CPLC Stands With Chicago’s SE Side in Hunger Strike Against General Iron Move

Today, four members of Clean Power Lake County’s Steering Committee joined a growing hunger strike to protest the move of General Iron Industries’ metal shredding facility from Chicago’s affluent, predominantly white Lincoln Park neighborhood to the predominantly Latino Southeast Side (East 116th Street along the Calumet River).

Clean Power Lake County co-chair Celeste Flores explains why she, Lupe Bueno, Eddie Flores, and Leah Hartung participated in today’s one-day solidarity hunger strike:

[As residents of] Waukegan, Illinois, we know all too well how environmental justice communities bear the burden of the health and economic impacts from corporate polluters. We stand in solidarity with community members on the Southeast Side of Chicago, who are on the fifth day of their hunger strike.

Fasting is used as a method of protesting injustice. In this case, the injustice is environmental racism—something environmental justice communities experience on a day-to-day basis. Mayor Lightfoot has had plenty of opportunities to stand with the people and not with corporate polluters. Today I am calling on Senators Durbin and Duckworth to intervene before it is too late for the community members they represent. 

Just [as they did with] the community members in Little Village—who in April 2020 experienced the demolition of the Crawford smokestack in the middle of a global pandemic that affects the respiratory system—Mayor Lightfoot and her team have shown over and over again they do not have the best interests of community members in mind when approving permits that favor corporations over people. 

Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth, it is not enough for you to come out with a statement after the permit is issued. This community deserves to hear you denounce the approval of the General Iron operations permit for the Southeast Side of Chicago, and they deserve it today. We look forward to you choosing to stand with people who live and work in the Southeast Side and holding Mayor Lightfoot accountable for her actions in this beautiful community.

A local teacher and two activists initiated the hunger strike to draw attention to their plight. They have vowed not to eat solid foods until the City of Chicago denies General Iron’s application for an operating permit. (For updates, go to #StopGeneralIron Hunger Strike on Twitter.)

According to a news report in the Chicago Sun-Times, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is investigating residents’ complaints that operation of the car-shredding facility would violate their civil rights.

As far as Clean Power Lake County is concerned, adding yet another polluter to a community already burdened by other industrial companies in the area is unconscionable. 

If you agree, please call on Senators Tammy Duckworth and Richard Durbin to intervene and condemn General Iron’s proposed move.  

CPLC Welcomes Eddie and Leah to the Steering Committee

By Whitney Richardson

Clean Power Lake County is excited to introduce the newest members of its steering committee: Eddie Flores and Leah Hartung.

Let’s learn a little about them and the work they’ve done so far with CPLC.

Eddie Flores sitting on park bench
Eddie Flores connected with CPLC while organizing school walkout to support the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). He got involved to learn about environmental justice and how he could help his community.

Meet Eddie Flores

Eddie Flores, 18, was born and raised in Waukegan, Illinois. He’s currently studying at College of Lake County but plans to take a gap year in 2021. He enjoys skating, backpacking, hiking, kayaking and canoeing, cooking, tinkering with electronics, and playing video games. He’s also really passionate about the environment.

Eddie reached out to CPLC in September 2019 while organizing a walkout at his school to support the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). He had learned about teens participating in the global climate strikes and wanted to take part. When he couldn’t find any strikes nearby, he decided to organize one. He said CPLC provided him with helpful resources and information on what was going on in his city. He decided to get involved so he could learn about environmental justice and how to help his community.

Eddie has done a lot so far—speaking about coal ash rules at a local listening session last fall and at a statewide virtual hearing this year; advocating for CEJA with elected officials in Springfield; and speaking at a youth town hall during this year’s virtual lobby day. 

Next, he plans to do a year of youth outreach. He wants to have biweekly conversations on Zoom about environmental issues like Superfund sites, ethylene oxide (EtO), plastic pollution, and the impacts of climate change, including floods and fires. (“This will be a chill type of Zoom setting that’s more of a conversation rather than a boring type of presentation!” he says.) He also plans to continue sharing resources to help youth learn more about local issues and ways they can get involved.

“Growing up, I was never really taught about the coal plant or our Superfund sites in school and feel like it is something that really needs to be taught. I hope to connect people—especially youth—to this fight since we’re the ones that are going to be inheriting this planet,” Eddie said.

What will the world look like when  Eddie has accomplished these goals? How will he know his work has been “done”? 

