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'It's like nobody really cares': Residents of Peoria's South Side are raising concerns about carbon capture pipeline plan

WCBU | By Tim Shelley
Published March 30, 2023 at 3:19 PM CDT

1st District Peoria City Council member Denise Jackson, at podium, speaks about her concerns with the proposed Wolf/ADM carbon capture pipeline during a March 30 news conference at the Peoria Public Library Lincoln Branch.

The South Side of Peoria needs a seat at the table in the ongoing conversations over a carbon capture pipeline that would run to the BioUrja ethanol plant.

That's one of the messages 1st District Peoria City Council member Denise Jackson imparted during a Thursday news conference she called in conjunction with Southside Community United for Change, Heart of Illinois Sierra Club, and Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance.

"There are thousands of stakeholders who who are impacted by operations at BioUrja — residents, businesses, churches, schools, nonprofit organizations, and our neighboring communities across the river," Jackson said. "If there is a safer and a better solution for keeping carbon dioxide from harming our environment, and residents, then it should be considered."

Wolf Carbon Solutions and Archer Daniels Midland are proposing a pipeline that would transport captured carbon from plants in Cedar Rapids and Clinton, Iowa to a permanent sequestration site in Decatur. A separate trunkline would split off from the main line and run up the Illinois River to the BioUrja plant.

That liquefied carbon dioxide is stored in porous sandstone deep underground. Carbon capture and storage is touted as one solution to prevent greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere by redirecting them.

Tracy Fox of Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance is skeptical. She said the compressed carbon moved through the high-pressure pipeline could have dire health impacts if there were a leak or rupture. She noted high concentrations of carbon dioxide can affect spark plugs and render vehicles inoperative, making it difficult for emergency responders to reach people in impacted areas.

Peoria Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Tony Cummings said he hasn't yet had a chance to review data about the pipelines.

"I can assure you that whatever it is going to come through the city, we will be ready to mitigate any concerns that the public will have," Cummings said.

Fox said there's too many unknowns about the BioUrja ethanol plant and the pipeline project, including how carbon will be captured, or what pollutants the plant releases into the air and the Illinois River.

"I don't believe that this carbon capture operation or the pipeline itself would be good for the South Side. BioUrja, yes, should be encouraged to clean up their act and do better. But they need to find alternatives to this capture operation if they're serious about cutting their climate footprint," she said.

Joyce Blumenshine of the Heart of Illinois Sierra Club said federal and state regulations are currently inadequate to offer sufficient protections for the South Side.

"We need to get the facts early on and get involved in this question, because no resident of the city of Peoria should tolerate anything coming into the South Side that's going to continue the inequities, the disenfranchisement, the huge problems that the South Side has faced for generations," she said. "That is not fair. And that's not who we should be as Peoria."

The South Side of Peoria includes the 61605 ZIP code, a majority Black community that is one of the poorest in Illinois and the nation. It's also an environmental justice area due to the high concentrations of pollutants and associated chronic health issues.

Martha Ross is president of the Peoria Public Schools board of education and the neighborhood association coalition Southside Community United for Change. She's lived on the South Side for 43 years.

"I'm just upset, and I can't not show it, for what's going to happen if this pipeline comes through the South Side of Peoria," she said. "It's like nobody really cares. Now, I'm a proponent for businesses. That's not the point. But for some reason, everything that needs to be dumped is dumped on the South Side. And I don't like that."

There's not much information currently available about the pipeline plans and specifications. Wolf Carbon Solutions and ADM haven't yet filed a permit application with the Illinois Commerce Commission. That's a critical regulatory step in the development process.

Nick Noppinger, the senior vice president of corporate development for Wolf Carbon Solutions, told WCBU in an interview last September the pipelines are safe. He said the community and first responders would be trained on how to react to emergencies.

Jackson said she has a meeting scheduled with BioUrja officials next week to discuss her concerns. She's encouraging Peoria residents to write letters to their local, state, and federal officials asking them to consider a moratorium on pipeline development "until we are able to reach common ground on something like this."

Jackson said she's hosting a community meeting on the pipeline at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 3 at the Peoria Public Library Lincoln Branch.

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