December 22, 2005

We Saved the Arctic

The Arctic National Widlife Refuge survived its closest brush yet with becoming an industrial site sacrificed to our voracious oil appetite and lack of an energy policy when the Senate majority fell four votes short of cutting off a filibuster to protest adding the drilling to the must-pass Defense budget bill.

Senator Durbin played a key role in organizing opposition, and gave one of the final (and best) speeches during a dramatic floor debate. Senator Obama was an early signer to a letter last week organized by Washington Senator Maria Cantwell protesting adding the drilling provisions to this bill. Since the Defense Department budget bill must pass, it rapidly became a big expensive Christmas tree loaded with non-Pentagon related provisions. Drilling the Arctic would have been a very ugly ornament indeed.

This is a big victory for the national environmental movement at a time when it needed one badly. It is a testament to all the work done over the decades to show and tell Americans about the importance and beauty of this place that most of us will never see, but want to know that it will always be wild.

So to all of you in Illinois who did your part in this historic battle, you have something else to celebrate this holiday season. If you wrote your letters, made your calls, came to a rally, helped elect either or both of our two fine Senators, this is your victory, and you certainly deserve it.

Happy holidays to you, and to the polar bears, caribou, and others that call the Refuge home.

December 21, 2005

CSPAN Might Actually Be Exciting Wednesday

Having failed to win passage of Arctic drilling through the Budget process,
Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) has inserted his proposal to open up the Arctic
Refuge in the Defense spending bill. Stevens is holding the wildly popular
DOD approps bill hostage in order to force his controversial drilling
legislation through Congress.

A growing cadre of Senators has voiced objection to Stevens latest gambit.
Because Arctic drilling was not part of the DOD bill sent over from the
House, nor the bill passed by the Senate, the measure is "outside the scope
of the conference" under senate Rules. On Wednesday, Senators Cantwell,
Reid, Kerry, Durbin, Lieberman and others will raise a point of order
against the Stevens drilling provision. The parliamentarian will agree
that Arctic is non- germane and then Stevens will have to win a vote to
overturn the ruling of the Chair. He will have to secure 51 votes, or a
majority of those present to prevail. Already 47 senators have lent their
name to a letter objecting to Stevens abuse of senate rules including 5

If Stevens wins a vote to overturn the Senate rules and keep Arctic
drilling part of the DOD approps bill, drilling opponents have committed
to filibuster the legislation and force Stevens back to conference to strip
the provision before a final DOD funding bill passes the Senate. The onus
is on Stevens to produce 60 votes to support his overturn of the Senate
rules. Despite the nervousness about the idea of filibustering this
important bill, this is a vote we can win!

Tell Senators Durbin and Obama to Stay Strong!

Please urge them to:

1. support efforts to strip this language from the Defense Funding bill and
2. filibuster the legislation if necessary to ensure that Arctic drilling
does not become law.

Connect to their offices by calling 1-888-8-WILDAK

December 15, 2005

A Last-Ditch Attempt To Drill the Arctic

The word on Capitol Hill is that Arctic drilling has been dropped from the budget bill and attached to the defense appropriations bill instead. The last-minute tactic is a cynical move by the pro-drilling lobby, particularly as this is the spending bill that funds our troops in wartime. Don't let them get away with it: Call the Capitol Switchboard now at (202) 224-3121.

Senators Durbin and Obama have been steadfast in their opposition to sacrificing OUR Refuge for oil company profits. We need their help one more time, even as the Senate leadership links Arctic drilling to the same bill that funds our veterans and armed forces. Tell them to oppose this outrage.

December 11, 2005

New Tribune Series on "The Mercury Menace"

Today begins a special series in the Tribune on how mercury-contaminated fish are widely available at supermarkets around Chicagoland.,1,3096866.htmlstory?coll=chi-news-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true

Hopefully Gov. Blagojevich will soon announce strict limits on power plant pollution to help solve this problem.

December 09, 2005

IDNR Nixes Banner Mine Proposal!

The IDNR has denied an essential permit for a proposed strip mine near the Illinois River, and between the Banner Marsh and Rice Lake wildlife refuges.

Banner Marsh

The mine proposal could resurface, but this is great news for local residents and the Illinois River. Congratulations and thank you to the residents of Banner, the Heart of Illinois Sierra Club (led in this victory by the indefatigable Joyce Blumenshine), Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, who championed this cause as part of his advocacy for the Illinois River watershed, and of course the IDNR for making the right call.

