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Clean Power Ordinance: Lengthy Hearing, No Vote On Coal Plant Regulation

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An ambitious ordinance that would regulate Chicago's two pollution-belching coal plants underwent six hours of City Council hearings Thursday, as possible job losses and consumer prices were weighed against long-term health impacts in the city's neighborhoods.

But the hearings were undercut almost before they began, as a veteran alderman announced that it would not see a vote.

“Because this issue is so complicated it requires much more scrutiny and investigation,” Ald. Virginia Rugai said to her fellow City Council members and the hundreds of citizens assembled to support or oppose the ordinance, according to the Chicago Tribune.

That delay means the ordinance will fall to mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel and the new City Council, a 50-member body that will include fifteen freshmen after the inauguration in May.

Still, the hearings went on. Opponents of the measure included Midwest Generation, the company that operates the Crawford and Fisk coal-fired plants. It brought many employees to the hearing, who carried placards saying "Save Our Jobs."

A spokesman for the company, Doug McFarlan, told the committee that the ordinance was a veiled attempt to shut down Fisk and Crawford, under the guise of regulating their emissions. “It’s a shut down ordinance – you can’t comply with those standards with existing technology,” McFarlan said, according to the Chicago News Cooperative.

And some aldermen were persuaded by the argument. "Legislating these good things, we have to take into consideration the economy," said Ald. Leslie Hairston, as reported by fellow alderman Joe Moreno, a proponent of the ordinance who live-tweeted the proceedings.

Several environmentalists who testified, however, argued that Chicago wouldn't miss much if the plants closed. "Wyoming gets the coal burning profit. California gets the parent company profit. Chicago gets one thing; the pollution," said Faith Bugel of the Environmental Law and Policy center, again according to Moreno.

And testimony revealed that only "a little over a dozen" of the 185 workers at both plants are from Chicago. This despite the over 300 Midwest Gen workers present at the meeting, who were apparently compensated for coming, leading some environmentalists to call shenanigans.

Congressman Bobby Rush, whose district covers the areas around the Crawford and Fisk plants, was also present. According to Medill Reports, Rush said his constituents found soot on their patio furniture from the plants, and experienced unusually high levels of asthma.

After an exhaustive -- and exhausting -- six hours, the aldermen, workers, protesters and activists left City Hall, knowing full well that they'd have to come back before long to fight the battle before the next Council.