Chicago’s True Cost of Coal
by Phil Radford
February 18, 2011
This week researchers at Harvard University released a historic study on the Full Cost of Coal. The study outlines the costs of each stage in the life cycle of coal—extraction, transport, processing, combustion, and waste. It concludes that the entire cycle of coal costs the American public up to one-half of a trillion dollars annually. Like many scientific climate studies, that is a conservative estimate.
For many people around the country the true cost of coal is much higher than any monetary value. From families whose homes are bulldozed in the name of mountaintop removal in Appalachia, to parents who have to miss days of work to treat their children’s asthma, the cost of coal is much more personal.
In my hometown of Chicago two of the country’s oldest power plants, Fisk and Crawford, are making the true cost off coal personal for thousands of people. More than 10% of Chicago’s population (310,173 residents) live within three miles of the plant, resulting in 40 deaths and a 44% asthma rate in children closest to the plants.
A coalition of organizations around the city are taking matters into their own hands to make the issue of coal personal for Mayor Daley, the city’s departing mayor who once called Chicago the greenest city in America.
This week environmental activists surprised Daley with a balloon-propelled message calling him to close Chicago’s two coal-burning power plants. The banner hung over City Hall reading “Mayor Daley – Is this your green legacy?”
As journalist Jeff Biggers describes, “Despite the fact that Chicago has ranked as the asthma epicenter of the nation, a growing movement in Chicago claims that Daley has blocked a proposed Clean Power Ordinance to effectively retire and transition the old plants to clean energy sources. Early this month, the mayor and his allies in City Hall refused to grant the Ordinance a hearing in the Energy, Environmental Protection and Public Utilities that is necessary for it to advance to a full City Council vote.”
If Mayor Daley wants to be a truly green mayor and show Chicago that he understands the true cost of coal he needs to make sure these killer coal plants shut down as soon as possible.