Tag Archives: Chicago

A Brighter Future for Chicago and Illinois Waterways

chicagor1-19-17Today Sierra Club and partners celebrate a milestone agreement with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) to address nutrient pollution impacts in Chicago’s rivers and downstream waters. With guidance from representatives of the environmental groups and the Illinois EPA, MWRD will develop a plan over the next seven years designed to address excessive plant and algae growth in Chicago Area waterways.

Too many nutrients in our waterways, especially phosphorus from wastewater discharges and combined sewer overflows, fuel the overgrowth of aquatic plants and algae that in turn suck needed oxygen out of the waters. Chicago’s waterways have seen a remarkable recovery in diversity of fish and other aquatic life as water quality has improved in recent years, but further recovery is hampered by excessive plant/algae growth.


Algae and plants in the North Shore Channel

 As a backstop to the to-be-developed plan, MWRD has agreed to further cut phosphorus discharges from its three large Chicago wastewater treatment plants to 0.5 mg/L by 2030, if a more stringent limit is not developed by then. MWRD will also study what it will take to reduce its phosphorus discharges to the even lower levels (as low as 0.1 mg/L) that some plants elsewhere in the nation are already meeting.  MWRD has already demonstrated its ability to find innovative ways to pull phosphorus out of its wastewater and has created a marketable fertilizer product with the addition last year of the world’s largest nutrient recovery system at its Stickney plant.


Algae in the Illinois River

Understanding the impacts of nutrients on algae and plant growth and oxygen levels in our waterways requires good data. To that end, MWRD has also agreed to sponsor a water quality monitoring station on the Des Plaines River in Joliet for the next four years. It will continuously measure levels of nitrates, phosphorus, oxygen, and chlorophyll along with other basic parameters. At the same time, Illinois EPA will monitor chlorophyll and oxygen levels and basic parameters downstream in the Marseilles, Starved Rock and Peoria pools on the Illinois River. If, as we expect, it is found that serious problems are being caused by phosphorus in the lower Des Plaines and Illinois rivers, a watershed committee will be formed to address those problems.

Just 10 years ago, Chicago’s rivers were largely treated as a watery sacrifice zone. We didn’t require these waterways to meet the levels of cleanliness we set for other waters in the state. MWRD did not disinfect its wastewater, despite the growing number of people out paddling and rowing. The effort to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs) was uncertain, with completion of the Deep Tunnel project to capture and treat CSOs long-delayed and not mandated. Now MWRD disinfects its wastewater at all but the Stickney plant (we hope that is to come in the near future). They are busy working on green infrastructure
projects— such as the
Space to Grow program that converts paved schoolyards into beautiful playgrounds and gardens that also soak up rain and snow. They completed the Thornton reservoir in 2015 which can store 7.9 billion gallons. Both green and gray infrastructure projects are needed measures to reduce CSOs.


Chapter Director Jack Darin addressing the MWRD Commissioners on partnering to implement the agreement.

It has never been more important that local governments and states show leadership in protecting our waters and investing in clean water infrastructure.  With this agreement, MWRD is setting an example of that leadership and we are excited to partner with them on this work in the years to come.

With progress being made on disinfection and CSOs, this agreement to address nutrient pollution is the third critical initiative needed for a brighter future for Chicago’s waterways. As we modernize our area’s water infrastructure, we also create good jobs, boosting our local economy along with the cleaner rivers that will also draw people and businesses. Today’s announcement sets the stage for Chicago’s rivers to truly become Chicago’s second great waterfront, where people will increasingly want to work and play.

See our joint statement with MWRD on this step forward for clean water.

See our press release on this agreement which settles two Clean Water Act legal cases we brought with our environmental partners to address MWRD’s phosphorus pollution.

Read NRDC’s blog if you’d like more detail on the history of the legal cases and the elements of this historic agreement.


On Chicago’s Ballot Tuesday: A Clean Energy Future

When Chicagoans go to the polls Tuesday, they’ll have a chance to decide whether the Windy City moves beyond coal to clean energy in a way that lowers electric bills and creates jobs.   And no, I’m not talking about the clear choice in the presidential race for all who want to move in that direction.

A referendum on Chicago’s ballot will ask voters if they want to pool their buying power to get a better deal on electricity.   A better deal will surely mean lower monthly bills, but by choosing clean, renewable energy to replace dirty coal, Chicagoans can ensure that those lower monthly payments are supporting the jobs of the future and reducing the air pollution that threatens our health.

Choosing a cleaner, different supplier won’t change how the power gets to your home.   The power will still get to you over ComEd’s lines, and your monthly bill will still come from ComEd.   What could change is where the power comes from, and that is where the exciting potential to grow the green economy lies.   Chicago could choose to eliminate coal from its power supply, which currently makes up 43% of Illinois’ electricity.   If Chicago replaced coal with cleaner sources, the reduction in air pollution would be the same as taking 600,000 cars off the road – all while paying less.

Chicago can also choose to show the leadership lacking in the current Congress, and support local employers who are trying to build the clean energy industry here.   While Republicans in Congress are letting the clock run out on one of the key drivers of growth in the wind power industry, Chicago can step up and support an industry that has created over 19,000 jobs in Illinois over the last five years.  A new power supplier could also offer new energy efficiency tools to lower bills even further, and potentially support Chicago’s efforts to install more solar on city rooftops.

