Residents of Chicago’s Southeast Side descended on the Thompson Center Wednesday morning to urge Gov. Pat Quinn to veto a bill that would pave the way for a coal-to-gas plant to be built in their neighborhood.
The deadline for the governor to sign or veto the legislation is March 14, and he has not said whether he plans to sign the bill, which would require utilities to purchase the synthetic natural gas the $3 billion plant would produce for the next 30 years.
Synthetic natural gas is expected to be more expensive than natural gas for the next two decades, and those extra costs would be passed on to people via home heating bills before the plant is expected to save them money.
Residents said they are outraged that another source of pollution would be added to their neighborhood, which is one of the most polluted in the nation.
New York-based Leucadia National Corp., the company fronting the project, has said most emissions would be captured for reuse, but residents said they were concerned about dust and other contaminants that could filter into the air from the millions of tons of Illinois coal and petroleum coke from nearby refineries would be shipped into the neighborhood to feed the plant.
Tom Bulmer, a lifelong Southeast Sider, came dressed as a coal devil. Cloaked in black and holding a smokestack in one hand topped with coal. He said he does not want his children and grandchildren breathing the same toxic air he grew up with from nearby steel mills.
“I don’t want my children and grandchildren seeing this smoke, inhaling this smoke,” he said.
A local business man donated buses to drive residents to the Loop, and residents pooled their money to help with the costs. Earlier this week, some residents said they “ambushed” the governor at a nearby press event to talk with him about the project.
Wednesday, the group delivered nearly 1,000 postcards and handwritten notes to a representative from the governor’s office asking him to veto the bill and rallied around the Thompson center with handmade signs.
“I am 7 years old I want to live … because I love my lungs,” read a sign written by Beatris DeHoyos’ daughter.
DeHoyos said her daughter has asthma attacks regularly and recently had a bout with pneumonia.
“It scares me every time she has an attack,” she said.
The Southeast Side residents at the rally aren’t the only ones trying to get the governor’s ear.
Walter P. Turner III, pastor of New Spiritual Light Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago and president of the Illinois Faith Based Association, said he is setting up meetings with the Quinn’s office to ask him to sign the bill.
The area is desperate for the jobs the plant would bring, he said. The unemployment rate for 18-34 year-olds there is staggering, he said, far greater than reported because most of the young people there have dropped out of the job market. He estimated it was about 70 percent.
“This land has been vacant, has been barren. It has been barren for years,” he said. ” … If we don’t do this now, when will we?”
Leucadia has said the plant would produce 2,800 jobs, 200 of them permanent, and provide a way for the state’s high sulfur coal to be used in-state.