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Chicago Residents Exhibit on Human Costs of Coal

Insights + Opinion
Chicago Residents Exhibit on Human Costs of Coal

Jeff Biggers

On the heels of a harrowing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lead warning and a mounting health care crisis, hundreds of affected Chicago residents unveiled an urgent reminder on Dec. 2 to Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel to commit to a timeline for the retirement of the city's two notoriously decrepit and toxic Model-T-era coal-fired plants.

Calling for an end to the deadly and costly pollution from California-based Edison International's Fisk and Crawford plants on the west side of Chicago, neighborhood families and a broad alliance of supporters with the Chicago Clean Power Coalition posted photos of their affected children, elderly and businesses on a 8-foot-tall exhibit at City Hall.

"Right now, residents of Bridgeport, Little Village and Pilsen are unsafe. They are lacking sanctuary, even inside our churches we are breathing toxic air. Residents of our neighborhoods are suffering so that Edison International can make a profit. That isn't right," said Rev. Thomas R. Gaulke, Pastor at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity in Bridgeport. "We will fight to shut down both Fisk and Crawford coal-fired power plants until our neighbors are truly free of the emissions from the plants. We hope our Mayor will make the closing of these plants his priority. It is definitely ours."

A recent poll showed that Chicago residents overwhelmingly support a move to clamp down on coal-fired plant pollution. Noting that "state and federal laws addressing air pollution from these plants are inadequate to address this local pollution with local impacts," 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore and 25th Alderman Danny Solis have sponsored the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance.

"Pilsen has a lead emergency and can't wait," Pilsen resident Ruben Franco said. "We hope the mayor flexes his muscles and helps us solve the crisis."

Since Mayor Rahm Emanuel's criticism of the two coal-fired plants this summer, hundreds of children and untold numbers of adults have continued to be struck by asthma and heart-related problems connected to the Fisk and Crawford coal-fired plants in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods. Built before the invention of the Model T and operating on equipment from the Eisenhower era, the coal-fired plants have also cost the city an estimated $1 billion in health and environmental damages over the last decade, according to a study last year by the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

"Pilsen is a vibrant, working class, immigrant community, but we are plagued by the damaging health effects of the Fisk coal plant. It is time for the plant to go," said Pilsen resident Jerry Mead-Lucero.

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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