Rahm Emanuel to propose ordinance prohibiting new petcoke facilities

Written By BY TINA SFONDELES Staff Reporter Posted: 02/12/2014, 12:45pm
Array Barge loading of petcoke on River Calumet. | Sun-Times files

Mayor Emanuel will propose an ordinance at next month’s City Council meeting that will prohibit new petcoke facilities from opening anywhere in Chicago, and will stop existing facilities from expanding.

The zoning ordinance will be co-sponsored by Ald. Edward Burke (14th) as well as Ald. John Pope (10th), who’s heard complaints from residents in his Southeast Side ward about black dust from mounds of petcoke surrounding their homes since last summer.

Emanuel in December ruled out a ban on petcoke proposed by Burke in favor of regulations.

“Protecting the health and safety of our communities is the No. 1 priority in Chicago,” Emanuel said in a statement. “Prohibiting new and expanded facilities is a significant step to prevent petcoke dust from settling in residential areas. We will continue to work to regulate their operations to ensure our residents have the best possible quality of life.”

Petcoke, a byproduct of the oil refinery process that’s high in sulfur and carbon, is usually shipped overseas where it is burned as fuel.

Dr. Bechara Choucair, city Department of Public Health commissioner, said the main goal of the ordinance is to protect the health and wellness of residents near petcoke facilities. Choucair said his department has received more than 1,600 pages of comments and supporting documents from more than 60 individuals and organizations weighing in on regulations proposed in December that required bulk materials facilities to completely enclose their materials. At a public hearing in January, KCBX operations manager Mike Estandt said the facility — the largest petcoke facility on the Southeast Side — would be forced to close if the department’s regulations were passed.

“We know that petcoke is a respiratory irritant and the main concern is if the petcoke is inhaled,” Choucair said. “If you have somebody with asthma or other respiratory problems, inhaling petcoke would really lead to more problems. . . . We are advancing this ordinance to protect our residents.”

KCBX spokesman Jake Reint said the company is still reviewing the proposed ordinance but is “concerned about policies that seek to ban certain products or services without cause or that discourage investment in the marketplace.”

“We don’t believe there is justification for banning or arbitrarily limiting the processing, transport, storage and handling of bulk materials, including petroleum coke and coal, in Chicago,” Reint said.

Reint said KCBX has been in communication with the community in an effort to update them on dust-control procedures the company has put in place.

“We have the utmost respect for our neighbors and we’re committed to doing the right thing,” Reint said. “We’re going to make every effort to work with [the] city to address the community’s concerns and remain a viable business and local employer. We think our businesses in our industry deserve the same opportunity.”

Other organizations in Chicago are speaking out against the ordinance. Mark Denzler, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Assocation called the ordinance “a solution in search of a problem.”

“The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association does not believe that there is any justification for banning or arbitrariliy limiting the processing, storage, transport or handling of petcoke in Chicago,” Denzler said in a statement.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce is also questioning the ordinance, calling it an “overreaction.”

“We don’t understand what the mayor is trying to accomplish here. Petcoke and coal have been handled and stored in Chicago for decades with few issues. This seems like an overreaction to one incident – good policy rarely comes from overreacting,” Doug Whitley, Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO said.

A class-action lawsuit filed last year by area residents targeted the owners and operators of the three storage sites for coal and petcoke in the 2900 block of East 106th, the 3200 block of East 100th Street and the 10700 block of South Burley Avenue, including KCBX, KMR, Beemsterboer, DTE, Calumet Transload and Koch Carbon. Since then, Emanuel joined Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to announce new regulations and a companion-agreed court order with the owner of one of three petcoke storage sites. Gov. Pat Quinn also outlined statewide policy changes that would impose strict restrictions to enclose petcoke.

Email: tsfondeles@suntimes.com

Twitter: TinaSfon

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