Coal plant to be built in wealthy Chicago neighborhood?

Coal plant to be built in wealthy Chicago neighborhood?

April 28, 2011

Lindsey Dietzler, 773.554.0085,
The Yes Lab,

New Coal Plant in the South Loop? Not So Much.
Elaborate Stunt Draws Attention to Need for Cleaner Energy Sources, and Midwest Gen’s Dirty Record in Chicago

Chicago, IL- Residents of the South Loop neighborhood were outraged yesterday to hear that Midwest Generation was purportedly building a new coal powered plant on a formerly abandoned lot at Harrison and Wells. The company, promising a plant with “a green roof,” even blanketed the neighborhood with fliers and pamphlets, advising residents that “construction and operation of the new plant will generate new revenue for local businesses.” Brochures, letters, warnings from the city, and solicitations from a legal firm were all part of a day's reading for the residents of the well heeled neighborhood, and they were not amused, flocking online to register their complaints.

“This is not an industrial neighborhood and shouldn't be treated as such,” said Yelp user Michelle in an angry post. “This is horrible, and Alderman Fioretti and others need to step up to stop this from happening.”

Environmental activists quickly mobilized as well, and an ad hoc group called Citizens United Against Loop Coal (CUALC) even staged an impromptu protest against the proposed site on Wednesday afternoon.

“Midwest Generation has already fouled up enough Chicago neighborhoods,” said Susan Miller, a member of the CUALC protest group. “The last thing Chicago needs is more coal plants polluting our air and giving our kids asthma."

The plans, which were reported on by WBEZ and the Huffington Post, were quickly denounced by Midwestern Generation and 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti as an elaborate hoax.

They were right.

The entire spectacle was pulled together by local activists—also calling themselves CUALC, for Citizens United Against Lower-Income-Neighborhood Coal—in collaboration with the Yes Lab, a project of The Yes Men to help activist groups carry out media-savvy creative actions on their own. The goal was to raise awareness about the need for clean energy sources and push for the Clean Power Ordinance. Unfortunately dirty coal’s impact on Chicagoans’ health is no laughing matter.

Midwest Generation’s two Chicago plants, Crawford and Fisk, are located in the predominately low-income neighborhoods of Pilsen and Little Village. Residents in these neighborhoods experience higher levels of lung cancer, heart attacks, premature deaths, acute and chronic bronchitis, emergency room visits, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. As a result Chicago has one of the highest asthma rates in the entire country, and the plants also contribute to global warming, spewing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year.

“Cleaner energy sources are readily available and should be implemented all over the world for the health of our planet and its inhabitants. It is obscene that coal-fired generating stations should go on operating,” said Lindsey Dietzler, a local activist who helped pull off the sophisticated plan. “That’s why we need the City Council to pass the Clean Power Ordinance and force the Fisk and Crawford plants to lower their emissions.”

The ruse, intended to spark interest and outrage about the existence of coal-fired plants in two of Chicago’s less affluent neighborhoods, involved a fake Midwest Generation website and a brochure and letter to residents allegedly from the company, distributed to the homes of Loop residents, extolling the benefits of the generating station and downplaying the possible disruption to the neighborhood. This was followed by a letter that appeared to be from the city’s Public Health Department suggesting that residents be alert for any changes in their health and explaining the pollutants emitted by coal-fired plants, as well as a solicitation from a faux law firm seeking potential claimants in a class-action law suit. Even those who turned out to Wednesday’s “protest” were in on the act.

“Midwest Generation is a powerful company, lobbying hard against the Clean Power Ordinance, even filling the hearing last week with employees to drown out the voices of those affected most by the plants,” said Dietzler. “We needed to create a little controversy to draw attention to the fact that Midwest Generation is polluting our city and poisoning its residents.”