Stark: Midwest Generation’s efforts not voluntary, or enough
By Carol Stark Guest Commentary October 18, 2012 9:00PM
An aerial photo of the Midwest Generation plant in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 20, 2012 10:39AM
In an Oct. 11 Letter to the Editor (“Midwest Generation defends its record”), the directors of Midwest Generation’s power plants in Joliet and Romeoville outlined the efforts the coal-fired plants have made in recent years to install air pollution controls that meet or exceed federal requirements.
Two words come to mind — not enough.
The directors say Midwest Generation installed in 2009 mercury emission controls well ahead of federal regulations and equipment to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions in 2011. But they don’t tell us why this was done. Was it out of the kindness of the company’s heart? Not hardly.
Those actions were taken because of a legal proceeding before the Illinois Pollution Control Board that resulted from years of pollution violations. Citizens Against Ruining the Environment (CARE) and other environmental watchdog groups presented the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency with documentation that led to the legal action.
It is not just environmentalists’ opinion that air pollution from Midwest Generation’s coal-fired plants have contributed to respiratory illnesses and deaths and astronomical medical costs. The Illinois attorney general’s office and the U.S. Justice Department have weighed in with similar concerns. The fact is that the Joliet and Romeoville plants remain among the biggest industrial sources of air pollution in the Chicago area.
And what about the sulfur dioxide emissions that create fine particulate matter that can be embedded in people’s lungs and creates asthma and other respiratory problems? The bill for related medical costs alone per year is staggering — an estimated $1.2 million per year for just the Waukegan, Joliet and Romeoville plants alone.
It should be emphasized that the Joliet plant still has greater sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions than did the company’s two Chicago plants combined, according to federal records. Midwest Generation closed those Chicago plants in August.
For more information, visit the Clean Air Task Force’s website (www. catf.us) and click on Find Your Risk from Power Plant Pollution to explore the page on Death & Disease from Power Plants.
I also take issue with the two plant directors scolding the newspaper for believing that pollution-control improvements at the two Will County plants have not been sufficient to protect public health and that such a stand is a disservice to the 500 or so men and women who work at the plants.
If anyone has done a disservice to the employees and people living in Will County I would say it is Edison International, the parent company of Midwest Generation. I believe Edison’s lack of vision regarding alternative clean energy sources and training of their employees is a part of that disservice.
It is Midwest Generation’s decision whether to invest in more required pollution controls at its Joliet and Romeoville plants or to close them, as it did the Chicago plants.
Workers should look to the company for answers about their futures. But the company has yet to provide such answers, creating uncertainty for the workers and resulting in continued pressure from CARE and other environmental groups that are concerned about the air quality for Will County residents.
Another major concern for residents who have private wells is the coal ash ponds at four Midwest Generation plants — the two in Will County and others in Waukegan and downstate Pekin. Coal ash is the waste produced by burning coal.
On Oct. 3, CARE, the Environmental Integrity Project and the Environmental Law & Policy Center filed a complaint with the Illinois Pollution Control Board, alleging that Midwest Generation is violating Illinois’ solid waste and groundwater laws at the four sites and allowing contaminants to leak into groundwater.
So those economic benefits and good jobs mentioned by the plant directors in their letter have been trumped by serious health concerns, high medical costs, deaths and legal actions. Not a track record that Edison or Midwest Generation should be proud of!
Carol Stark is a Lockport resident and a director of Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, an environmental watchdog group.