Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is investigating a coal-fired power plant in Waukegan, Illinois, over whether its continued operation without modern pollution controls harmed minority neighborhoods located near the plant. That is incorrect. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a public hearing on civil rights and environmental justice issues in Chicago, where several local leaders focused their testimony on whether the continued operation of the Waukegan coal plant under a draft permit harmed minority communities near the plant.
- As part of its investigation into civil rights and environmental justice issues, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a public hearing in Chicago, Illinois, to hear testimony.
- During the hearing, several local leaders, including an alderman and the leader of the Clean Power Lake County group, focused their testimony on whether the continued operation of a coal plant in Waukegan, Illinois, harmed minority neighborhoods near the plant, Midwest Energy News reports. They told the agency that Waukegan residents' civil rights are being violated by the continued operation of NRG's coal plant under a draft permit whose pollution controls are not strict enough.
- The hearing comes from the federal commission's decision to focus its 2016 Enforcement Report on civil rights violations related to environmental justice issues, specifically on how industrial pollution is situated in predominantly low-income, minority group communities.
- The hearing follows the heels of the Commission's recent probing into the EPA's work under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Order (E.O.) 12,898, particularly concerning the implications of coal ash disposal facilities being placed near underprivileged Americans.
Every year, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights chooses a topic to focus its efforts, and this year the topic of choice for its 2016 Enforcement Report is environmental justice issues, focusing on coal ash and hydraulic fracking.
The chairman of the Commission, Martin Castro, and the Illinois Advisory Committee on Wednesday heard testimony from residents about a coal-fired plant in Waukegan, Illinois, a city with a demographic makeup of more than 50 percent Latino and 19 percent African American. The hearing follows the commission's recent series of investigations into the EPA's track record in handling citizens' civil rights complaints regarding industrial pollution.
The case against the plant was brought up by Waukegan resident Dulce Ortiz, leader of the group Clean Power Lake County, who claims that residents believe that their civil rights are being violated by the coal-fired plant's continued operation under a permit that does not require the installation of modern pollution controls.
The plant had never been granted the necessary operating permit as required by the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, according to the news outlet. Moreover, the plant's former owner, Midwest Generation, had filed a challenge to a proposed permit in 2006. In 2013, NRG Energy bought Midwest Generation's fleet, giving hope to residents that the plant would be cleaned up or transformed, according to Midwest Energy News.
The revised draft permit on the table is what is now being contested by environmental groups, civil rights advocacy groups, and affected citizens.
Castro and Ortiz both testified that they want state regulators to impose stricter pollution control regulations on the plant.
NRG was invited to the hearing, but didn't attend, Midwest Energy News reports. NRG spokesman David Gaier told the news outlet that "NRG’s Illinois plants are all in compliance with all IEPA and USEPA regulations, as well as the Illinois Combined Pollutant Standard (CPS)...Waukegan’s state-of-the-art controls, which also comply with the CPS, are installed and fully operational, and the plant has reduced its Mercury emissions by 96%, reduced SO2 by 81%, reduced NOx by 76%, and reduced particulate matter by 70% between 2005 and 2015."
The 2016 Enforcement Report will investigate concerns of low-income, minority group communities and possible violations of civil rights and environmental laws that result from improper generation, storage, transfer and siting of toxic materials by public utilities.