“Voting yes on this referendum question will allow my administration to explore the potential for municipal aggregation to deliver savings for Chicago residents and small businesses through an open and competitive bidding process. As part of this competitive bidding process, we will also ask for suppliers to show us how they can deliver cleaner energy to Chicago customers, keeping Chicago on track towards becoming the greenest city in the world. This will result in a win for homeowners, a win for small businesses, and a win for clean energy.” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

In less than two years as Mayor, Rahm Emanuel has taken big steps to move Chicago to clean, prosperous energy future.   Working with community groups, he closed Chicago’s two dirty coal plants.   He’s cutting costs by retrofitting buildings to reduce energy waste.    He’s opening doors to new business by streamlining permitting for solar panels on Chicago rooftops.

If Chicagoans vote Tuesday to pool their buying power, 1.1 million ComEd customers will be able to build on these accomplishments by speaking with one voice – a clear call for a cleaner energy future.

Let’s flip the switch – vote yes on community choice aggregation for Chicago.

Emanuel Delivers on Promise of Clean Energy For Chicago

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has taken two more big steps toward a clean energy future for Chicago. While many leaders talk about the urgency of transitioning to clean energy, Emanuel is acting, and making major changes that will deliver cleaner air and new jobs for Chicago in the near future.

First, Emanuel made a major break with the dirty energy of the past when he announced the closure of Chicago’s two coal-fired power plants, which operate without scrubbers in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods. Residents in neighborhoods at the base of the smokestacks have for years sought to have the plants cleaned up or shut down, but made no progress under Mayor Richard Daley. Despite support from across the city for action against these health threats, Daley never showed interest in solving the problem, and an ordinance that would have required cleanup languished in the the City Council he controlled. Daley did a great deal to make Chicago cleaner and greener, but this is one problem he never took on in his quest to become the greenest city in America.
That all changed with the arrival of Emanuel. Emanuel talked during his campaign about the need to clean or close the coal plants, and upon taking office, set about to do just that. While support grew in the Council for a proposal by Ald. Joe Moore and Ald. Danny Solis to force pollution controls, Emanuel called in the owners of the plants and made it clear that the days of dirty coal in Chicago were numbered. He worked with the community, health, environmental, and labor organizations in the Chicago Clean Power Coalition to set a timetable and conditions for closing the plants, and on February 29th, sealed the deal. Midwest Generation’s Fisk plant, located across from Dvorak Park in Pilsen, will close by the end of this year, and their Crawford plant, in Little Village, will close no later than the end of 2014.

Moving beyond coal is a giant step for public health, but the transition to clean energy must be a two-step. Emanuel knows that clean energy solutions bring not only cleaner air, but also cost savings and the potential for thousands of new jobs. Most would agree with those goals, but current market barriers and economic problems have slowed the development of these technologies of the future. But how can we invest in the future when private capital is restricted by tight credit markets, and public dollars are scarce?


Emanuel seems to have devised a brilliant solution with the Chicago Infrastructure Trust. The Trust, which he launched with former President Clinton in Chicago March 1st, would leverage investment from participating lenders and investors in energy efficiency projects in Chicago. The investors would be paid a return based on the energy savings the public buildings will realize when retrofits are made. Emanuel plans to raise $200 million this way to retrofit public buildings in Chicago. Saving energy will create at least 2000 jobs doing the retrofits, and save an estimated $20 million on government energy bills per year.

The transition from coal to clean energy can be slow when powerful interests fight to protect the status quo. Unfortunately, that’s the role being played currently by the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives. However, this week in Chicago two great leaps forward by Mayor Emanuel expedited the day when residents will be free of dirty coal power, and benefiting from the smart choices that will take its place.

In helping to announce the new energy efficiency spending, Clinton talked about Emanuel’s penchant for action over words:

“He was always concerned about how you can take an idea that was new and actually make it work. Talk is cheap in politics and business and life. Anybody can say anything. It’s quite another thing to turn your good intentions into real changes.”

These are real changes indeed, and they are real good for Chicago.

Chicagoans Urge Mayor Emanuel To Protect Public Health

Rev. Thomas R. Gaulke, Pastor at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity in Bridgeport, speaks on the importance of retiring two of Chicago's dirty coal plants: Fisk and Crawford

Supporters of the Clean Power Coalition delivered an eight-foot tall board to Mayor Emmanuel’s office displaying over 800 Chicagoans demanding their right to breathe cleaner air.  Local community justice members, parents, environmentalists and public health experts urged the Mayor to set retirement dates for Chicago’s two dirtiest coal plants,

Fisk and Crawford, by the end of 2011.

Fisk and Crawford are two of the dirtiest coal plants in the country located in a dense urban area. Studies have shown that these two coal plants are linked to asthma attacks among children, heart attacks, hospitalizations and early deaths. Chicago Clean Power Coalition members, including Sierra Club, have been mobilizing in their communities to shutter the pollution from both Fisk and Crawford and to fight for clean air solutions.

During the petition delivery event, Rev. Thomas R. Gaulke, Pastor at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity in Bridgeport and representatives from P.E.R.R.O. and Pilsen Alliance spoke on behalf of the community, urging Mayor Emanuel to announce retirement dates a top priority of his administration.

Clean Power Coalition supporters and organizers continue to bring light to a pollution crisis that results in 45,000 tons of pollution a year and in an eight year span has cost Chicagoans more than $1 billion in health care and environmental costs.  Join us and our community partners in moving Chicago beyond coal.