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Chicago Vows To Take On Dangerous Black Dust -- But There's A Catch

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PETCOKE
In this Oct. 25, 2013 photo, the Willis Tower in downtown Chicago provides a backdrop to a huge mound of petroleum coke, or pet coke, in the a residential area southeast part of the city. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Chicago appears set to take another big step in its crackdown against petroleum coke, or "petcoke," though it has thus far refused to ban the mostly-carbon black dust altogether.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday announced he and two Chicago aldermen -- Alds. John Pope (10th) and Ed Burke (14th) -- will soon introduce a new ordinance that would ban new petcoke facilities from opening in the city, as well as ban any further expansion of existing facilities that either "process store or handle the material," according to a City Hall press release.

"These efforts are a significant step to prevent dust from settling in residential areas. We will continue to work to regulate their operations to ensure our residents have the best possible quality of life," the mayor said in a statement.

The proposal will be introduced to the City Council on March 5.

Wednesday's announcement comes on the heels of Emanuel shutting down a proposal from Burke in December that would have banned petcoke facilities from the city, the Chicago Sun-Times notes.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Department of Public Health is also on the verge of finalizing additional regulations on petcoke facilities in the city, including a requirement that petcoke storage be completely enclosed, preventing the oil refining byproduct from polluting the air or water, according to the mayor's office.

The Sun-Times reports that the operations manager of KCBX, the city's largest petcoke facility, claims the regulations would force their facility to close. But community groups say the regulations contain too many loopholes and would still allow petcoke to pile up on the city's southeast side, the area of the city most affected by the black dust, Midwest Energy News previously reported. KCBX is a subsidiary of the Koch brothers-owned Koch Industries.

At the state level, emergency rules proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were rejected by a state panel last month. Al Jazeera reports the Illinois Pollution Control Board ruled unanimously that the governor had not shown proof of an imminent public health threat due to the petcoke.

Petcoke, comprised mainly of carbon and sulfur, is becoming an issue in the Midwest as the BP refinery in Whiting. Ind., has increased their output of the dust, leading to piles that form black clouds that blow into nearby residential areas.

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