Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My head’s spinning silly!

I don't think I'll ever be able to walk by the Thompson Center building without remembering the day that a giant, inflatable coal plant was erected out front. Photograph by Gregory Tejeda

If you’d have asked me last week what the funk was that was clinging to my physical being, I’d have said “sweat” from all the heat we got hit with. I was dripping, and I’m sure I didn’t smell all that pleasant – no matter how many times a day I showered.

But this week, the funk that is all about me is nothing more than pure political “spin.”

FOR IN THE past couple of days, I did some work for one of the suburban daily newspapers in covering a pair of protest rallies outside the Thompson Center state government building related to the same issue.

Only different sides. And everybody was pushing their party line off onto me, while also making sure to be on hand to rebut anything the other side might have to say.

At stake in this issue is Illinois Senate Bill 3766 – which was approved this spring by the General Assembly. It is related to the proposed construction of a plant that uses the gasification process to convert Southern Illinois coal into a synthetic natural gas that can be used for heating.

One side (the batch that came on Monday) wants the project because it would be a significant construction project that eventually would be an operating business employing hundreds of people in and around the 10th Ward – specifically the one-time site of Republic Steel that now sits vacant in the East Side neighborhood.

PICTURE THE SIGHT of 100 or so construction workers, trying to do their best to be an intimidating presence, and literally coming out and saying to Gov. Quinn, “our work boots turned out the vote for you. You owe us.”

One of the Republic Steel remnants that could someday be cleared away for a plant turning coal to natural gas. Photograph by Gregory Tejeda

The other side (the ones on hand Tuesday) hate the project because they fear emissions will further pollute the air (which already has a certain funk you just don’t notice anywhere else in Chicago – the result of more than a century of industry being present in the area).

I’m not about to weigh in on this issue, because personally I can see both points. It’s hard to argue against somebody talking of creating hundreds of jobs (thousands, if you count the temporary construction ones) at a time when there are people desperate for employment of any type.

But I also realize why 10th Warders are suspicious of anything that has potential to pollute – even though the plant’s backers claim that modern technology would make it as safe an environment to work in as Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

I DON’T KNOW if I buy that line; although I do believe that technology has reduced the potential for emissions into the air.

Then again, seeing the environmental activists set up a giant inflatable coal plant complete with smokestacks (which the plant backers insist will not exist in reality) being set up just about 100 feet from that “Standing Beast” sculpture that sits in front of the Thompson Center is a sight I doubt I ever will forget.

It is burned into my brain (and preserved on this weblog, for however long it may last)! Along with some of the jokes I heard about how they could have used the structure as a “bouncy house” and let kids play in it while the protests are staged.

Just where does one go to get a giant inflatable coal plant? It doesn’t sound like an item stocked regularly at the local Party City store!

JUST AS I didn’t come down on one side or the other on this issue, I’m going to be further wishy-washy and refuse to predict how I think Quinn will react on this measure.
QUINN: Soon to be somebody's enemy

Although I thought it interesting that a member of his staff met publicly with the opponents of a gasification plant, but not with the backers.

Then again, Quinn has signed into law other bills related to this project. For him to suddenly do an about-face now would be extremely erratic – almost like the kind of behavior we’d have expected from our state’s previous governor.

So what’s the one safe bet on this issue? No matter what Quinn does, he’s going to tick off an interest group – one that likely already has its rhetoric prepared to lambaste him for not giving them their way.


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