The Fisk Generating Station in Pilsen

Clean Power Backers Waiting on Emanuel

Wed, 06-22-2011
By: Hunter Clauss

A City Council ordinance that could force Chicago’s two coal power
plants to shut down or convert to natural gas appeared to gain momentum
when a key alderman switched sides to support the measure.
Yet nearly two months later, the Clean Power Ordinance has yet to be
re-introduced and the firm that owns the plants has retained another
prominent lobbyist to campaign against it.

The ordinance’s backers say the delay is due in part to a new tactic: Winning mayoral approval.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley never took a public position on the
ordinance, which would place tighter controls on emissions from the Fisk
and Crawford generating stations in Pilsen and Little Village than
current state or federal regulations. Midwest Generation, which owns the
plants, has said the costs of complying with the proposed limits would
force it to close the plants.

“With the last mayor, we did not have much communication at all with
him,” said Christine Nannicelli, a field director for the Chicago
chapter of the Sierra Club, which is part of a coalition of community and environmental groups supporting the ordinance.

Nannicelli hopes the coalition will have better luck with Mayor Rahm
Emanuel, whose candidacy the Sierra Club endorsed. She said Emanuel
indicated a willingness to support the ordinance at his endorsement
session with the group during the campaign. But in a pre-election
questionnaire, Emanuel did not say if he supported the measure.

Emanuel remains publicly non-committal, according to a statement from spokeswoman Tarrah Cooper.

“Midwest Generation must clean up these two plants, either by
installing the necessary infrastructure to dramatically reduce the
pollution they emit, or by converting to natural gas or another clean
fuel,” Cooper said. “The Mayor will work closely with State and Federal
regulators and the City Council to ensure it happens.”

Ald. Joe Moore (49th Ward), who introduced the Clean Power Ordinance
last year, said Emanuel told him he supports the principles of the
ordinance but believes “there is a better way of achieving the same
goal.”

The measure has never been voted on by the council. One week before
the February election, Moore held an ad-hoc committee meeting in an
attempt to force the council to address the issue.

“[F]or 10 months now, the ‘powers-that-be’ in the Chicago City
Council have refused to set a hearing date,” Moore wrote in a February
newsletter to constituents. “And it’s quite clear where the Mayor stands
on this issue-if he had wanted the hearing, it would have happened. So
enough was enough.”

An apparent breakthrough came in March when Ald. Daniel Solis (25th),
who had previously dismissed the ordinance as “political
grandstanding,” switched sides.

Facing a runoff election against a rival who had made pollution from the Fisk plant a central campaign issue, Solis announced his support for the measure and said he planned to re-introduce it if he won re-election.

The ordinance finally received a council committee hearing on April 21, but it began with an announcement that a vote would not be taken.

Midwest Generation, meanwhile, has added to its team of lobbyists at City Hall.

City records
show the company hired veteran lobbyist Timothy Dart, the brother of
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. Dart’s clients include Wal-Mart and Aon.
He joined the company’s five other lobbyists: Myles Berman, Jay Doherty,
the president of the City Club of Chicago, Jeffrey Glass, Douglas
McFarlan and Charles Parnell.

Midwest Generation spokeswoman Susan Olavarria said the company has
adhered to an agreement with the Illinois Environmental Protection
Agency to cut emissions, and its lobbyists are charged with relaying
that to members of the council.

“Just about everyday we’re talking to somebody in city government about the improvements we’ve made,” Olavarria said.

The Sierra Club’s Nannicelli said the clean power coalition is also
trying to strategically navigate City Hall under the new administration.

“We want to make sure that this mayor really supports our objectives
and does not compromise any of the coalition’s values in addressing this
problem,” she said.

Jerry Mead-Lucero, a member of the coalition and an organizer for the
Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, said 32 aldermen
have indicated they would support the ordinance, enough to guarantee the
measure’s passage. But he said the coalition finds itself in a new
political environment since the election of Emanuel and 13 new aldermen.

“The game has changed somewhat,” Mead-Lucero said. “I think really
key to this is going to be this discussion with the mayor when we can
get it.”

Moore, who previously criticized Solis’ deliberate timetable for the
ordinance, said he is now content to follow the coalition’s lead.

“I’m more than happy to carry their banner, but nothing gets passed
in the City Council without either the mayor’s support or the support of
activists in the community out there banging the drums and getting my
colleagues to sign on board,” Moore said. “I’m keeping my powder dry
until the coalition decides what they want to do.”