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Jeff Biggers

Jeff Biggers

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Will Chicago Aldermen Make Clean Energy History or Disappear Into Big Coal's Shadow Tomorrow?

Posted: 04/20/11 03:05 PM ET

UPDATE: 11am EST: As part of a nationwide day of direct action, six activists with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Rising Tide North America, Rainforest Action Network and the Backbone Campaign were arrested for unfurling a banner -- "Close Chicago's Toxic Coal Plants" -- at the Crawford coal plant this morning.

Loaded with over 130 cars of Wyoming coal en route to Chicago's decrepit coal-fired plants, last week's fatal coal train wreck in Iowa was a tragic reminder of the stunning human and environmental cost of coal burning in the Windy City.

That could all change on Thursday, April 21st.

In a truly historic moment for Chicago, in the 11th hour of Mayor Daley's administration, a joint City Council Committee on Energy, Environmental Protection and Public Utilities will finally consider the landmark Clean Power Ordinance, which would dramatically curtail particulate matter and carbon dioxide emissions from the Southwest Side's costly and deadly Model-T-era coal-fired power plants.

The catch: will there be enough time and political will for Mayor Daley to call for a City Council vote before he leaves office on May 4th?

In truth, the votes are in the hopper: led by 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, Clean Power Chicago organizers recently announced that 26 co-sponsors have signed on to the ordinance, among other aldermen pledges to vote in favor.

"The people of Chicago want the Clean Power Ordinance to pass," says Edyta Sitko of Greenpeace Chicago. "Delaying or obstructing a vote will only lead to more unnecessary illness and death."

A declared priority of broad-based Chicago coalition and national environmental and citizens groups, the Clean Power Ordinance has attracted attention across the country. In a letter to Mayor Daley last week, climate scientist James Hansen called on Chicago to set the bar for the rest of the nation:

Mayor Daley -- you and your City Council have a fleeting opportunity to instigate fundamental change that can point the way for other local and state governmental jurisdictions. I appeal to you to leave a legacy that you can be proud of. Lead the nation by adopting the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance. Show the rest of the world that Chicago is the city that works -- and is not bogged down by politics that prevent life-giving change. In so doing, you and the Chicago City Council will join worldwide efforts to preserve this world for our families and future generations.

"The huge public health and environmental benefits of the Clean Power Ordinance could be Mayor Daley's legacy," says Jerry Mead-Lucero of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO). "All we need is a vote, but time is running out."

According to numerous studies, the two coal-fired plants in Chicago contribute to lung cancer, heart attacks, premature deaths, acute and chronic bronchitis, emergency room visits, record asthma rates and other respiratory illnesses, and cost the city an estimated $127 million annually in damages.

While the growing movement for a Clean Power Chicago sweeps across the city, including Ordinance co-sponsorship by Alderman Danny Solis who represents residents in the deadly Fisk power plant 25th ward, clean energy advocates are calling on local residents to attend the hearing, or if unable to join a creative Twitter campaign to make sure their City Council members don't disappear in the coal-fired shadows.

Where's My Walderman?

Launched by the Eco-Justice Collaborative and the Chicago Clean Power Coalition as an "attempt to open the lid on the workings of the Joint Committee hearing and shine a "virtual" light on the operations that seemly work only with the Mayor's permission," WHERE'S MY WALDERMAN? will be a live website, Facebook and Twitter campaign to monitor where the committee aldermen stand on the issue of protecting the health of Chicagoans from harmful air emissions, and track where the aldermen are on the day of a hearing. The campaign is asking Chicagoans to "tweet about the positions and whereabouts of committee members," and either praise their support and attendance or hound them for being missing-in-action. (As part of the campaign, the hashtag '#chicoal' will be at the end of each message, which will direct messages to the website. They'll also post a second hashtag to use for each alderman on the day of the hearing.)

"We are grateful to the co-sponsoring Aldermen who value the good health of their constituents and protecting the environment," said Lan Richart of the Eco-Justice Collaborative, a member of the coalition that includes over 56 local business, health, labor, environmental and community organizations. "We now look forward to the joint committee hearing and a vote in the full City Council. The health of millions of Chicagoans and future generations depends on it."