How I Helped Fight The Coal Plants — And Helped Us Win
Like a lot of people in Bridgeport and Pilsen, my family has struggled with respiratory problems tied to the nearby Crawford coal plant. In 2010 I read a report detailing the plant’s terrible health costs to residents, including premature deaths, asthma episodes and heart attacks every year. Beyond that, I learned the dollar costs were more than $120 million to the people in the community.
I knew this situation was wrong. I decided to get involved to change it.
That was the year I and a core group of community leaders co-founded a group called the Bridgeport Alliance and steered it to join the city-wide and Pilsen-centered efforts to end the coal plants’ costs to the community.
I had first gotten involved in the specific coal plant issue after attending Green party community meetings where I learned that Pilsen-based PERRO had been working on closing the plants for years. We first made contacts with Dorian Breuer from PERRO and then later Christine Nannicielli and her staff at Sierra Club in 2011.
I own a business, so I’m always mindful of what works for commerce. But I learned these plants were open for one reason: to sell power outside of Illinois and to contribute to an Enron-style national market for electricity. We know how Enron ended up. There was no way it was right to pay for that kind of business with the health and lives of our people.
That year, I became part of a big effort. My allies and I worked on volunteer organization, educating residents, raising awareness, collecting signatures on South Halsted, collecting photo petitions and enlisting the support of 11th Ward businesses. We were on the streets, engaging our neighbors. Our work, organized and presented as the Clean Power Coalition, culminated in a City Hall action Dec 2, 2011.
Along with the Coalition’s city-wide pressure, which included the Bridgeport Alliance, I personally asked 11th Ward Alderman Jim Balcer to sign on as a co-sponsor of the City Council Clean Power Ordinance, which was introduced in April 2010.
The Old-Boy Leadership: No-Go and No-Show
Alderman Balcer never signed on, and in fact sold out the people of the 11th Ward by delaying the vote on the Council floor twice, putting it off until after the end of the Daley administration.
Also, my election opponent Patrick Daley Thompson, at that time an executive of the South Loop Chamber of Commerce, was a no-show on the coal plants. Patrick made no appearance nor statement about the health hazards faced by the people of the 11th Ward during the entire fight. If he’s ever said anything about people in our community dropping dead thanks to coal plant pollution, I’ve never heard it.
No thanks to Thompson’s absence or Balcer’s interference, it was ultimately the threat of the City Council vote — that threat created by community pressure city-wide through our Clean Power Coalition — that eventually ended the pollution in 2012 and improved the air quality in our community tooday.
Today, as President of the Palmisano Park Advisory Council, it’s one of my greatest joys to climb the hill and look north to the now-smokeless smokestacks, take a deep breath, and remember what can happen when people get together to stop footing the bill for an operation that doesn’t even serve them.
What can happen?
We can win.
(Photo credit: ELPC.org)