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The Mechanics
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Environment/Sustainability Thu Apr 22 2010

How to Lobby Effectively for Cleaner Air

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Inside the Sierra Club's Chicago offices off of Lake Street, just a few days before Earth Day, a group of about 15 people gathered this week to discuss effective ways to lobby for the clean power ordinance. The proposed ordinance, introduced last week in City Council, calls for two of Chicago's worst polluters -- Fisk Generating Station and the Crawford Generating Station -- to limit particulate matter and Carbon Dioxide emissions. Proponents argue that this is technologically and financially feasible for both the coal-burning plants, which were built in the 1950s and were often exempt from certain regulations because of their age.

Fisk and Crawford, owned by Midwest Generation, are both located on the city's South Side in predominately Mexican neighborhoods. The plants release thousands of pounds of dangerous skin, lung and organ "toxicants," severely affecting the air quality and health of millions in the Chicago area, especially Little Village and Pilsen residents.

The ordinance cites a 2001 Harvard School of Public Health study (.pdf) that states air pollution specifically from Fisk and Crawford causes more than 40 deaths, 550 emergency room visits and 2,800 asthma attacks every year. At Tuesday's Sierra Club meeting, several of those in attendance shared their personal stories: one gentleman said growing up in Michigan, his allergies were rarely a problem, but when he moved to Chicago, his allergies became so severe that doctors suggested he try taking steroids to control them. Another young man from California said he never had an asthma attack until moving to Chicago.

"We've come together because we realized if you're going to take on such a huge issue as trying to clean up the coal power plants, we all have to work together," said Tony Fuller, a volunteer with the Sierra Club. "We need people to reach out across the city, that's why it's so important. The aldermen, unless they hear from their constituents, they're not going to take action."

The ordinance is sponsored by Ald. Joe Moore (49th), who also spoke at length on the topic at Tuesday's meeting. Co-sponsors include Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Sandi Jackson (7th), Toni Foulkes (15th), Joanne Thompson (16th), Sharon Dixon (24th), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Rey Colon (35th), Eugene Schulter (47th) and Mary Ann Smith (48th).

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Moore argues that while from a policy standpoint, it might be more effective for the federal government to place much more aggressive restrictions on coal-burning plants across the country, it's time that Chicago steps in and "leads by example."

"Everytime in the history of mankind, when the government steps in to try to clean something up - to regulate industry for worker safety standards, for living wages, for environmental reasons - the reaction of industry time and time again is, 'We can't do it. It's going to put too much of a burden on us. We will shut down,'" Moore said. "And low and behold, guess what? They do it, and as a result, we have a healthier environment and cleaner environment. We're not where we need to be with respect to the environment, which is why we're stepping in and taking care of this."

Moore also told the crowd that one of the most effective ways to lobby an alderman is to visit him or her during ward night hours held once a week, or to make an appointment to speak in person about the topic. Next effective, he says, is e-mail. Despite the corruption present in Chicago politics, Moore insisted, "I can tell you from personal experience, there is nothing more powerful for an elected official, particularly on a local level, than hearing from their constituents, people who live in their ward, about a matter that is important to those folks. Because ultimately, you are the ones going to make the decision about whether to vote for them in the next election or to vote for someone who wants to take their job. They are very aware of that. Don't underestimate your power to influence a member of the City Council. Most members in the City Council have not given a whole lot of thought to this....this is your opportunity to take that blank slate and write on it in a way that is favorable to our point of view."

Read the entire ordinance here (.pdf) and stay in touch on the topic with the Chicago Clean Power Coalition. The Coalition recommends these tips when lobbying your alderman:

  • Make an appointment

  • Go in teams

  • Be personal

  • Do some homework

  • Let your alderman know you are part of an organization effort

  • Don't be defensive

  • Get a commitment from the alderman

  • Follow-up promptly

The Coalition also recommends this basic lobbying message:

As your constituent, I want to bring an issue that is very important to me. Please co-sponsor the clean power ordinance. Clean up two of the dirtiest power plants, right here in our city. Air pollution doesn't stop at ward boundaries. These plants and pollutions affect all Chicago residents. Because of Home rule, the city has the legal authority to require the plants to clean up their emission.

Below, listen to Parson Brown and Kat Wallace from Topless America discuss effective lobbying methods.

 
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