In August of 2012, the Fisk and Crawford Power Plants in Chicago closed their doors after more than a decade of conflict with local residents, grassroots community groups, and national environmental organizations (NAACP 2012). The two power plants, located in the predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods of Pilsen and Little Village, had some of the worst environmental compliance records in the country (Environmental Law and Policy Center of the Midwest 2010). In 2010, the latest year of data available in the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, the power plants were among the leading sources of barium compounds, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen fluoride, mercury compounds and sulfuric acid (www.wbez.org).
The emissions cost neighboring communities more than $120 million a year in hidden health damages, according an analysis by the National Research Council, a public policy think tank (chicagotribune.com). In 2011, two Chicago aldermen responded to growing community resistance to the coal plants by re-introducing an ordinance to regulate particulate matter and carbon dioxide emissions (Lyderson 2010, Chicago Tribune 2011). Shortly afterwards, Midwest Generation announced that the Fisk and Crawford Plants would be permanently closed.
This closing came after the "marriage" of community/grassroots organizations and larger "big green" organizations. The grassroots groups realized that if they wanted the plants closed, they needed to work with these larger groups. About 12 groups came together and formed the Chicago Clean Power Coalition. This was part of a nationwide campaign against coal.
Despite mounting evidence of coal burning power plants contributing to climate change and health issues in the community, City Council wouldn't put pressure on the company who owned the Fisk and Crawford Plants (Midwest Generation). Activists made their frustration with City Council known by painting "Quit Coal" in large vertical letters on the 450 foot smokestacks. Activists also made sure that the coal plants were on the agenda for a mayoral forum held that year-2011.
It became public that one of the alderman was allegedly receiving funds from Midwest Generation and this may have contributed to the alderman's support of the plants. The Coalition was able to get one third of the city's aldermen in support of their campaign to close the plants.
On February 28, 2012, the news broke that the plants would be closed- a victory for the community (chicagotribune.com).
Since the closure of the Fisk and Crawford power plants in Chicago, IL there have been proposed site redevelopments that have the potential to perpetuate disproportionate environmental and health burdens on the residents of Little Village and Pilsen. The Fisk power plant site still operates natural gas fired “peaker plants” and has relatively limited space available for redevelopment. This site is located adjacent to an existing public park, and in 2017 the city put forth a proposal to expand this park to include 1.5 acres of the Fisk site. Park development is estimated to cost roughly $120,000. The city has committed $40,000 in Open Space Impact Fees to “study the potential for creating the park.” (City of Chicago, 2017) Planning was set to be completed by the end of 2017, but thus far no other public announcements have been made. The Fisk site is owned by NRG Energy, who took ownership of both the Fisk and Crawford sites after Midwest Generation closed the coal fired plants and operates the remaining natural gas fired plants. (Wernau, 2014) Presently, this site remains a brownfield.
As of early 2018 the Crawford plant has been cited to be demolished and the property used as an industrial warehouse/distribution center for online retailers. The site was purchased by the Hilco Redevelopment Partners for one hundred million dollars, roughly fifty million of which will be spent on environmental remediation. The location, adjacent to the I-55 and I-90/94 highways, Chicago rail lines, and Midway airport were cited as driving factors in the site’s selection. (Ori, 2018) Hilco has since begun publicly promoting and discussing these developments without involvement from Little Village residents or consultation with the LVEJO. However, the company has been in talks with Alderman Ricardo of the 22nd ward to establish a “community benefits agreement,” in which Ricardo says he hopes to ensure community protection in this transition. Ricardo told the Chicago Tribune, “I want to see it cleaned up properly, and… I want to see jobs go to local residents.” (Ori, 2018)
While Little Village residents hoped for some form of redevelopment for the Crawford site, they have concerns with the proposed distribution center and the effect that increased traffic and diesel truck idling will have on neighborhood health and air quality. The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) has been particularly vocal in their concerns surrounding environmental quality, public health, and a lack of citizen representation in the planning and development process thus far. (LVEJO, 2018). In mid-February 2018 LVEJO released a public statement requesting “meaningful involvement” in Hilco’s decision making process, a meeting with Mayor Emanuel and Hilco representatives, and informational transparency with all site assessments and planning. (LVEJO, 2018) Despite public concerns, there has not been any increased involvement of Little Village residents in the planning and redevelopment process.