November 17, 2005

JCAR Strikes at Clean Water Again

Uncontrolled nutrient pollution causes runaway growth of algae that can make drinking water taste bad, promote growth of mosquitoes, and suck oxygen out of the water that fish need to breathe.

Last summer developers buried an Illinois EPA proposal to protect clean water in fast-growing areas by getting a relatively obscure legislative body - the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules - to quash a common-sense proposal that was the result of years of meetings, hard work, and compromise by all parties. IEPA is still working to respond to that sneak attack, and now their other major clean water initiative has been at least temporarily halted by pressure behind closed doors.

At issue is a proposal by the Blagojevich administration to protect drinking water and wildlife from pollution by requiring new or expanded wastewater plants to use widely available technology to remove phosphorus as part of treating sewage. Since these controls aren't required, most of our major rivers are overloaded with this nutrient that is natural in small quantities, but quickly becomes a threat to drinking water and aquatic life when dumped unchecked in millions of gallons of wastewater per day. Many plants are including the technology voluntarily now.

Increasingly JCAR is being used as a tool by polluters to block regulations using arguments that either didn't work or weren't made in the rulemaking process. If your legislator sits on JCAR,
let them know you support clean water and you hope they do too.

November 09, 2005

Party Pics

Thanks to all who turned out Sunday night - we're off to our best and earliest start ever with our 2006 campaigns!

Thanks to Charlie Love & the Silky Smooth Blues Band - not very often that dancing breaks out at a Sierra Club meeeting.

Great to see so many colleagues, old friends AND new faces.

And thanks to Sara Feigenholtz and John Cullerton for showing up on a Sunday and telling folks why we need to elect more environmentalists to office.

November 07, 2005

Good Times At the Mines

We had over 200 people tonight at our 2006 campaign kickoff fundaiser at Kingston Mines in Chicago. This gives us a huge boost going into a campaign season that is full of opportunities to elect environmental champions.

Senator Cullerton and Representative Feighenholz spoke well about the importance of having a Sierra Club voice in Springfield, and in camapaigns around the state.

Thanks to everyone who came, and who helped make it happen!

November 03, 2005

A Good Party For a Good Cause

Sunday night is our kickoff party for our 2006 campaign efforts. Join us for a fun night of down home blues and green friends, featuring Charlie Love and the Silky Smooth Blues Band, plus down-home cookin' with a soul food buffet and a chance to support candidates who will protect our air, water, and natural heritage. Remarks by State Senator John Cullerton and State Representative Sara Feigenholtz.

Kingston Mines Blues Club
2548 North Halsted, Chicago.
Sunday, November 6, 2005. 5 - 8 PM
Tickets - $35

For more information, and to reserve your spot, see

October 26, 2005

Clean Air Around the Corner in Chicago?

Congratulations White Sox fans. Now that Chicago is shedding its backward history and is the talk of the nation, isn't it time we joined the global push for clean and safe bars and restaurants by going smoke-free?

In the next week the City Council and Mayor Daley appear to be finally ready to decide on an ordinance to ban smoking in bars, restaurants, and public indoor places throughout Chicago. Sierra Club supports the proposal, because of the health threats posed to patrons and workers in smoky places.

This isn't just about whether your hair, coat, and clothes are going to smell like an ashtray after you get home from your favorite bar or a concert. Particularly for the people who work in Chicago's bars and restaurants, it's a matter of life and death.

The folks at the American Lung Association are doing a great job fighting for all of us who live in Chicago or spend time in its bars and restaurants. Call your Alderman, call the Mayor. Ask them to deliver another big victory for Chicago. Find out more at

October 17, 2005

Daley Leads the Way To Cleaner Air

Mayor Daley and the City of Chicago have been doing great work lately speaking up for clean air at a time when Congress is voting to weaken the Clean Air Act.

Chicago has endorsed the Kyoto Protocol, calling for real action to reduce global warming pollution. See,1,820853.story

Last week, they filed an objection to proposed new coal-fired power plant south of Joliet that would be the biggest new source of air pollution in the Chicago area in a long time. See,1,2838465.story

Thanks from the bottoms of our lungs to Mayor Daley, Environment Commissioner Sadhu Johnston, and everyone else from the City who is working to make Chicago the greenest city in America. There are still issues (the lame blue bag system, the dirty coal plants on the southwest side, a Chicago River that needs disinfecting), but the commitment to make progress is real and is making Chicago a better place to live and do business.

And go White Sox!

