CHICAGO | The City Council on Wednesday approved measures concerning the storage of petcoke, despite the concerns of Southeast Side residents who believe the changes do not address issues related to pollution and public health.
Aldermen voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure by 10th Ward Alderman John Pope that will require petcoke to be stored in indoor structures within two years. It also will require a detailed study within three years as to what health risks — if any — there are from continued exposure to petcoke.
Petcoke is a byproduct of petroleum that can be used as a fuel source.
Currently, Beemsterboer Slag Corp. and KCBX Terminals Co. are the only companies storing petcoke within Chicago, both at sites along the Calumet River in the 10th Ward. The measure prohibits any other companies from getting into petcoke storage within the city.
Those restrictions caused Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday to say he believes the measure, along with a 36-10 City Council vote to ban the use of plastic bags by supermarkets, are significant acts that will protect the health and environment of Chicago residents.
“We can’t be the 'City in a Garden' without these kinds of policies,” Emanuel said. “These two agreements on the environment are part of one strategy for Chicago.”
But 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti, the lone alderman to vote against the petcoke measure, said he is sympathetic to East Side and Hegewisch neighborhood residents who say they want a ban on petcoke storage within the city limits.
He said he thinks city officials, in creating this measure, were more concerned with protecting the business interests of Beemsterboer and KCBX than they were in looking out for city residents.
“I don’t believe this is going to help people who live there,” Fioretti said. “This seems to be about protecting big money interests.”
Beemsterboer officials were not available Wednesday to comment. But KCBX spokesman Jake Reint said in a prepared statement that company officials are prepared to comply with the new restrictions.
“KCBX will continue to ensure that our operations remain compliant with all local, state and federal regulations,” Reint said. “Our evaluation of our ability to comply with the Health Department’s rules is ongoing, as indicated by our willingness to consider building a structure to enclose the coal and petroleum coke at our facility.”
Pope said he understands why his constituents would like an outright petcoke storage ban, but cited city Law Department officials who have said Chicago likely would lose in a lawsuit if it was to try to impose such a ban.
But Pope said of the petcoke restrictions imposed, “No legislation is perfect, but this is a ground-breaking measure.”
Disagreeing was Peggy Salazar, executive director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, whose group had led the fight for a petcoke storage ban. She wasn't present for Wednesday's vote.
“We knew this was a done deal,” she said, adding that her group remains opposed to petcoke being stored in piles outdoors along the Calumet River. “It is the city’s ultimate obligation to protect its residents,” she said. “We don’t believe they did that here.”
Salazar also pointed out an irony in that city officials refused to ban petcoke on the same day they banned plastic bags on environmental grounds.
“I don’t understand why they couldn’t do the right thing on both issues,” she said.