“Achieving these goals would result in students growing up here having learned about Waukegan’s history of pollution and all of the ways in which corporations have exploited this town. Kids growing up here understanding that the reason why 1 in 3 kids here have asthma is due to the coal plant. The truth of the matter is, this work will never be done as communities of color are going to continue being hit the hardest by the effects of climate change. Communities like mine are all over the world dealing with environmental justice issues like flooding, fires, droughts, storms, pollution and much more—all caused or intensified by corporations and money-hungry CEOs that don’t care how many people they’ll kill or what world they’ll leave their children to inherit.”

Leah Hartung hiking in mountains
Leah Hartung got involved with CPLC as a way to act on her passions for environmental justice, energy policy, and helping her community. She develops original content for CPLC’s Instagram account.

Meet Leah Hartung

Leah Hartung, originally from Libertyville, Illinois, is currently a junior at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s double majoring in environmental science and economics. 

When everything was cancelled earlier this year because of the pandemic, Leah wanted to spend her free time helping her community. She had learned about CPLC through an environmental event she attended in high school. Since she was interested in environmental justice—particularly energy policy—she reached out to see how she could get involved.

Leah is the mastermind behind CPLC’s Twitter and Instagram accounts. She develops a lot of original content for Instagram because she wants it to be a place where people in Lake County can learn about local environmental issues and injustices.

As a steering committee member, Leah wants to grow CPLC’s social media presence and reputation as the place to go for crucial environmental and social justice information in Lake County. 

She also hopes to see CPLC grow “as we find ways to involve all our amazing members during the pandemic!”

What will the world look like when Leah has accomplished these goals? How will she know her work has been “done”?

“I would love to see high engagement on the posts, particularly seeing lots of our followers posting our content onto their own personal accounts because they find it useful. I would love to see around 1,000 followers on Instagram and 100 likes per post!” 

Leah’s goal can be reached with your supportso be sure to follow CPLC!

Whitney Richardson lives in Vernon Hills, Illinois, and recently completed a Master of Science degree in international environmental studies. 

CPLC Members Call for Stronger Coal Ash Rules

It is part of Clean Power Lake County’s DNA to support state action on toxic coal ash ponds.  So when the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) held its August hearing on proposed rules for the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, we were there to call for stronger rules. 

Why was that important? Because the groundbreaking Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act provided an important framework for addressing toxic coal ash waste (see CPLC Celebrates as Governor Signs Milestone Coal Ash Cleanup Bill Into Law) and a rulemaking process. However, it did not establish enforcement standards. Instead, it tasked the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) with drafting the actual rules for enforcing the law. 

The August hearing was IEPA’s first opportunity to testify in defense of its proposed rules. It also was the first time that industry representatives, environmental groups, and other public stakeholders could ask IEPA about the proposed rules.

Several Clean Power Lake County members—including folks who participated in IEPA coal ash listening sessions in Waukegan last September—made virtual statements during the public comment periods of the August hearing. 

Mary Mathews represents the League of Women Voters of Lake County, a coalition member of Clean Power Lake County. Mathews demanded strict measures for coal ash: “In order to protect the groundwater’s chemical integrity, rules for cleanup and closure of coal ash sites must provide permanent protection from coal ash pollution.”

She also stressed the importance of public participation in the decision-making process: “The public has the right to know about pollution levels, dangers to health and environment, and proposed policies and options. Accordingly, the rules should include expanded outreach and require that opportunities, materials, and documents be made available to non-English speaking stakeholders. Additionally, hearings should be held in easily accessible locations, at convenient times, and, when possible, in the area concerned.”

Leah Hartung, an intern for Clean Power Lake County, stressed that improper coal ash management makes drinking water unsafe: “Since groundwater monitoring began in 2010, the groundwater at the Waukegan power plant has been found 400 times to have the contaminants related to coal ash above allowable levels. This is unacceptable. Safe drinking water is a human right, not a privilege.”

When IPCB holds its September 29-October 1 hearing—its second and final hearing on the proposed coal ash rules—Clean Power Lake County members will be there once again. We will stress the importance of adopting the strongest possible rules to protect us and residents of other communities burdened by coal ash pollution. 

Here’s how you can help: Email your comments to Clerk of the Board Don Brown by October 15.

Want background information to use to prepare written comments? Download Coal Ash Rulemaking Document by Prairie Rivers Network and Coal Ash Backgrounder by Earthjustice.

Illinois has the highest concentration of coal ash impoundments in the country.

There are two unlined coal ash ponds at the NRG Energy coal-fired power plant on Waukegan’s lakefront.