October 10, 2005

Mercury Pollution - Cut It Out!

Tonight we finished a statewide series of free hair testings for mercury contamination. At 11 locations around the state, we met hundreds of moms, dads, kids, young adults, and seniors who are concerned that pollution from coal power plants is ending up on their plate and in their bodies.

From Peoria to Pilsen, Carbondale to Highland Park, Illinoisans lined up to have a lock of their hair taken as part of a national analysis being done by the Environmental Quality Institue at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Each will get confidential results of their own mercury test, which will be part of a national study to be released in November.

Thanks to everyone who took part, and especially the salons and barbershops who hosted these community events and collected the samples. Until we require pollution controls on mercury from power plants, educating the public about how they can limit their own exposure through their diet is the best way to prevent children from suffering from mercury poisoning.

September 27, 2005

Got Mercury? Get Tested!

With evidence mounting about the dangers of mercury contamination to the health of Illinois children, Sierra Club is sponsoring a series of mercury testing events this fall at locations across Illinois. Sierra Club is teaming up with local hair salons to offer a simple test that measures mercury pollution in a person’s body from a sample of their hair.

1 in 6 women of childbearing age in the U.S. already has enough mercury in her body to put a fetus at risk of learning disabilities and developmental problems. Illinois residents who have been wondering just how much mercury is in their bodies—and what can be done about it, can now find out easily by having a small lock of hair clipped and tested for mercury exposure at one of these events.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Public Health has issued warnings about the dangers of eating large fish out of any Illinois river or lake. People who eat these fish, or certain types of ocean fish, including tuna and swordfish, may accumulate unhealthy levels of mercury in their bodies.

The test takes only minutes, and is free to the first 20 attendees at each location. Hair samples will be taken by a professional stylist. Individual results are confidential, reported only to each person tested. The samples are being taken as part of a national study of mercury contamination levels, with the samples analyzed by the Environmental Quality Institute (EQI) at the University of North Carolina-Asheville.

The tests begin today with an event in Willowbrook, and include events in the north, west, and south suburbs, north and south sides of Chicago, Peoria, and the metro East region. For a complete list of events, and to make a reservation, see

September 15, 2005

Obama Calls For Sane Energy Policy In Wake of Katrina

We all know Barack Obama can give a great speech. Today's was stirring - a speech on the Senate floor about the lessons in the aftermath of Katrina for our nation's energy policy

"The days of running a 21st century economy on a 20th century fossil fuel are numbered - and we need to realize that before it's too late. "

You can read speech at

For all the devastation, injustice, and despair to come out of hurricane Katrina, it is also beginning to sound like a loud wakeup call regarding the policies of our government in many areas. Let's hope that America follows the lead of Senator Obama and others who are speaking out at this historic time to not only seek aid and justice for those impacted by the disaster, but to change the way our government protects us and our future. Better yet, let's not just hope, let's help make it happen.

September 13, 2005

Gore's Katrina Speech

Al Gore's recent speech on Katrina is a must read. See it at:

Gore gave this speech to the Sierra Club's first-ever Summit meeting this past weekend in San Francisco. He initially declined to address the Summit, because he had been invited to address state insurance commissioners on the risks posed by global warming, but their conference was set for New Orleans.

September 08, 2005

ComEd Breaks Clean Energy Promise

Commonwealth Edison has apparently broken its commitment to meet the goals of Governor Blagojevich's Sustainable Energy Plan, notably getting 8% of the power they sell from wind and other clean sources.

ComEd has repeatedly and publicly expressed their support and commitment to acheiving this goal, and their commitment was poised to provide the market for one of the largest wind projects in the country. Having local wind power as part of our power supply would obviously clean the air, but also protect us against volatile prices, and benefit farmers and the local economy.

But Wednesday ComEd balked, and now the whole Plan is in question. It appears that ComEd is breaking their promise to the State and its customers as retaliation for Governor Blagojevich challenging their attempts to raise electric rates for residential customers.

Maybe ComEd is just posturing by doing this, but it is a severe blow both to Illinois' clean energy plans and to the company's credibility. Perhaps they will come to their senses, and keep their word. Come on, Com Ed!

September 04, 2005

Katrina - An UnNatural Disaster?

The stories, images, sights, and sounds coming out of the gulf coast region this week are overwhelming, and hopefully the response from government agencies and people across America will be as impressive as the hurricane was devastating.

Obviously hurricanes are a natural phenomenon. But there is strong evidence that pollution and habitat destruction made Katrina as strong as she was, and robbed New Orleans of defenses that protected it for most of its history.

