Thursday, July 14, 2011

Quinn not making friends in S.E. Chicago

I’m not as upset with Gov. Pat Quinn as many residents of the 10th Ward were on Wednesday, but only because his actions didn’t surprise me in the least.
QUINN: No friends on East Side!

I had myself braced mentally for the fact that Quinn eventually would find a reason to justify signing into law a measure allowing for a new plant in the East Side neighborhood that would convert coal to natural gas.

THE LOCALS OF neighborhoods such as South Chicago, Hegewisch and South Deering have been against this project since it was first proposed because they are convinced it will cause even more pollution to the part of Chicago that housed the steel mills and factories of old and still has a lot of the crud that those facilities left behind.

Heck, one of the reasons that it is difficult to talk about economic development and new construction in that part of the city is because anybody wanting to come in and build something there would have to deal with the expense of cleaning up old pollution.

Local residents don’t want anything that will create new pollution to pile up on top of the old pollution.

Now some people are going to claim that those residents are merely being overly sensitive. I have heard countless public relations people employed by Leucadia National Corp. – the company that wants to develop the new plant at 116th Street and Burley Avenue – who have told me that modern technology will keep pollution to a minimum.

THEY’LL ALSO ACCUSE the local activists of distorting detail, talking about coal plants with smokestacks as they existed decades ago. That seems to be the sense that Quinn is agreeing with when he ventured to the site of the proposed plant to sign the bill that alters Illinois law so that the plant would be legal.

Now I’m not about to try to refute anybody. I also have to admit to being of the 10th Ward by birth, with many relatives who still live in those neighborhoods where Indiana is that place just a few blocks to the east – the other side of State Line Road.

The old Republic Steel site back in 1951, which now is the vacant site that Leucadia would like to turn into their coal to natural gas plant. Photograph provided by Southeast Chicago Historical Museum.

In fact, I have an aunt (mi tia Charlene) who has circulated postcards that people could fill out and send to Quinn to express their opposition/outrage with the idea of a coal-to-natural gas plant being built anywhere near their homes, and her friends have been among those people who have picketed various places to express their disgust with the idea.

So maybe I’m biased. But I also can understand the local opposition to industrial-type development in the area. It reinforces the idea that the 10th Ward is the garbage can of Chicago – the place where all the high-pollution (but essential) activity can be placed so that it doesn’t taint the rest of Chicago.

EVEN WITH THOSE old factories being long-gone, the air in the 10th Ward still has Illinois’ highest levels of toxic heavy metals and sulfates – which isn’t good for the human body.

As much as the area would like to have something that creates 200 jobs that could be filled by local residents (many of whom could walk to work similar to how their grandfathers walked to the steel mills that used to exist in the area), the locals would just like to have something else come to the area.

Now I know Quinn previously vetoed a bill that would have approved the plant, which caused the General Assembly this spring to pass a new version – one that includes restrictions on utility rates that limit the amount of increases that people face as a result of the new plant.

It also imposes serious fines on Leucadia if pollution reaches the levels that neighborhood residents fear – up to $20 million if less than 85 percent of the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions are not properly captured and sequestered.

YET AFTER DECADES of pollution, I’m sure the idea that the company will have to pay millions of dollars in fines isn’t comforting to those who live in the 10th Ward, who would have to live with the residue.

But like I wrote earlier, I always figured that something eventually would be passed that Quinn would be willing to go along with. I have accepted that this will happen, even though I’m sure the most-intense of the activists are now banking their hopes on a legal fight that could still stop Leucadia from ever opening in the East Side.

Leucadia is trying to figure out how to get rid of the carbon dioxide emissions it does generate, and is looking for legal loopholes that could give them some permission to pollute the area a bit more – even though the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is opposed.

In fact, there’s really only one mystery to me about this. Why did Quinn sign the bill into law during ceremonies in Chicago?

FOR THERE ALSO are provisions that would allow for a similar plant to be built in Southern Illinois. He could have gone there and given approval and talked about the larger issue and still approved the plant.

My guess is that he would have faced a more sympathetic audience in Southern Illinois rather than Chicago’s East Side.


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