After Decade-Long Battle, Two Chicago Coal Plants To Be Closed

Two high-polluting coal plants in Chicago will be closed down years earlier than previously expected due to pressure by environmental groups and city officials. 

Midwest Generation made agreements with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and organizations within the Chicago Clean Power Coalition Wednesday to shut the two plants down rather than invest in costly upgrades. 

"Midwest Generation has made an important and appropriate decision today, which will be good for the company, the city, and the residents of Chicago," Emanuel said in an emailed statement, according to the Chicago Journal. "I committed during the campaign to work with all parties to address community concerns about the plants, and today’s announcement puts us on a more sustainable path for these neighborhoods."

Faith Bugel, an attorney for coalition member Environmental Law and Policy Center, told the Associated Press the community groups agreed to drop lawsuits against the company in exchange for the shutdown. 

"People in the communities around the plant lived with this pollution for a long, long time," said Bugel. "[It] is a big benefit to everybody from ... four extra years of improved air quality."

One plant will be closed by the end of this year, while the other has until Dec. 31, 2014 to shut down. The power company had previously promised the plants would be closed by 2015 and 2018, respectively. 

A top aid to the mayor told the Chicago Sun-Times that the deal also made economic sense to Midwest Generation. 

“The company could decide to significantly reduce emissions, but energy prices are bottoming out and the cost of retrofitting the plants would be heavy," said the aide. "They don’t want to make that type of investment. At the end of the day, this is an economic decision.”

The plants had not been held accountable to Clean Air Act standards because they were constructed in the early 1900s. 

For over a decade, environmental groups have pushed to hold Midwest Generation accountable for its high levels of pollution. 

Activist Leila Mendez told ABC News she's been fighting since the beginning. She joined the battle against the plants shortly after she was diagnosed with cancer 14 years ago. Believing her cancer to be caused by the power plant, she wanted to fight for a better quality of life.

"A decade-long fight. At times, I didn't want to get discouraged. I wanted to believe something would happen," said Mendez.

Using data from the Harvard School of Public Health's Illinois Power Plant Study, the Environmental Law and Policy Center released a 2010 study accusing the two plants of causing at least $750 million in damage to public health since 2002. Midwest Generation denied the claim. 

One of the plants to be closed was the canvas for a protest action by Greenpeace in 2010 when eight activists climbed the Fisk coal plant to paint "Quit Coal" on a smokestack.

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Also announced today was the shutdown of seven coal plants in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Included is the Portland Generating Station in Upper Mt. Bethel, Penn., which is one of the oldest coal plants in the country.