Katrina crossed over south Florida before hitting the Gulf coast. Instead of weakening over land, Katrina was able to build its terrifying strength over the unusually warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. These rising ocean temperatures are exactly what computer models of climate change project will become the norm as a result of rising pollution levels.

The storm and aftermath raises other issues about the importance that wetland systems play in protecting communities from floods. Since the hurricane Camille hit approximately the same region, Louisiana's coastal wetlands have been a sacrifice zone for oil and gas exploration and production and other development. Instead of providing a healthy buffer for storm surge, coastal wetlands and Gulf beaches have been decimated again and the extent of damage is currently unknown. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, three-square miles of wetlands can reduce storm surge by a foot. One acre of wetland can absorb a million gallons of stormwater.

Although the extent of the environmental devastation remains unknown, it is clear that the flooding has brought a toxic soup to New Orleans: At least two hazardous waste sites are underwater, at least two oil refinery sites in Chalmette are shut down and possibly flooded, and throughout the city gas stations and natural gas pipelines are flooded and leaking into
water-soaked neighborhoods. In addition, bacteria and fecal matter contaminate the flood waters and mosquito-borne and other disease threatens.

Right now are thoughts are with those still awaiting rescue, attempting to assemble the basic necessities of life, and trying to contemplate their future after such incomprehensible loss. Hopefully in the weeks, months, and years ahead, the horror of Katrina will inform ongoing debates about public policies on energy, climate change, and wetlands protection.

August 26, 2005

Putting Differences Aside To Put The River First

Sierra Club is proud to be a founding partner in the Fox River Study Group. While we can all be proud of the improvements made in Fox River water quality over the last three decades, we also must be aware that this progress is jeopardized by the rapid development taking place in its watershed. The results of the Fox River Study will give us excellent information about the current state of the river, and about its future. The study should also help build support for the steps we will all need to take to protect the Fox River from pollution and continue its cleanup.

The Study began in the wake of monitoring data collected by the Sierra Club, Valley of the Fox Group's Water Sentinel volunteers that showed that the Fox was carrying unhealthy levels of phosphorus. There were legal battles over proposed expansion of sewage plants (without controls for phosphorus pollution). Illinois EPA brought Sierra Club and the dischargers together to our common interests - clean water and sound science.

We applaud the wastewater agencies and communities along the Fox River for the financial support, technical expertise, and staff support they are contributing to this effort. They are largely responsible for the improvements made so far in the Fox River, and we are confident that they will be also be able to take whatever steps the study recommends to finish the job. They stand between the river we love and much of the pollution that threatens it, and we all need to make sure they have the resources and support they need to do that critical job.

This study would not be possible without the support of the Illinois EPA. From the beginning, they have provided critical technical and financial support for the study. Under Governor Blagojevich, IEPA also is taking major steps to better protect rivers in fast-growing regions like this one, including moving toward phosphorus controls on wastewater plants, and improving the process for approving new sewer line extensions to better protect water quality. We also appreciate the efforts of House Speaker Dennis Hastert to secure federal funding for the effort, and the contributions of public and private entities throughout the watershed.

There was a nice ceremony in Aurora Wednesday to thank all those who have helped with the study so far. But the one person who perhaps has done the most did not get an award - Dr. Cynthia Skrukrud, who chairs the study and is Sierra Club's Clean Water Advocate in Illinois. She has worked tirelessly in recent years to help design, fund, and implement the study. 11% of Illinois' population now live in the Fox River watershed, and growth continues. They all owe a debt to Cynthia her partners in the Fox River Study Group.

August 18, 2005

And Now Big Oil Gets Big Subsidies

Governor Blagojevich reacted to record gas prices by asking President Bush to open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The latest runup in gas prices is a classic supply and demand problem, and not being a big oil state (although those of you from southern Illinois know we are a small oil state), Illinios is essentially on the demand side of that equation. So, the only long-term answer is to reduce our demand by using less gas. That helps immediately by buying less of those $3 gallons, and in the long term by reducing demand pressures, particularly if others in the country and world take similar steps.

What are the steps? No surprises - making cars that go farther on a gallon of gas is the single biggest step. The average fuel efficiency of American cars actually declined with the 2005 model year. Transit and alternative fuels are also important parts of the mix.

