01/10/2011 07:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Southwest Side Coal Plants: Clean Them Up or Shut Them Down

Chicago is ripe for a citywide clean power agenda. I, as mayor, pledge to make it happen.

In my last post, I discussed Chicago's parking meter contract and how I will work towards renegotiating it. Along with our city's parking and politics, I will lead efforts to clean up the pollution responsible for thousands of asthma attacks, hundreds of ER visits, and dozens of deaths.

Residents on Chicago's Southwest Side and environmental activists around the city have been organizing for years for more stringent carbon emissions controls at two coal-burning power plants, the Fisk station in Pilsen and the Crawford station in Little Village. The 50-year-old smokestacks annually emit hundreds of thousands of pounds of particulate matter, or soot, into the air, far surpassing the EPA standard.

You can wipe your fingertip across a windowsill and see the evidence for yourself.

You can also talk to residents whose asthma has worsened, who have contracted bronchitis, and who want to see the plants cleaned up or shut down.

I stand with the residents and organizations who fight against Midwest Generation, the operator of the plants, and against the anemic pace of Chicago's City Council on finding a solution. Alderman Joe Moore introduced in April 2010 an ordinance to drastically reduce the plants' carbon emissions, but the City Council has not scheduled any hearings on the issue.

According to a 2010 report by Chicago's Environmental Law and Policy Center, the health- and environmental-related damages from these coal plants cost the public in excess of $127 million (in 2010 dollars) per year. These costs stem primarily from harm to people's health in and around Chicago, up to 200 miles from the plants.

I support the Clean Power Ordinance. The Fisk and Crawford plants, under a four-year timetable, can convert to natural gas emissions and remain open. If Midwest Generation refuses to clean up its plants, then it should shut them down.

We have an opportunity to not only clean up our air but to set an example for cities across the country: Our public health deserves a fight, and I, as mayor, will lead the charge.