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Dirty Coal and Environmental Racism at Midwest Generation

October 16, 2009

Last week, environmental groups petitioned to join a recent government lawsuit against Midwest Generation, an Illinois utility notorious for dirty coal plants that have consistently violated clean air laws. The groups represent communities affected by the plants suffering from air pollution related diseases and death. According to a 2002 Harvard School of Public Health study, emissions from nine Illinois power plants are responsible annually for more than 300 premature deaths, with two Midwest Generation plants alone responsible for more than 40 deaths and hundreds of hospital ER visits and asthma attacks.

Midwest Generation is a subsidiary of California-based Edison International (formerly Southern California Edison), a major coal and nuclear energy producer. Earlier this summer, five environmental groups filed a notice of intent to sue the company for its repeated violations of the Clean Air Act, and last month the Illinois Attorney General and federal Justice Department filed a lawsuit for repeated illegal emissions that “aggravate asthma, cause acid rain and increase ozone levels.”

Residents in the heavily immigrant, Latino neighborhoods near two Midwest Generation plants charge the company with environmental racism for the failure to clean up operations despite repeated EPA warnings. As one community activist asked, “What would happen if those plants were located in [the wealthier suburbs of] Winnetka or Lake Forest, where there would be much more protest and a significant amount of resources dedicated to enforcing the law?”

Indeed, a 2004 report, Air of Injustice: How Air Pollution Affects the Health of Latinos” found that 39% of Latinos in the U.S. live within 30 miles of a coal power plant, with more than 50% living in areas that violate federal ozone standards (ozone is a major trigger for asthma) and 35% living in areas that violate the standard for particulate matter (soot). The report called on EPA to enforce its environmental justice mandate and ensure justice for Hispanic Americans.

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