Environmental groups on Tuesday presented a petition with more than 6,000 signatures urging Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to support a proposed ordinance that would control the emissions from two coal-fired power plants that spew tons of contaminants into the air in Latino neighborhoods.

Some 50 members of the Chicago Clean Power Coalition formed a human billboard in front of City Hall with a message telling Emanuel, "it's time" to stop using coal to generate electricity.

The environmentalists are demanding an ordinance directed at the Fisk and Crawford plants, located near the Latino neighborhoods of Little Village and Pilsen, respectively.

Both plants are owned by Midwest Generation.

"Our neighbors are getting sick with the pollution produced by the generation of energy that is sold in other states, and the economic benefits of which are going to end up in the pocket of the main firm in California," said Maria Torres, an organizer of Pilsen Alliance.

The coalition, which includes the Sierra Club and other entities, notes that Fisk, built in 1903, and Crawford, which dates from 1924, "are subject to more lenient federal pollution limits because of their age."

The environmentalists cite a 2001 Harvard University study which found that pollution from Fisk and Crawford could be responsible for 42 premature deaths, 66 heart attacks and at least 2,800 asthma crises annually.

Chicago's proposed Clean Power Ordinance has not been resolved despite months of discussions within the 50-member City Council. The measure recently was returned to the Council's agenda on the initiative of Aldermen Daniel Solis and Joe Moore, but no date has been set for a vote on it.

The environmentalists noted Tuesday in a press conference that Emanuel supported the goals of the ordinance.

Kim Wasserman-Nieto, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, demanded the mayor's intervention to "put this problem behind us once and for all."

Rose Gomez, a Sierra Club member who described herself as "born and raised in Little Village," said that for as long as she can remember "the specter of the polluting plants has threatened the lives of the residents."

"I'm tired of the excuses of the politicians and of more than a decade of fighting Midwest Generation," she said.

The ordinance under study would obligate the plants to stop burning coal to generate electricity and to switch over to natural gas or stop operating.

It establishes that if an installation has a quarterly emissions average that exceeds the federal and state limits, it will be fined up to $10,000 and will have to suspend its operations until pollution controls are installed to ensure it complies with the standards.

Midwest has responded that the ordinance is not necessary because new rules regulating air quality in Illinois and the implementation of reductions in the plants' emissions are already in effect.

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