Standing Rock and the East Side. Dirty energy and violence.

I first met Olga Bautista during the campaign to elect Susan Sadlowski Garza as the Alderman for the Tenth Ward.

I wrote about it.

Hiring scandals aside, there are life-and-death issues facing the 10th Ward. Environmental issues.

The Koch brothers store their petcoke in the 10th Ward.

Petcoke is used as a fuel. The Koch brothers own KCBX, which buys petcoke from the Detroit Marathon Oil Refinery and stores it in piles by the river in the ward until it can be shipped and sold on the international market.

When the wind blows the dusty petcoke blows from the piles into the air, settling on people’s homes and into the river.

The dust falls on people’s skin and discolors their clothes.

On many days people can’t gather for barbeques and outdoor markets without having black dust fall on their faces and clothes and contaminate their food.

Many believe their family members have emphysema and even cancer as a result of Koch brothers’ petcoke dust.

Alderman Pope, along with Mayor Emanuel, responded to these concerns with an ordinance. The ordinance bans future petcoke storage elsewhere in the city.

Olga Bautista is an environmental activist in the fight against dirty energy. She lives in the Tenth Ward.

What made me call Olga today was the movement of Native people in Standing Rock to stop the pipeline that is being built to take oil from North Dakota and move it across Iowa and into Illinois.

I knew there must be a connection.

Processing the oil produces petcoke. It begins in the tar sand fields of Canada and North Dakota and then is processed into petcoke. In a photo exhbit at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography (Petcoke: Tracing Dirty Energy) Henry Henderson of the Natural Resources Defense Council explains:

The heavy crude they yield is often referred to as “the dirtiest oil on the planet” due to the immense amounts of energy necessary to extract it, the carbon it spews when it is burned as fuel, and the adverse environmental impact caused by extraction. One of the major waste products of the mainly midwestern refineries where this fuel is processed, petcoke comprises carbon, heavy metals, and other dangerous compounds. Much of the material generated by US refineries is ultimately sent overseas to China, India, and Mexico, where, thanks to looser environmental regulations, it can be burned to produce electricity.

The Chicago area is now an epicenter of this global dirty energy trade. Just outside the city limits, BP, formerly known as British Petroleum, has a large refinery, in Whiting, Indiana, which recently expanded its capacity to process tar sands crude and is now a leading domestic producer of petcoke, generating more than two million tons annually.

Initially, this waste was parked in the large uncovered piles on the banks of the Calumet by KCBX Terminals Company. (Billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch own KCBX, through a chain of privately held corporations.) KCBX’s plans to store their petcoke on these midwestern sites were aided by bizarrely generous approval from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and initial passivity on the part of the City of Chicago.

It is not only dirty energy. It requires violence to produce it.

“When I got involved three years ago it was just the issue of petcoke in my neighborhood,” Olga told me. “But now I see how it is all connected. Producing the oil and then the petcoke and that stuff gets in the air and it covers the whole earth.”

While the ten story piles of uncovered petcoke are gone from the Tenth Ward, it is still a transit point for KBCX, the company owned by the Koch brothers.

For Olga the connection is clear. “It is violence against us all.”

Olga will be speaking at the support rally for Standing Rock at 4PM Friday, September 9th at the Daley Center.

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