Of course, big oil is raking it in these days. Between April and June 2005, BP recorded profits of $5 billion, and ConocoPhillips earned $3.1 billion in profits. ExxonMobil’s second quarter profits of almost $8 billion shattered records, giving the company more than $15 billion in profits in the first half of 2005 alone. This is on top of the company’s record $24 billion in profits in 2004.

Did Congress help by including vehicle fuel efficiency requirements in the energy bill passed last month? No, but they did provide at least $4 billions in subsidies to the oil industry. Talk about priorities.

August 16, 2005

Blagojevich Funds Critical Illinois River Program

Some welcome good conservation budget news comes today with the Illinois DNR calling for applications for farmers to participate in an innovative program to cut pollution in the Illinois River, create wildlife habitat, and provide income to farmers.

Blagojevich is making $10 million in capital funds available for the effort, as he proposed in his budget address last winter. The $10 million made available today will also leverage $40 million in federal funds, making it an unbeatable investment for today’s taxpayers and for future generations. By helping farmers protect fragile areas along the Illinois River and the creeks and rivers that flow into it, we can make major cuts in the amount of soil, pesticides, and fertilizers flowing into the River, provide a source of income to farmers, and create thousands of acres of habitat for waterfowl, fish, and other wildlife.

Since the program, known as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, or CREP, began in 1998, 110,000 acres have been set aside. The goal of the program is to reduce soil runoff into the Illinois River by 20%, or one million tons per year. State funding for CREP had been cut during the state's recent severe budget problems, so making $10 million available this fiscal year is an important milestone.

Good work by Governor Blagojevich, the IDNR, and Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, who chairs the Illinois River Coordinating Council and has champoined this program.

You can learn more about the program (including how to apply if you are a farmer in the targetted areas) at

August 10, 2005

Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific, But How Much Mercury Is In It?

Tuesday in Carbondale Sierra Club teamed up with a local hair salon to test the hair of local residents for mercury pollution. Levels of toxic mercury in your blood can also show up in your hair, so just a small lock of your hair can give you a very basic idea of whether you are carrying a heavy load of the toxic chemical that is linked to numerous serious health problems, particularly for developing fetuses and children.

People lined up outside the door to see if they have been impacted by mercury pollution, most of which comes from coal-burning power plants. The tests will be processed in the weeks ahead, and the results given confidentially to the participants. The overall results will be compiled with others from around the country.

The Southern Illinoisan has a nice story on the event at:

The main way most people are exposed to mercury is through the fish they eat. Mercury in coal is vaporized when the coal is burned, and it goes up the stack into the sky, only to come down in the rain. Certain species of ocean fish, such as swordfish, mackerel, and certain tunas, and virtually all large predator fish (bass, walleye, bluegill) from Illinois waters are risky dishes, particularly for women who may have children in the future.

Technology exists to reduce the mercury coming out of coal plants by 90%, but is not required in Illinois.

Would you like to get your hair tested for mercury pollution? We are looking for more locations around the state to do similar tests this fall. If you know of a salon that might be interested in hosting an event near you, let us know.

Soaring Smog Levels in Metro East Today

According to IEPA, by 4pm this afternoon the smog index had reached 190, a very high reading that approaches the category IEPA calls "Very Unhealthy", and where kids and others with asthma are likely to have trouble breathing. EVERYONE should limit outdoor exertion during this episode. Levels should drop as the sun goes down, but similar conditions are possible tomorrow.

August 02, 2005

Illinois Having a Bad Air Day (Again)

The heat and sunshine of our latest heat wave are driving up smog levels to heights not often seen in the last few years in Illinois, and as a result health warnings have been issued for "sensitive populations."

According to Illinois EPA, not only most of the Chicago area, but also Metro East, Champaign-Urbana, Springfield, Bloomington-Normal, Decatur are forecast to have "unhealthy" air Wednesday. Pollution levels will cause "Increased likelihood of respiratory symptoms and breathing discomfort in sensitive groups." The state recommends "Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor activity."

There are basically two types of pollution of particular concern on these dog days. Smog, or ozone, is a gas that forms when many different types of pollution cook in sunlight. In unhealthy concentrations, it can cause something like sunburn on the inside of your lungs, and cause asthma attacks and other health problems. Particulate matter refers to fine particles of pollution that get past our bodies defenses and lodge deep in our lungs. These also cause respiratory problems and even death on days like today. For instance, particulate pollution from Illinois' coal-burning power plants has been linked to 1350 deaths every year in Illinois.

