal-subsidy-105828 Group pushes for soil tests around power plant http://www.wbez.org/news/group-pushes-soil-tests-around-power-plant-103117 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Fisk_station_Vance.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px; float: left; height: 225px; width: 300px; " title="Midwest Generation in August shut down its Fisk Station, built in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood in 1903. (Flickr/Steven Vance)" /></p><p>A company that is decommissioning Chicago&rsquo;s last two coal-fired power plants insists there are no hazards on either site, but a neighborhood group is pressing for soil tests and for disclosure of the results.</p><p>Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of California-based Edison International, shut down its Fisk and Crawford stations in August. The company says it is talking with about two dozen potential buyers of the sites.</p><p>A task force set up by Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office reported last month that the sites could now be used for light manufacturing and could offer public access to the nearby Chicago River.</p><p>But a report coming out Saturday says residents of the city&rsquo;s Pilsen neighborhood, where Fisk stands, want something done first.</p><p>&ldquo;Their number-one concern was, &#39;How is that site going to get cleaned up, how do we know it&rsquo;s not going to be a danger in the future, and how do we know what&rsquo;s there right now in terms of pollution and contamination?&#39; &rdquo; said Jerry Mead-Lucero, organizer of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, which held neighborhood forums and surveyed residents.</p><p>Midwest Generation President Douglas McFarlan said the public has nothing to fear about coal, ash and liquid fuel that his company and its predecessors stored near the plants. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s nothing inherently dangerous at the sites,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>McFarlan said Midwest Generation would comply with environmental regulations and said any cleanup would depend on the interests of the buyers.</p><p>Fisk was built in 1903. Crawford, which stands in the Little Village neighborhood, began operating in 1924.</p><p>The closings resulted from falling energy prices and federal clean-air enforcement that required retrofitting the plants. Activists had campaigned for more than a decade to close the generators or curb their harmful emissions, which included soot and carbon dioxide, a contributor to global warming.</p></p> Fri, 12 Oct 2012 18:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/group-pushes-soil-tests-around-power-plant-103117 Illinois environmentalists complain Midwestern Generation coal plants pollute groundwater http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-environmentalists-complain-midwestern-generation-coal-plants-pollute-groundwater <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/coal_rennett_stowe.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Environmentalists have <a href="http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/news_reports/documents/10-3-12%20ELPC-Complaint%20with%20Attachments.pdf" target="_blank">filed a legal complaint</a> against four Illinois coal plants.</p><p>The Illinois EPA said it has also sent violation notices about contaminated groundwater to the plants owned by Midwest Generation in Joliet, Pekin, Will County and Waukegan.</p><p>Whitney Ferrell is a lawyer for the <a href="http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/" target="_blank">Environmental Integrity Project</a>, which filed the complaint.</p><p>&quot;We found pretty pervasive groundwater contamination at all four sites and are hoping that through bringing this claim we can ensure the cleanup of the groundwater in those areas and the protection of nearby communities,&quot; Ferrell said.</p><p>Ferrell said the complaint uses data from Midwest Generation to make its case.</p><p>The Illinois Environmental Protection Act requires coal plants to monitor and report on water quality near their facilities.</p><p>Midwest Generation said in a statement it is prepared to defend its operations.</p><p>&quot;We have not been served with the complaint, but from what we have seen, it raises nothing new,&quot; Midwest Generation said in a statement on Friday. &quot;We will be prepared to defend our operations vigorously against parties who have long sought any avenue to try to close down coal-fired power plants.&quot;</p><p>The Environmental Integrity Project and the Environmental Law &amp; Policy Center (ELPC filed the complaint and are joined by the Prairie Rivers Network and Citizens Against Ruining the Environment.</p><p>Traci Barkley is a water resources scientist with the <a href="http://prairierivers.org/" target="_blank">Prairie Rivers Network</a>.</p><p>She said the contaminants found in the groundwater could damage aquatic ecosystems.</p><p>&quot;That&#39;s a significant concern for us to the extent that contaminated groundwater is migrating into adjacent surface water bodies,&quot; Barkley said. &quot;Some of the things we are most concerned about are the pollutants including selenium and mercury.&quot;</p><p>The complaint will be heard by the <a href="http://www.ipcb.state.il.us/" target="_blank">Illinois Pollution Control Board</a>.</p></p> Mon, 08 Oct 2012 15:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-environmentalists-complain-midwestern-generation-coal-plants-pollute-groundwater Activists rejoice as coal-fired plants shut down http://www.wbez.org/news/activists-rejoice-coal-fired-plants-shut-down-102129 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Fisk.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px; float: left; height: 219px; width: 300px; " title="Built in 1903, the Fisk station stands near Dvorak Park in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. (AP file/M. Spencer Green)" /></p><div>Neighborhood and environmental activists are celebrating as Chicago&rsquo;s last two coal-fired electricity plants enter a three-month decommissioning phase. But the closings are leaving dozens of Midwest Generation workers without a job.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The company, a subsidiary of California-based Edison International, says its Crawford station in the city&rsquo;s Little Village neighborhood burned its last lump of coal more than a week ago after operating since 1924. The Fisk station, constructed in 1903 in nearby Pilsen, shut down Thursday night.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Activists campaigned for more than a decade to close the plants or curb their harmful emissions, which included asthma-triggering soot and carbon dioxide, a contributor to global warming.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Standing near Crawford on Friday afternoon, Rafael Hurtado of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization almost had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn&rsquo;t dreaming.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;The smokestack and the chimney are not running,&rdquo; Hurtado observed. &ldquo;The parking lot is empty other than the security guards. This is a victory not only for our organization but Little Village and Pilsen and the city of Chicago.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Local 15 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represented about 135 workers at the plants, says some are accepting retirement packages or transferring to another Midwest Generation site, where they will bump employees with less seniority. The union represents about 700 workers at the company&rsquo;s six Illinois generators.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;There just aren&rsquo;t enough jobs,&rdquo; said Doug Bedinger, a Local 15 business representative for the workers. &ldquo;There will be hardship.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Midwest Generation President Douglas McFarlan said roughly 100 union members are leaving voluntarily while another 50 get laid off.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>McFarlan, meanwhile, said the company is trying to sell the Chicago sites. The timing of environmental remediation &ldquo;depends on the interests&rdquo; of the buyers, he said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s part of the sales process,&rdquo; McFarlan said, adding that a school might have different cleanup needs than a warehouse.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The closings resulted partly from federal clean-air rules requiring Midwest Generation to retrofit its plants. McFarlan said a bigger factor was the rise of natural gas production, which has put downward pressure on energy prices. &ldquo;We just can&rsquo;t run profitably,&rdquo; he said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Fri, 31 Aug 2012 18:54:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/activists-rejoice-coal-fired-plants-shut-down-102129