Chicago Residents Express Opposition to Leucadia Coal Gasification Plant

Is so-called “clean coal” in Chicago dead?  Significant opposition from both community and business interests makes it appear so.  Plans for the Leucadia coal gasification plant on Chicago’s far southeast side ran into opposition at a public hearing in late August as residents voiced concerns over the project’s safety.

Many people in a crowd of about 100 that gathered at St. Simeon Serbian Orthodox Church, 3737 114th St., repeatedly became riled at what they perceived were their concerns being ignored.

“This is a nice, pretty presiding with absolutely zero facts,” East Side resident Eva Asilves said of the two-hour hearing organized by 10th Ward Alderman John Pope. “It is controlled and censored. They’re not telling us anything.”

Several people who tried to ask questions were cut off, and one man who had been handing out fliers that called the Leucadia proposal “a bad idea” was repeatedly denied a chance to speak.

“We should be allowed to speak,” Asilves said….

Pope’s hearing gave officials from Leucadia and Eco-Industrial Development — the companies that would operate and build, respectively, a plant at what was once a steel mill at 116th Street and Burley Avenue — a chance to talk about their vision for the plant. The facility would take coal from southern Illinois and convert it into natural gas using a process known as gasification.

Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this year signed into law the measure that permits the plant to be developed, but Don Maley of Leucadia said there still are state regulatory agencies to deal with and city officials who must approve the plant before it could be built. Those officials will have at least two formal hearings on the plant before such approval is given.

Residents are not the only stakeholders opposed to the plant.  Yesterday, People’s Gas told Illinois officials that it — and its subsidiary North Shore Gas — will not sign long-term contracts to purchase synthetic gas from this plant.

The move by the two utilities could derail both plants, since the state laws backing them limit the amount of their gas a single utility can consume. Without Peoples and North Shore onboard, the state’s other two big gas utilities — Nicor Inc., which serves most of suburban Chicago, and Ameren Illinois, which serves Downstate — would have to buy too much of the gas.

With the cost of gas from the plants expected to far exceed current market prices for natural gas, other buyers aren’t likely to emerge. Lacking contracts with buyers, developers of the plants would have a hard time finding investors to finance construction….

Environmental groups opposed the plant and praised Peoples.

“We applaud Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas for looking out for their customers and deciding not to buy dirtier, coal-derived gas,” Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club’s Illinois chapter, said in a statement.

The Leucadia plant is one local attempt to use available fossil fuels for energy.  It is a controversial technique for a variety of reasons both environmental and economic, and adjunct Professor Carla Jones examines these issues in this fall’s online offering of SUST 310 Energy and Climate Change. This course is currently maintaining a waitlist.  If you are interested in enrolling in one of our courses, find out more by visiting our Sustainability Studies website, calling 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or emailing applyRU@roosevelt.edu.

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