Unfortunately pollution levels climb with the temperatures. In addition to the heat and sunlight creating ideal conditions for smog formation, our coal-burning power plants are often generating at peak capacity on days like to day to meet electricity demand. Since these plants don't have scrubbers or other modern pollution controls, a hot day that is simply uncomfortable for most of us can be deadly for many.

You can now see maps online that show current pollution levels, and time-lapse animation that shows how and where they grow during the course of the day.

You can see the daily map for ozone (smog) at:

And for particulate matter at:

IEPA's daily conditions & forecast are at:

July 28, 2005

Congressional Leaders Agree on Terrible Energy Bill (Surprise, Surprise)

America needs a safer, cleaner, and more secure energy future. Sadly, the energy bill that is emerging from the House and Senate conference committee fails on all counts. Instead of cutting America’s oil dependence, boosting production of renewable energy, and lowering energy prices, this bill funnels billions of taxpayer dollars to polluting energy industries, and
opens up our coastlines and wildlands to destructive oil and gas activities. It gives so much money to oil companies, which are reaping record profits, that even the Bush Administration thinks its too much.

All of which makes it essential that Illinois do better. Gov. Blagojevich is close to having a key pillar of a safe and sane energy policy in place with the state's major utilities considering major commitments to providing clean wind power. (Congress rejected a similar proposal for the nation.)

Much more work is needed to clean up the old, coal-fired power plants that are poisoning our lakes with mercury and making life miserable for people with asthma and other respiratory problems. We also need to shift our efforts to build new coal plants with old-school pollution controls toward the much cleaner gasification technologies that level the playing field for Illinois coal and dramatically cut pollution. There have been some moves in this direction, but we still lack scrubbers on our existing plants and Illinois EPA is still approving new plants without the best controls.

Listed below are just a few of the many terrible provisions in the final energy bill that particularly affect Illinois:

New Life For Nuclear?
Illinois has more nuclear power plants and nuclear waste than any state in the nation. Nuclear power has proven to be extremely expensive, a security risk, and a major generator of waste with no safe disposal options. Congress and the Bush Administration are trying to revive the industry with billions of dollars in subsidies to the nuclear industry, including $2 billion risk insurance program for up to six new reactors that was not included in either the House or Senate passed energy bills. The bill also extends the Price Anderson Act for 20 years which limits the nuclear industry’s liability in case of an accident. It also promotes nuclear proliferation by reversing long-standing U.S. nuclear policy against reprocessing waste from commercial nuclear reactors, and using plutonium to generate commercial energy.

Protection For Drinking Water Polluters
Oil companies have now contaminated 20% of America's drinking water supply with MTBE, a gasoline additive. The bill provides “backdoor immunity” to the producers and distributors, of
the likely carcinogenic gasoline additive MTBE by removing MTBE claims from state court to federal court when the claims are based on state tort law, nuisance law, or consumer law. This unfairly deprives injured parties and
their representatives (Illinois water utilities, our Attorney General, etc) of their right to
have their claims heard here in Illinois, and could derail many legal claims entirely, effectively shielding those companies responsible for MTBE contamination from their full financial liability for the damages they have

Pouring Ever More Money Into Coal
Studies show that prioritizing renewables and coal gasification hold the most promise for creating jobs in Illinois. However, the federal bill prioritizes the weakest job creator - old style coal burning with $6 billion in new incentives, and federal loan guarantees to build at least 16 new coal-fired power plants.

It's not all bad. There is a new, permanent ban on oil drilling in the Great Lakes. Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is left untouched by the bill after the House OK'd letting the oil rigs in. (This battle never ends, however. The next key votes will come on the Bush Administration's proposed budget this fall.) But on balance, it gives tankers of taxpayer dollars away to our biggest sources of pollution.

Illinois can do better.

July 19, 2005

ICC Approves Blagojevich's Clean Energy Goals - Now Will Utilities Meet Them?

The Illinois Commerce Commission today largely approved the themes of Gov. Blagojevich's plan to jumpstart the development of clean, safe power sources in Illinois. So can we now count on cleaner air and lower electricity rates from a growing Illinois wind power industry?

Not yet.

To their credit, the Governor's staff worked tirelessly to make the Governor's Sustainable Energy Plan a reality today. However, while the ICC approved the goals of the plan, it essentially made compliance with these goals by Illinois utilities voluntary. Rather than requiring utilities to meet the goals, which begin with getting 2% of power sold from clean sources in 2007 and end with 8% clean power by 2013, the ICC "expects electric public utilities and alternative retail electric suppliers to participate in the Sustainable Energy Plan by filing appropriate documentation to implement the Plan within thirty (30) days".

