Coal Fired Power Plants in Chicago, USA

In August of 2012, the Fisk and Crawford Power Plants closed their doors after the "marriage" of community/grassroots organizations and larger "big green" organizations and their campaign against coal.


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 (

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Basic Data
NameCoal Fired Power Plants in Chicago, USA
CountryUnited States of America
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Thermal power plants
Oil and gas refining
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsA 2001 study by the Harvard School of Public Health estimated that each year pollution from the plants led to forty-one premature deaths, 550 emergency room visits, and 2,800 asthma attacks (Moon et al. 2002). The two plants combined emitted 230 lbs of mercury (causes brain damage), 17,765 tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, and 260,000 lbs of soot (

Together, the two plants burned 2.5 million tons of coal per year and produced about 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that plays a significant role in climate change, approximately the same amount produced by 800,000 automobiles (

The number of people affected would be around 85000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007-2011 American Community Survey Table B01003).
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population85000
Start Date2002
End Date2012
Company Names or State EnterprisesMidwest Generation
Relevant government actorsEnvironmental Protection Agency
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersLittle Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform (PERRO), Chicago Clean Power Coalition
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Hispanic populaion, arguien in temrs of lack of environmental justice
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Noise pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Deaths
OtherAsthma, lung diseases, heart diseases, neurological impairments in babies and children
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Violations of human rights
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Development of AlternativesIf the plants were not to be shut down, activists demanded that the company install additional pollution controls to limit emissions of particulate matter and carbon dioxide. Several groups were working together in this effort including Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization and the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.A deal was reached to shut down the coal plants on February 28, 2012. The Fisk plant closed on December 31, 2012 and the Crawford plant is scheduled to close at the end of 2014. Plans are currently underway in 2018 to begin the process of brownfield development. Activists note that these plants were only part of the problem and are committed to continuing to get other coal plants in the surrounding area closed (
Sources and Materials

Federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standards regulations


Giambusso, David and Goldenburg, Sally. (2015, April) “Name change: PlaNYC to become OneNYC.” Politico.
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Checker, Melissa. (2001, December 9) “Wiped Out by the ‘Greenwave’: Environmental Gentrification and the Paradoxical Politics of Urban Sustainability.” City and Society.
[click to view]

Essoka, Jonathan. (2010, September) “The gentrifying effects of brownfields redevelopment.” The Western journal of black studies. Volume 34, Issue 3, p. 299-315.
[click to view]

Curran, Winifred. (2012, April) “Just green enough: contesting environmental gentrification in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.” Local Environment, Volume 17, Issue 9, p. 1027-1042.
[click to view]

City of Chicago. (2017) “Riverfront Park Planning Study, High School Athletic Field Approved for Southwest and Northwest Sides.” Planning and Development News Releases.
[click to view]

Wernau, Julie. (2014, December 1) “Redevelopment ahead for Chicago's two coal plant sites.” Chicago Tribune.
[click to view]

Dale, Ann and Lenore, Newman. (2009) “Sustainable development for some: green urban development and affordability.” Local Environment, Volume 14, Issue 7, p. 669-681.
[click to view]

Ori, Ryan. (2018, February 6) “Former Little Village coal plant to be demolished, replaced with distribution center.” Chicago Tribune.
[click to view]

Chu, Louisa. (2018, January) “’The Frustrations are Real’: Pilsen anti-gentrification movement renewed after graffiti incident.” Chicago Tribune.
[click to view]

Environmental Law and Policy Center. (2011, July 28) “Chicago Clean Power Ordinance Introduced with Backing of New City Council.” ELPC Press Release.
[click to view]


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Fisk, Crawford coal plants had long history, as did battle to close them

Environmentalists hail closing of Chicago coal plants
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Environmental Protection Agency- Cleanup Sites at Fisk and Crawford
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Six months after Fisk and Crawford, Chicago area coal still struggling
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Activists win battle to shut Fisk, Crawford coal plants
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Deal Reached To Shut Down Fisk, Crawford Coal Plants Sooner Than Expected
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Chicago without Coal: What would it take for the Fisk, Crawford, and State Line coal-fired power plants to close up shop? And what would happen if they did?
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Media Links

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Fisk Coal Plant emissions
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Celebration of closure of Fisk coal plant
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Kimberly, a registered nurse in Chicago, describes the health impact of coal fired power plants on their surrounding communities and the importance of this issue in addressing racial disparities in health.
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Chicago Clean Power Coalition
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Other Documents

Fisk Coal Plant Protest
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Fisk Protest
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Fisk Coal Plant Protest October 10 protest, photo credit Lloyd Degrane
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Fisk Coal Plant Image by Kenneth Spencer.
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Other CommentsThis is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan.
Meta Information
ContributorBernadette Grafton, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update23/07/2018