20100914 cloud gate 18
Chicago's skyline is reflected in the "Cloud Gate" sculpture at Millennium Park in Chicago. - 


JEREMY HOBSON: Well a new study out this week shows two old coal plants in Chicago are polluting the air and making people sick. And as Tony Arnold reports from Chicago Public Radio, that means some serious health care costs.

TONY ARNOLD: The study says particulates from Chicago coal plants owned by Midwest Generation are causing asthma and emergency room visits. And that's costing $127 million a year. What to do about it?

HOWARD LEARNER: If Midwest Generation said, "We're going to clean these plants up by switching to natural gas," we'd be glad to talk to them about it.

Howard Learner heads the Environmental Law and Policy Center that did the study. Some utilities in states like Colorado and Ohio are switching their coal plants to cleaner burning natural gas. In Chicago, the calls to convert are getting louder. Midwest Generation's Susan Olavarria says the utility would have to spend a billion dollars to convert to natural gas and it isn't clear that the coal plants are causing the health problems.

SUSAN OLAVARRIA: Even the Illinois EPA web site says that one of the largest polluters of the area is actually vehicles. So each and every one of us would have to stop driving our vehicles in order for the air to be, you know, pure.

In Chicago, Tony Arnold for Marketplace.