Will the utilities meet this expectation? The Governor's office has been working hard to reach agreements with them to do just that. All eyes will now be on the power companies' submittals to the ICC in 30 days to see how specific and enforceable their plans will be.

Ideally, we would all be celebrating a guarantee today that pollution levels will begin falling as more and more power comes from the wind, that the new jobs in clean power will soon be created, and that we will have an alternative to the rising rates for nuclear and fossil fuels. Now we need our public utilities to heed the ICC's call, and act in the public interest with specific commitments to reach or even exceed the goals of the Governor's plan.

The battle is far from over, but the Governor and his staff deserve credit for getting to this point - clearly articulated goals, and followup work to see they are met. Unfortunately the ICC did not lock them in with certainty today, and it's not clear what happens next if the utilities' proposals fall short. Whether Illinois will soon be a leader nationally and globally in encouraging 21st century energy sources now seems largely up to them.

July 18, 2005

Quinn Joins Fight Over Proposed Coal Mine In Eagle Habitat

Thanks to Lt. Governor Pat Quinn for lending his support and energy to the fight to stop a proposed strip mine in Banner, Illinois. Local residents, Sierra Club volunteers, and other conservationists have been opposing the proposal along the Illinois River.

Quinn joins conservationists for a press conference this morning in Banner. From his press release:

This Monday, July 18, 10:30 a.m., Lt. Governor Pat Quinn will launch a grassroots initiative to protect an area along the Illinois River from a proposed strip mine which would threaten drinking water as well as habitats of the American Bald Eagle and American White Pelican. Quinn will be joined at the site in Banner, Illinois - some 25 miles southwest of Peoria - by local environmental advocates and elected officials.

"“Rice Lake, Banner Marsh and the Illinois River are too vital to the region for us to allow the devastating effects of strip mining,"” Quinn said. "Strip mining on this site threatens the drinking water of local residents and habitat of eagles, pelicans and fish. It will reduce tourism potential, strain local water treatment systems, and pollute the Illinois River and Copperas Creek."

This area is used each winter by hundreds of American Bald Eagles and is a major rest stop on the migratory flyway of the American White Pelican.

As Lieutenant Governor, Quinn chairs the Illinois River Coordinating Council, which is responsible for protecting the Illinois River and its tributaries. His office supported a project to dredge sediment from Peoria Lakes and ship it to nearby Banner Marsh and helped obtain Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) funding to protect local floodplain land.

As part of a grassroots initiative, Quinn will launch an on-line petition drive ( and offer support to a local petition drive organized by the “Heart of Illinois Sierra Club. He will also release a letter to the Chicago-based mining company urging it to find a more appropriate use for the land.

The mining plan is being pushed by Capital Resources Development Company, which hopes to surface mine a 643-acre tract located between the Rice Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area and the Banner Marsh State Fish and Wildlife Area, a site less than a mile from the Illinois River. Mining operations could drain local wells, pollute water with heavy metals and possibly rupture the Banner sewage treatment plant. "There are appropriate places in Illinois for mining, but this isn't one of them," Quinn wrote in a letter to Capital Resources Development Company CEO Thomas Korman. "I urge your company to re-think this flawed idea."

In addition to American Bald Eagles and American White Pelicans, the site is habitat to great blue herons, ospreys and other magnificent birds. The Rice Lake and Banner Marsh sites offer a range of nature-based tourism opportunities, including bird watching, hiking, biking, fishing, boating and camping. Further, efforts are underway to have nearby US 24 declared a "“Route of the Voyageurs Scenic Byway"”.

"“Nature-based tourism is booming in Illinois, but this strip mine plan sends tourists and eagles packing,"” Quinn said. "“I urge everyone concerned with natural resources such as the Illinois River, wetlands or eagles to let your voices be heard. Sign our online petition, let your public officials know how you feel. We stopped the forces of destruction at Plum Island and we'’re drawing a line in the sand here."

In 2003, Quinn launched an online petition drive to save 83 eagles from the developer'’s bulldozer on Plum Island, an island in the Illinois River near Utica. More than 26,000 people signed the petition forcing the developer to back down with his plan to build 50 luxury condos there.

"“A century ago, President Teddy Roosevelt defined conservation of our nation'’s natural resources as a noble, needed and patriotic thing to do," Quinn said. "“Let us honor his great love of the American outdoors by protecting the American White Pelicans and American Bald Eagles at Banner."

