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Meleah Geertsma’s Blog

Attorney general and house majority leader take strong step against Petcoke and for Illinois communities

Meleah Geertsma

Posted February 19, 2014

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Yesterday Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced legislation aimed at preventing harmful petroleum coke from blowing into neighborhoods and impacting schools, hospitals, and other places where people gather. The bill, a joint proposal between Madigan’s office and Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), is part of the continuing state and city efforts to eliminate pollution from facilities that transport, handle and store petcoke and other bulk materials – facilities that have weighed heavily on communities for decades. Many on the Southeast Side of Chicago have called loudly for the removal of these facilities. And NRDC agrees.  

Petroleum coke is a dirty byproduct of the oil refining process. With the rapid shift in the Great Lakes region—and especially at the nearby BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana —to Canada’s extra-heavy, extra-dirty tar sands oil, refineries have begun increasing the amount of pet coke they produce. That means more of this waste product heading to places like the Southeast Side of Chicago along the Calumet River and communities in other parts of Illinois located near refineries and along transportation routes.

The new bill goes beyond previously announced measures under consideration for facilities on Chicago’s Southside by:

-          prohibiting petcoke and coal handling facilities within a 1,000 foot radius of a residence, childcare service, school, outdoor recreational area, hospital or nursing home, and within a 660 foot radius of a community center, place or worship, or other place of public accommodation not subject to the 1,000 foot setback, and

-          requiring all facilities that are not covered by this prohibition and that are located within a 5,000 foot radius of a residence, childcare, etc. to (a) fully enclose storage piles and (b) stringently control petcoke and coal dust generated by vehicles and other onsite equipment.

Moreover, the bill would apply these protections statewide so that dirty coke and coal handling facilities cannot just move outside of Chicago’s boundaries and continue polluting in another Illinois neighborhood.

The bill goes a long way towards getting these dirty facilities out of communities by recognizing that such heavy industrial activity is incompatible with neighborhoods and public gathering places. Bravo to Attorney General Madigan and Rep. Curry for this important step.  

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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