04/27/2011 04:08 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2011

Chicago's South Loop Coal Plant Proposal Purportedly By Midwest Generation Appears To Be A Prank

A number of residents in Chicago's South Loop came home to disturbing letters on their doorsteps in recent days.

The letters, on Midwest Generation stationery, informed residents that the power company was planning to build a new coal-fired plant in the South Loop / Printer's Row area, on a vacant lot at the corner of Harrison and Wells Streets.

It wasn't long before residents mobilized. A Yelp forum sprang up railing against the prospect of coal pollution in the neighborhood. The neighborhood's blog of record, Sloopin, ran a piece with excerpts from the letter and images of a pamphlet that had apparently been sent around as well. And a newly-founded organization, Citizens United Against Loop Coal, planned a rally for Wednesday afternoon to protest the new plant.

Trouble is, the proposal appears to be an elaborate hoax.

Alderman Bob Fioretti, in whose ward the plant would fall, told WBEZ there are no plans for such a project, and a spokesman for the company sounded similarly surprised. “I have no idea what they’re talking about,” Midwest Generation spokesman Charley Parnell told the station.

It's not yet known who was responsible for the hoax, which revealed itself only subtly, with the occasional sarcastic line ("Our South Loop plant will feature a green roof," the pamphlet reads, above a picture of a nuclear cooling tower). But the ploy is almost certainly related to the debate over the Clean Power Ordinance currently before the City Council.

That ordinance would impose heavy regulations on the city's two existing coal-fired plants, Fisk and Crawford, both of which are operated by Midwest Generation. The plants currently get limited regulation, as they were grandfathered in under the federal Clean Air Act; the pollution they emit has led to spiking asthma rates and hundreds of premature deaths in the communities where they are located.

MG has been fighting the ordinance tooth-and-nail, while environmental activists have been fighting for it with equal vigor. The current City Council essentially punted on the measure last week after a lengthy and often-heated hearing.