The Illinois Pollution Control Board appointed by Governor Pat Quinn approved a waiver to allow five aging coal plants to continue operating without meeting current pollution standards. Dynegy Inc. is purchasing five downstate coal plants from Ameren corp., and successfully sought permission to delay installing overdue pollution controls.
By operating aging coal plants, communities will continue to suffer higher rates of asthma, cardiovascular disease, birth defects, learning disabilities in newborns, infertility and other health impacts in order to marginally increase the profit margin of a Houston-based company. Illinois environmental groups strongly opposed the waiver, with Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign even making a rare field trip to Springfield from their Chicago office after stating they were confident the waiver would be rejected.
Dynegy and unions that supported the waiver argue that they're protecting small town jobs. But, Dynegy's request should trouble anyone who works at the plants. Dynegy knows they'll be forced to comply with additional U.S. EPA rules soon going into effect. Installing new pollution control equipment now would be a sign that Dynegy intends to keep them operating more than a few years into the future.
Their request for a waiver suggests Dynegy is treating the plants like an old clunker car you stop spending money on for repairs because you know it's headed for the junkyard soon anyway. Ameren previously showed their deep commitment to Illinois jobs by importing low-sulfur coal from other states to burn in these junkers, rather than installing pollution equipment that would allow them to use Illinois coal. Leaders in the five impacted towns should be thinking ahead about how to attract new energy jobs with a future after the coal plants shut down.
The decision comes less than a week after Quinn's Department of Natural Resources scheduled public hearings during the holiday season to rush approval of his weak fracking rules so poorly written that even groups who previously supported them are outraged. It continues the governor's pattern of pandering to environmentalists in the Chicago region while allowing the fossil fuel industry to ravage downstate.
After presenting himself as an environmental advocate for most of his career spent out of power, Pat Quinn's administration is becoming an environmental disaster.