On Tuesday, the Koch Industries subsidiary KCBX announced its plans to enclose the controversial piles of petcoke it has been storing on Chicago’s Southeast Side, releasing colorful drawings and an animated video — and saying it needs an extra 14 months beyond a city deadline to build the enclosure.
On Wednesday, the city’s public health commissioner sent KCBX president Dave Severson a scathing letter, denouncing the company for releasing the plans “via press release” without filing formal building plans or a variance request for an extension, under the city rules that require the enclosure be done by June 2016.
KCBX says there is no way the enclosure can be finished before late summer or fall 2017.
“Prior to your announcement, KCBX had applied for no permits and shared no formal plans or architectural drawings for this facility, despite the fact that the clock on your two-year timeline for building the facility started running more than six months ago,” said the December 17 letter from Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Commissioner Bechara Choucair. →
KCBX paved roads to reduce pollution at its Chicago petcoke facility. (Photo by Kari Lydersen / Midwest Energy News)
The piles of petroleum coke, or petcoke, on Chicago’s Southeast Side that have created a furor over the past year and a half would become invisible under a plan that the Koch Industries subsidiary KCBX Terminals unveiled on Tuesday.
The piles would be enclosed in a roughly 10-story-high, 1,000-foot-long building. The rest of the company’s 82-acre footprint alongside the Calumet River would be planted with grass and trees, as shown in the company’s newly released renderings and 30-second animated video.
KCBX says the plan shows their commitment to remaining in Chicago, investing in a “state-of-the-art facility” and working to mollify local residents upset about pollution. Local opponents say the release of the enclosure plan is just a public relations move, given that the company doesn’t plan to complete it until more than a year after a city deadline. →
Chicago neighborhood activists say Mayor Rahm Emanuel is taking too much credit for the closure of the Fisk and Crawford coal plants. (Photo by Daniel X. O’Neill via Creative Commons)
Even though they closed in 2012, Chicago’s controversial Fisk and Crawford coal plants are making an encore appearance in this year’s municipal elections, to be held Feb. 24.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first televised campaign ad featured the mayor on a park bench talking with Kim Wasserman, one of the community leaders who worked for more than a decade to try to force the coal plants to clean up or shut down.
The ad portrays Wasserman giving Emanuel credit for brokering a deal that shut down the Chicago plants, which immediately sparked outcry from many of the community activists who had been working on the issue since the early 2000s. They said they resented Emanuel taking credit for the plants’ closing. And they pointed out that the plants were likely to close anyway – and did close well before Emanuel’s deadline – because of competition from cheap natural gas. Additionally, the deal Emanuel brokered included the dropping of a lawsuit against the company Midwest Generation’s other Illinois coal plants. →
Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation grantees tour Ameren facilities in downstate Illinois. (Photo courtesy ISEIF)
The smart meters being delivered to Illinois homes under the state’s 2011 smart grid law could potentially spark significant energy savings – relieving burden on the grid and on power supplies and saving money for residents.
But that’s only if people use the information provided by smart meters to modify their habits, by shifting when they use energy, installing more efficient appliances and the like. Figuring out how to use a smart meter and respond to the data it provides is a complicated and intimidating task for anyone.
It is especially challenging for renters and public housing residents who don’t own their appliances or even pay their own energy bills; or for senior citizens who don’t know how to use the internet; or for immigrants who don’t speak English. And for people in low-income and marginalized neighborhoods in general, beset by violence, decrepit housing, and a lack of well-paying jobs, understanding and modifying energy use is likely to be a very low priority. →
Barges filled with material that appears to be petroleum coke line the Calumet River in Chicago. (Photo by Kari Lydersen)
A full rainbow arched over the Calumet River on a bleak day in late September, lending a hint of beauty to the massive abandoned grain elevator, the ramshackle warehouses and the lines of barges moored by the Illinois International Port.
Some of the barges were covered, but at least nine of them were uncovered and piled high with a powdery black material that appeared to be petroleum coke, or petcoke, the byproduct of oil refining that has sparked a grassroots uprising and political debate in Chicago.
It’s not clear that the material is definitely petcoke. Facilities along the Calumet also handle and store coal and metallurgical coke, or metcoke, and various other bulk materials.
