Little Village environmental group ties clean air, transit to Olympics

An environmental group is demanding that the city close two South Side coal-burning power plants or abandon its bid for the 2016 summer Olympics because of pollution concerns.

"No transit, no clean air, no Olympics!" shouted members of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) at a press conference yesterday outside Mayor Richard M. Daley's office in City Hall.

"As the city unveils its plans for the Olympics, and makes changes to meet the International Olympic Committee comments, we remind the mayor that we still face air pollution, employment and transit problems that unless fixed, will hurt our bid," says Kim Wasserman Nieto, a coordinator for the non-profit organization.

The organization is calling on Daley to close the Fisk Generating Station, at 1111 W. Cermak in Pilsen and the Crawford Generating Station at 3501 S. Pulaski in Little Village. Both are owned by Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of the California-based company Edison International.

LVEJO members want the plants replaced with renewable energy job training centers and alternative energy producers more in line with Chicago's turn toward a green economy.

Sixty percent of the proposed venues for the Olympics for 2016 would be near or close to a 10-mile radius of the two existing polluting coal power plants in Chicago, says LVEJO clean air organizer Samuel Villasenor.

The coal-fired plants emit pollutants such as mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, as well as particulates, which have been linked to asthma attacks and emphysema.

Because of their age, the Fisk and Crawford plants are exempt from federal regulations that require modern pollution control devices.

In 2001 a Harvard School of Public Health study linked the plants' air pollution to 40 premature deaths per year, 2,800 asthma attacks and 500 emergency room visits annually.

Midwest Generation reached an agreement with Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2006 on a long-range plan that would reduce most kinds of emissions at its plants by 2018.

This isn't stopping the LVEJO's clean air campaign, however.

"This is way too far in the future for the health of the 95,000 people who now live in Little Village alone," says Nieto.

"For us to be known as the greenest city in the nation, we really want the clean air for everyone from the residents in Chicago to the visitors that will be visiting the Olympics and the athletes," says Villasenor.

Organizers say this issue is closely linked with improvements in public transit.

Michael Pitula, an organizer for LVEJO's public transit campaign, said that the International Olympic Committee had ranked Chicago five out of the seven cities contending for the games on the issue of transportation.

"There are people today who spend 4 hours a day to get to and from work," says Pitula. "What's it going to be like if we have an Olympics and steps are not taken ahead of time to fix our transit mess?"

Pitula called on Daley to lobby congress for federal transportation funds and to push for a progressive state capital bill that will prioritize public transit over highways.

According to organizers, the funds could be used to put clean-air buses on hundreds of new routes and to beef up existing rail, as well as to restore service on the 31st Street bus line, which Little Village residents see as crucial to their region.

"We feel that projects like this would truly benefit any event that comes to Chicago," says Pitula.

LVEJO members have requested a community meeting with the mayor prior to the Feb. 9 deadline, when the city must submit its final bid for the Olympic games to the International Olympic Committee.

Nieto says the organization would prefer be a partner with the mayor.

"If our mayor isn't willing to represent to represent the true people of Chicago then we will represent ourselves with the IOC and let them know that it's not as pretty a picture as he paints it to be," she added.


MARTIN BARRON, 08-29-2008

The Olympics seems like a great opportunity for Chicago to completely modernize its infrastructure (both in terms of energy and transportation). It seems like bringing this issues to the forefront now is a good idea, if Chicago is to have any hope of hosting the Olympics sucessfully.


FRANK EDWARDS, 08-29-2008

Maybe we should prioritize modernizing infrastructure for Chicagoans before any discussion about a massive investment in infrastructure specifically for the Olympics. 40 deaths a year is completely unacceptable.