Population of Pembroke Town Less than 2,000, Is the last one The long-established black farming community remained in Illinois. Once upon a time, it was the largest such community in the northern United States.Established In the 1860s The escaped slave soon became Agricultural Center, Produced tons of marijuana during World War II, and later provided food for Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland during the great migration from south to north.

Now Nicor ​​Gas wants to run a natural gas pipeline to it.

Earlier this summer, the Democratic-controlled Illinois State Convention passed HB 3404 — A bill that will help fund the proposed natural gas pipeline, partly by allowing 250% increase Gas bills for customers across the state. It will bring to an end a years-long effort to bring cheaper natural gas heating to the area an hour south of Chicago, which now gets its heat from a mixture of propane, wood-burning stoves, and electric space heaters. Democratic Governor JB Pritzker must sign the bill into law by August 29.

But many local farmers and environmentalists pleaded with Pritzker to veto the bill, believing that the pipeline would threaten agricultural land and the rare black oak savanna habitat, and that the era of new fossil fuel infrastructure has passed.

“The community needs renewable energy,” said Fred Carter, co-founder of the Black Oaks Sustainable Renewable Living Center in Pembroke, who also grows Swiss chard, eggplant, cantaloupe, okra and other crops on his farm . “This pipeline is a direct attack on the agricultural potential of this community.”

Environmental advocates also argued that the pipeline would undermine Pritzker’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.Pritzker has pledged to cut Emissions Consistent with the 2015 Paris Agreement and promised to end emissions The natural gas industry by 2045.

The focus of the pipeline construction case is the deep poverty in the area.Advocates say this will increase the economic opportunities of most black villages in Hopkins Park, Pembroke, one of the poorest areas in the state. Poverty rate doubled The overall situation in Illinois.It won Support from civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson, who organized a meeting between Nicor ​​executives and government officials to realize the project. The mayor of Hopkins Park, Mark Hodge, said it will help alleviate the poverty of its 500 residents by attracting businesses. According to reports, Hodge has said that the cost of switching to renewable energy is too high.

Fred Carter, his wife and his son and a farm apprentice stand in front of the solar panels on their farm. Courtesy of Fred Carter.

Peter Christensen, assistant professor of environmental economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, sees the advantages of both sides. “We must also consider the needs of local communities that were truly excluded from energy infrastructure in the past,” he said.

Local farmers and environmental advocates saw another way to get the town out of “energy poverty.” They see Pembroke as the center of solar energy and sustainable agriculture and continue to manage the land. Pembroke has many other needs that can be a priority for economic development, such as emergency services or broadband Internet.

The Illinois Environmental Commission said: “This legislation only provides the wrong solution to the very real problems faced by communities that have been withdrawing funds for decades.” Wrote in a letter To the legislator.

If passed, the $10 million plan will lay more than 30 miles of natural gas pipelines through the town of Pembroke and connect hundreds of residents.

Carter worried that the leak would contaminate the water in the town and threaten his health and livelihood. Like many others in the area, he relies on the aquifers in his property to drink water and irrigate his crops.

As early as 2019, state regulators cited Nicor’s water pollution behavior, when the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued a violation to the company Dumping carcinogenic wastewater into farmland Close to the aquifer recharge area.The company is also Under investigation Due to potential contamination in more than a dozen locations around Illinois, it was proposed by the state attorney general.

Gilbert Mishaw, an environmental policy expert at Loyola University in Chicago, said he supports bringing rural low-income communities to a level playing field, but is skeptical of the promise that pipelines will increase economic opportunities.

“At some point, this industry will go bankrupt,” Michaud said. “Should we build expensive pipelines for non-renewable resources?” He said that the same reasons Pembroke is suitable for agriculture — it is flat, large, and sunny — will also make it good for renewable energy. “From a technical feasibility point of view, things like utility-scale wind or solar power make a lot of sense.”

According to the Illinois Environmental Commission, although residents have long been interested in renewable energy, the state has not considered whether solar energy is feasible in Pembroke Town.

March, Pritzker Visit Pembroke Celebrate the cleaning New law He signed work protection for people with criminal records, expanded opportunities for ethnic minorities and women to obtain state contracts, and benefited black farmers.Carter hopes that the governor will continue to support him by vetoing the bill, which will authorize the local government to confiscate private property for pipeline use Expropriation.

“This has always been the fear of the community,” Carter said. “We will be forced to move away from the homes where we have lived for generations.”


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