U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Simone Mausz said that no government agency tracks barges on the Calumet or other Chicago rivers. “It’s impossible to tell how many barges go up and down the river, how many are ‘red flag,’ how many are carrying petcoke,” she said.
An industry spokesman declined to disclose what materials the barges are handling, and officials from Chicago’s port authority did not respond to requests for information on the shipments.
In the absence of information, residents see the barges as the latest wrinkle in the petcoke story, representing new concerns about the material and also about a serious lack of transparency regarding any potentially toxic materials that are moved on the river. →
(Photo by ed_needs_a_bicycle via Creative Commons)
As Chicago clamors to be known as the country’s most sustainable city – promoting solar installations, electric vehicles and energy efficiency – the City Council has been considering an ordinance that would mandate most gas stations offer gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol, or E15.
The ordinance was framed as a step to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote cleaner energy, and was seen as potentially sparking other such municipal mandates nationwide. It is sponsored by Alderman Edward Burke, who has pushed clean-air measures including the original ordinance to close the city’s coal-fired power plants and a smoking ban.
The E15 ordinance has strong backing from farmers, part of an Illinois ethanol industry reported as creating 73,156 jobs and $17.5 billion in economic activity annually. It is backed by the American Lung Association. And it also is meant to provide relief from city gas prices identified in June as the highest in the nation — E15 blends are typically cheaper 5 to 15 cents per gallon cheaper than conventional 87 or 89 octane gasoline. →
Today the coal plants are closed and Breuer, along with Jack Ailey, another leader in the campaign, run one of the four companies chosen to implement the city’s Solar Chicago program offering discounted solar installations through a bulk buy.
The program is administered by the organization Vote Solar, in partnership with the Environmental Law and Policy Center and World Wildlife Fund. It is meant to jumpstart residential rooftop solar energy in Chicago, and if projections go as planned it will mean a raft of new orders for Ailey Solar, founded by Breuer and Ailey two years ago. →
Chicago residents protest petroleum coke storage piles in April. (Photo by Bob Simpson via Creative Commons)
Marcy Juarez, a hospice worker living on Chicago’s Southeast side, says she still can’t open the windows on hot days, because of gritty black dust that blows in.
Her children have urged her to sell the house, but she’s lived there for 35 years, recently remodeled, loves the community and can’t imagine leaving.
Mari Barboza and her family still feel they can’t enjoy a barbecue outside, since the afternoon last summer when a cloud of black dust ruined the food at her mother’s 60th birthday party.
Other residents of Chicago’s Southeast side likewise say their homes, cars and patio furniture are still frequently coated in black grime, as one woman exhibited on a wipe soiled with thick black residue at a community meeting July 28.
They say their lives continue to be seriously impacted by the piles of petroleum coke (petcoke) that the Koch Industries subsidiary KCBX Terminals is storing in the community, despite KCBX’s moves to comply with rules that the city health department issued in March.
Now KCBX is requesting variances from the health department rules, and in its request filed June 9 the company threatened to sue if it doesn’t get the exemptions. →
Leilani Munter and her PrairieGold Solar car. Photo by Kari Lydersen
The air smells of burning rubber, and the sound of roaring engines is deafening. Homages to petroleum are everywhere: rows of semi-trucks and trailers, stacks of thick smooth tires and the stars of the show – bright sleek race cars emblazoned with the names of sponsors like Rope, Soap ‘N Dope, an oilfield supply company. Just outside the Chicagoland Speedway, thousands of automobiles are parked amongst bales of hay on grassy fields.
This is the arena where lifelong environmentalist Leilani Munter preaches her gospel of renewable energy and the goal of a carbon-free economy. →
Nurses and others call for tougher petroleum coke restrictions at a protest near the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana. (Photo by Kari Lydersen for Midwest Energy News)
“Stunning, just stunning, just stunning,” said Sheilah Garland, shaking her head as she stared out the window of the bus rolling along a dirt road next to towering black piles of petroleum coke on Chicago’s Southeast Side.
But Garland was shocked by the piles of petcoke, about six stories high, located across the street from homes. She was also perturbed to see employees walking onsite without respiratory masks.
The nurses union has joined local residents’ fight to get petcoke transportation and storage banned in Chicago. They see it as a serious public health issue and part of their larger social justice advocacy mission. →