Protesters renew call to eliminate coal-based power
By Dan Moran firstname.lastname@example.org September 17, 2013 7:24PM
Josiah Lillard of Waukegan, protesting the use of coal at the lakefront's Midwest Generation power plant, looks across Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue at a safety trailer sponsored by Midwest Generation on Monday, Sept. 16. | Dan Moran/Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 17, 2013 3:21AM
Opposing parties in the dispute over Midwest Generation’s coal-fired lakefront plant could be seen on either side of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue on Monday prior to the evening’s City Council meeting.
On one side, gathered near the doors to City Hall, about two dozen members of the Clean Power Lake County Coalition, including representatives from the Sierra Club, staged the latest in series of protests calling on Midwest Generation to transition away from the use of coal.
Across the street, Midwest Generation officials joined Waukegan Fire Department personnel in unveiling a refurbished trailer that educates children on fire safety and survival techniques through the use of such things as simulating a smoke-filled kitchen.
Whether or not the dual appearances were coincidental, aldermen were eventually drawn into the debate when Clean Power members presented the council with a reported 2,000 petition postcards asking the city to back efforts to eliminate coal-based power.
“We have talked to thousands of residents and received overwhelming support about the need to build a cleaner and healthier lakefront here in Waukegan, and a future beyond polluting industries,” said Waukegan resident Dulce Ortiz in presenting the postcards.
Ortiz added that the petitions asked the public to support “a reasonable long-term plan for (Midwest Generation’s) coal plant to ensure a just transition for its workers, and to engage stakeholders in Waukegan on site re-use and development.”
At one point, when Ortiz said that neither “Waukegan nor Lake County benefit” from the power coming out of Midwest Generation, 4th Ward Ald. Harold Beadling tried to interrupt her by saying “that’s not true.”
Later, Beadling reiterated positions he staked out earlier this year in support of Midwest Generation, saying in part that the lakefront plant’s output of power “goes into the community and goes to the closest source.” He also questioned claims that pollution from coal causes asthma.
“Air is cleaner now than it’s been in 40 years,” Beadling said, telling families dealing with asthma to “look in their own grocery baskets and their own habits. Look at our city parks — they’re empty. Where are the kids? Are they inside playing electronic games? They need to get outside and roll around in the dirt and build up their immune systems.”
Beadling added that he believes coal plants provide “affordable electricity for working people,” and accused opponents of not having alternatives.
“What are we supposed to do? I’d like to hear some of those answers out of them,” he said. “Next time you come in, arm yourself with some facts.”
Sixth Ward Ald. Larry TenPas said he felt that “Ald. Beadling brought up some great points this evening,” saying he would need more information before he would back the call for changes at Midwest Generation.
“I think sometimes we overreact. We need to get the facts,” TenPas said. “I know the power company (has) reduced the pollution mandated by the feds and will continue to reduce emissions.”
TenPas added that “we do need power. I’m not going to jump through the hoops just to jump. I’m going to go through the facts.”
Ninth Ward Ald. Rafael Rivera — who hosts the annual Rafael Rivera III Memorial Golf Outing for Asthma Research in honor of his son, who died from an athsma attack — expressed some sympathy for the Clean Power coalition’s efforts but also called for more study.
“I’m an asthma research advocate, (so) I really support that a lot,” Rivera said. “But to solely blame what’s going on with asthma (on the lakefront plant) — I agree with Harold Beadling. Go out and look at your groceries.
“And unfortunately, there’s young families that I see smoking in the same room their infants are at. So there’s a lot of variables out there that cause asthma,” added Rivera, saying he can’t see coal power going away “until I see better technology” in renewable energy.
Jennifer Witherspoon, president of the NAACP Lake County Branch, said she hopes the council will eventually support “a transition plan that will assist in getting this plant either closed or stop it from releasing pollutants in our air.”
“Per capita, most of the people suffering from asthma and asthma-related symptoms here in Waukegan are minorities,” Witherspoon added, “and as such, it is important that we as a nation, as a city, as a county, come together to assure that our children have a healthy future.”