The KCBX Terminals Co. storages sites for coal and petroleum coke, or "petcoke" near the Calumet River on Chicago's Southeast Side. Residents filed a class-action lawsuit against the company. | Provided photo
Updated: January 21, 2014 11:14AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday ruled out a ban on petcoke in favor of regulations that, a community leader warned, do not go far enough to contain the ugly byproduct of the oil refinery process coating Chicago’s Southeast Side.
Peggy Salazar, director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, questioned why Emanuel is giving petcoke storage companies as long as two years to enclose their large bulk material storage facilities.
Smaller storage facilities and deliveries would be required to install wind barriers, under the draft regulations.
“We don’t think it’s enough….Why would you allow something that is negative to the health of the community to be in existence for two years?” Salazar asked.
“That stuff arrives in rail cars [and] barges that are uncovered… And the wind still blows. Enclosures [are] not the total answer. We don’t think this stuff belongs in a community’s backyard….You can maybe put it somewhere else enclosed. But it shouldn’t be in peoples’ backyards.”
Emanuel declared his opposition to the Chicago ban on petcoke proposed by Ald. Edward Burke (14th) after joining Salazar and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on the Southeast Side to announce the new regulations and a companion agreed court order with the owner of one of three petcoke storage sites.
“A lot of people for years wanted to just ban the coal plants. It couldn’t be done. The companies would have looked at throwing it out. You would have spent a lot of money in the court. And it would not have succeeded,” the mayor said.
“We need a regulatory structure to protect communities. The idea that you can ban it, I’m not sure will do the protection that you need to do and immediately would be thrown out of court and we would be no closer” to helping anybody.
Madigan agreed with Emanuel that petcoke is a “national problem” that requires both federal and state solutions.
“We don’t want to see this problem simply move up and down the river and into a different community and having an impact on residents and children somewhere else in our state. If the city is going to put in place an ordinance, it’s imperative that we do this statewide,” she said.
Questions have been raised about whether City Hall was slow to respond to the mounting anger on a Southeast Side that’s been Chicago’s dumping ground for decades because of Emanuel’s decision to abolish the city’s Department of Environment shortly after taking office.
On Thursday, the mayor placed the blame on the shoulders of former Mayor Richard M. Daley — without uttering the name of his predecessor and political mentor.
“We hadn’t done anything as a city in the last nine years knowing full well this [Whiting] plant was being built. We’re catching up to what we should have done when Indiana took action,” he said.
“We were caught, as a city, allowing a company to take advantage of a regulatory loophole with our guard down flat-footed. And our neighborhoods and our children and our families were adversely effected.”
Salazar couldn’t agree more. She still has a bad taste in her mouth — literally — after living three blocks away from a coal and petcoke storage facility owned by KCBX that has since been moved further south.
“I used to get dust on a regular basis in the summer and the spring when the wind blows on my siding, on my lawn furniture and in my food if we were eating outdoors,” she said.