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Protesters speak out against coal plant’s upgrade extension

Jim BlThird Lake takes part rally against Midwest Generaticoal burning power plant with SoniOcampo (left) Waukegan Dulce 'Candy' Ortiz Waukegan

Jim Bland of Third Lake takes part in a rally against the Midwest Generation coal burning power plant with Sonia Ocampo (left) of Waukegan and Dulce "Candy" Ortiz of Waukegan that was held at Bowen Park. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media

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About The Sierra Club

In 1892, John Muir, America’s most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist, and a number of his supporters founded the Sierra Club to, in Muir’s words, “do something for wildness and make the mountains glad.” Muir served as the Club’s president until his death in 1914.

Today, the Sierra Club has over 1.3 million members and supporters and is the oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States.

Source: www.sierraclub. org

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Updated: June 26, 2013 2:33AM

Nancy Manjarrez is a runner. Her favored routes take her up and down Sheridan Road or the lakefront, and her regular companions are her friend Dulce Ortiz and her asthma inhaler.

“I have asthma and I’m very prone to bronchitis,” the Waukegan native said. “Over the last couple of years, it’s just gotten worse, and it’s in the summer and fall. My medications and the number of times I (use) my inhaler has actually increased.”

While officials at the lakefront’s Midwest Generation coal-firing power plant dispute the connection between asthma and the emissions from their facility, Manjarrez was among those gathering in Bowen Park on Friday, April 26, to say that the community would benefit if the plant shut down.

“I just feel like these coal plants use so many toxins it makes it nearly impossible to breathe in fresh, clean air,” said Manjarrez, who was diagnosed seven years ago and has tried managing her condition with “Advair and Symbicort and Singulair and nasal sprays — I mean, I’ve tried it all, and it’s gotten worse.”

Manjarrez and members of the Sierra Club were among more than a dozen protestors standing about a quarter-mile from the Midwest Generation gates calling on the company to retire the plant. The company was recently granted an extension through 2015 and 2016 from the Illinois Pollution Control Board regarding the installation of stronger controls for emissions that include sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide.

Ortiz, an activist in the Waukegan Latino community, said she feels that “minority communities are disproportionately impacted by coal pollution, and the Waukegan coal plant here in our community is no different.”

“This would never happen in Lake Forest,” Ortiz said. “One of the most frustrating things is that we don’t even use the power from the coal plant. It is sold out of state. Our community should not be sacrificed to make money, and we have the right to breathe clean air.”

Midwest Generation officials said in a statement responding to Friday’s media event that “the Sierra Club would have you believe that Waukegan Station is somehow standing pat and not reducing emissions at all — that is simply not the case.”

“Since acquiring the Waukegan Station in 1999, Midwest Generation has invested continuously to improve worker safety and reduce emissions,” the statement said. “We have reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide by 60 percent (which will increase to 85 percent under state regulations), nitrogen oxide by 70%, mercury by 73 percent (which will increase to over 90 percent under state and federal regulations), and carbon dioxide/greenhouse gas by 28 percent.”

Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs for the Chicago-based Respiratory Health Association, pointed to findings from a 2010 study by the Clean Air Task Force that claimed emissions from the Waukegan plant contribute to an estimated 34 premature deaths, 570 asthma attacks and 50 heart attacks annually.

“We are standing in the center of a bullseye,” said Urbaszewski, adding that his organization believes the effects extend beyond Waukegan. “There are over 37 ZIP codes in Lake County. The ZIP codes for Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion — three communities — are in the top four for people hospitalized by asthma.

“The truth is, there is no safe way to burn coal, even with the proposed pollution controls,” Urbaszewski added. “The best thing for the health of Lake County residents, particularly in Waukegan and North Chicago, would be for Midwest Generation to set a retirement date for the coal plant.”

The Midwest Generation statement maintained that it “would be irresponsible policy to eliminate coal as an energy source” when 40 percent of the Illinois population uses power generated by coal-burning plants.

The company officials added that they feel the facility has been “a long-time member of the community” that would be missed if the plant shuts down, a possibiity that was the subject of publicly-stated speculation in both North Chicago and Waukegan mayoral races.

“Our employees live in the area, we purchase goods and services from local vendors, we support local charitable organizations, and we provide much needed work for members of the building and construction trades,” the statement added, stating a plant closure would mean that “hundreds of men and women would lose good, living-wage jobs and nearly $1 million per year in taxes to local government would go away.”

Sonia Ocampo, who suffers from asthma and has to pay out of pocket for medication and inhalers, said she feels her chronic condition would be eased if the plant did go away.

“These last few years have been so bad for me. I have to take inhalers and antibiotics, and nothing works,” said Ocampo, a native of Mexico who was diagnosed with asthma five years ago. “I’ve been living in Waukegan for 20 years, and before (the diagnosis), I didn’t have any problems.”

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