Two dozen health, faith, farm, and environmental advocates joined with us this week to urge the Illinois House to reject a proposal to force Illinois ratepayers to subsidize the coal plant proposed by the Tenaska corporation. Twenty-five organizations signed the letter to Illinois lawmakers, a sign of new and growing opposition due to concerns about pollution from Tenaska’s plant and its very high cost.
“Creating a new electric plant that requires us to mine and burn more Illinois coal in communities already suffering from the effects of mining, while it places a long-term surcharge on the electricity costs for low-income people is not only poor policy, it is unjust,” said Rev. Dr. Clare Butterfield, Executive Director, Faith in Place and the Illinois Interfaith Power & Light Campaign, among the faith leaders joining opposition to Tenaska’s legislation.
Tenaska’s coal plant would emit up to 10 billion pounds of air pollution per year, according to the Illinois EPA. Concerns about the lack of guaranteed controls for most of this pollution has led to staunch opposition from environmental advocates.
“This plant would be an epic mess, one of the top-10 worst greenhouse gas producers in Illinois, the day it opens,” said Henry Henderson, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Midwest Program. “It undercuts all of the climate gains that have been made in the state and helps worsen one of the most vexing problems we all face. For a plant that is unneeded, it represents an especially big price that everyone will have to pay both in their electric bill and the health of the planet.”
In addition to global warming pollution, Tenaska’s plant would also generate increases in emissions that contribute to smog and particulate pollution, which is drawing opposition from public health advocates.
“Illinois added more wind turbines last year than any other state, and they are now providing electric power we need without triggering the asthma attacks, hospitalizations and premature deaths that coal power plant emissions cause. There are cleaner healthier ways to make electricity that don’t put our health in jeopardy and we shouldn’t be forced to subsidize a dangerous source of power we don’t need,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.
Tenaska has tried to sell lawmakers on its proposal to raise rates on consumers and businesses as support for “clean” coal. However, organizations working to address the devastating impacts coal mining on Illinois waterways and farmland note that there is nothing “clean” about coal mining and waste disposal.
“Here we have a plant being touted as ‘clean coal’ with no one asking what ‘clean’ really means. Is the ‘clean’ part the millions of pounds of dangerous solid waste produced from mining and washing coal for the plant? Could ‘clean’ refer to the wastewater from the mine site and power-generating plant that will be dumped in the Sangamon River, a drinking water supply for downstream communities? Or is it the hundreds of acres of Illinois farmland and streams being destroyed for this industrial facility that make this project so ‘clean’? This is a filthy project at every step: from coal mining to washing to burning to waste disposal,” said Traci Barkley Water Resources Scientist, Prairie Rivers Network.
Others are concerned about the impact of Tenaska’s project on Illinois farmland, and favor programs to utilize farmland to grow Illinois’ economy, rather than mine and dump coal waste on it.
“Instead of raising our electric rates to subsidize coal mining that will destroy Illinois farmland and further destroy Illinois farming communities, legislators should be promoting our local food economy, ” said Debbie Hillman of the Evanston Food Council. “We can create self-sustaining jobs and businesses in rural, urban, and suburban communities across the state if we work with the land and the stewards of the land — Illinois farmers — to sustain ourselves.”
Senate Bill 678, which would force Illinois consumers and businesses to buy all of Tenaska’s output for thirty years at above-market rates, passed the Illinois Senate last fall. The Illinois House is expected to take up the legislation later this month.
“As a student and as a young Chicagoan, I believe that Tenaska’s proposed coal gasification plant overlooks civic responsibility and sets a negative precedent for future generations. The power from the proposed plant can be created in safer, healthier, and more responsible way, and those are the solutions students are eager to support,” said Alicia Klepfler, a student at the University of Chicago and member of its Climate Action Network.
The letter is available here, and was signed by the following organizations:
Active Transportation Alliance
Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues
Chicago Youth Climate Coalition
Citizens Against Longwall Mining
Citizens Against Ruining the Environment
Citizens’ Greener Evanston
Evanston Food Council
Faith in Place Highland Farmers Market
Incinerator-Free Lake County & Midwest Sustainability Group
League of Women Voters of Illinois
Little Village Environmental Justice Organization
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Prairie Rivers Network
Protestants for the Common Good
Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago
Southeast Environmental Task Force
Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL)
Students for Environmental Action at School of the Art Institute Chicago
Truck Farm Chicago
University of Chicago Climate Action Network