Polluting Power Plant in Chicago Latino Neighborhood to Close

A major Midwestern power company agreed to close two aging, coal-fired power plants that activists say pollute the air of one of Chicago’s main Latino neighborhoods.

Midwest Generation LLC agreed to close its Fisk and Crawford plants in Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, both home to large Latino populations, on the city's Southwest Side. The plants have been a point of contention between the company and environmentalists, who say that the facilities create breathing problems for residents of the neighborhoods.

"Midwest Generation has made an important and appropriate decision today, which will be good for the company, the city, and the residents of Chicago," said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "I committed during the campaign to work with all parties to address community concerns about the plants, and today’s announcement puts us on a more sustainable path for these neighborhoods.

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Last year, eight Greenpeace activists climbed a smokestack in the Fisk neighborhood to protest the facilities and demand their closure. Greenpeace demanded the plants be closed "to clean the air and halt the effects of global warming," said Kelly Mitchell, one of the people who climbed the smokestack at Fisk, according to EFE.

Greenpeace says the plant has contributed to the high levels of illness registered in the area, from chronic bronchitis and asthma to lung cancer and heart attacks. EFE reported that the two plants contaminated the air to the same degree as the carbon dioxide emissions from two-thirds of all the means of transportation in Chicago.

"This is a historic victory for the people of Chicago," Mitchell told Fox News Latino. "Our hope is that other communities across the country will find some inspiration to stand up to corporate polluters."

Support for closing the two plants came not only from environmental groups, but also from Chicago’s politicians. The Chicago City Council discussed an ordinance for clean energy generation that would force Fisk and Crawford to substitute natural gas for coal and Mayor Emanuel pledged to close the plants during his campaign last year.

Emanuel negotiated a deal last year in which Midwest Generation would close the two city plants in return for a long-term state power-purchase contract with a large but financially struggling wind farm the company owns in western Illinois, but the deal was eventually cut down by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The city ordinance was also dropped following the announcement of the closing and environmental groups agreed to let go of a federal lawsuit aimed a boarding up the facilities.

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"Today’s victory demonstrates that people shouldn’t have to tolerate toxic polluters in their backyard," said Rosalie Mancera of Pilsen Alliance in a press release. "By working with our neighbors and elected officials, Chicagoans have finally won the right to breathe clean air."

Greenpeace said that the Fisk plant will close its doors in December with the Crawford facility following in 2014. This accelerates a deal already in place for the closures, as Fisk's deadline was 2015 and Crawford's was 2017 and 2018 for each of its two individual plants.

Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood is a Mexican stronghold in the city, with large Mexican Independence Day parade every September. Around 63 percent of the area’s population identifies as Hispanic, according to Census data.

"Fisk and Crawford have been polluting Chicago neighborhoods for over 100 years," said Jerry Mead-Lucero of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO). "Our work is not over when the plants close. Midwest Generation and the City of Chicago must continue working to ensure these sites are properly cleaned up and returned to safe, productive use for our communities."

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