Illinois River issues have been a part of the Lt. Governor's portfolio dating back to Bob Kustra. Each Lt. Gov has used the office to promote the river and initiatives to protect it, but Quinn has used his office to become perhaps Illinois' most visible environmental advocate. His victory at Plum Island also shows that he can make the critical difference by attracting public attention.

Thanks Lt. Gov Quinn!

Clean Water Protections On Hold After Developers Object

The Illinois EPA's proposal to protect clean streams in fast-growing areas suffered a defeat last week, but hopefully the setback is temporary.

Unlike the federal government, where Congress makes laws and the Executive branch is free to make rules to implement them, in Illinois the legislature has a final veto over rules proposed by state agencies. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules of the General Assembly, or JCAR, must sign off on every new rule issued.

This makes JCAR a frequent target for special interest groups who are unhappy with proposed rules. In this case, a coalition of developers and their allies are apparently unhappy with the proposal by the Illinois EPA to do a better job protecting water quality in rapidly developing suburban areas.

Unfortunately experience has shown around Illinois that when areas grow in population and developed area, water quality suffers. Runoff from development carries pollution into streams, and even new wastewater treatment plants add contaminants to waterways. Currently, IEPA rules don't call for any of these impacts to be taken into account when communities seek approval to extend sewer lines for new development. Instead, IEPA looks at some of these issues many years later, after sewer lines have been built, development is occurring, and a town needs approval to turn on its new sewage plant.

One of the main features of IEPA's new proposal is simply to move this water quality analysis up in the process, so that it is done when sewer lines are extended, when a town is planning its future. This is the best time for a local government to learn about its local water sources, so it can take this information into account when it plans how much and what kind of development it wants, and wastewater treatment for it. Currently, they often get this information late in the game, when many dollars have been spent and irreversible decisions made.

JCAR asked IEPA to go back to the drawing board last week. It was certainly a defeat, but not a resounding one. It was clear that there is a lot of support for the general concept on the Committee. Senator Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin), who voiced the objection, also "admonished" the opponents to go back and read the authorizing statute, for it requires IEPA to do many of the things they are objecting to. He thanked IEPA for all the work, and praised large portions of the rule.

Hopefully IEPA can now take another look at the rule, listen one more time with an open mind to opponents and proponents, and come back with a new proposal fairly soon. Many of Illinois' highest quality streams lie in the path of development, particularly in northeastern Illinois, where development is pushing into relatively pristine watersheds of the Kishwaukee, Fox, and Kankakee Rivers, to name a few.

July 11, 2005

Developers Poised to Bulldoze New Clean Water Protections

After more than five years of debate, discussions, and consensus-building, the Illinois EPA this Spring proposed fundamental reforms to the way the state oversees new sewer line extensions. The proposal would protect clean rivers and streams in fast-growing areas, help protect prime farmland from sprawl, and help local governments plan for the future.

The proposal was authorized by legislation that passed without controversy in 2002. Since then, the Blagojevich administration has done a painstaking job of consulting with any and all interested stakeholders. The end product is a proposal that makes simple improvements to a process that has been in place for decades.

Before a growing community gets approval to extend sewer lines for new development, Illinois EPA would consider where the new sewage would go, and what it would do to the river or stream it ended up in. This kind of analysis is required later in the process before opening a new wastewater plant, but doing it at the sewer planning stage will simply give a town more time to plan growth to protect clean water. Also, Illinois EPA would consider whether the area getting sewer service is designated to be protected as farmland, or whether developing it would hurt another community's plans.

Tomorrow is scheduled to be the final step in a long approval process for the proposal, but developers who don't want to worry about what sprawl might do to water quality or prime farmland are waging an all-out effort to kill the proposal at the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules of the General Assembly. The Committee, known as JCAR, must approve all state agency rules before they are final.

If legislators buckle to the clout-heavy developers, Illinois EPA will have to go back to the drawing board to salvage the proposal. Stay tuned.

June 13, 2005

Last Week For Comments on Shawnee Plan

If you haven't been to Illinois' only national forest, the Shawnee, it is a really special part of the state. Roadless forests, pristine streams, unique geologic formations, and more make the Shawnee an outdoor recreation mecca for the midwest, and an important ecological resource for many species of wildlife.

Sierra Club won a lawsuit a decade ago overturning a plan to allow logging, oil drilling, and mining on the Shawnee. Now the Forest Service has a new proposed plan, with some improvements, but again with provisions for logging and mining.

You have until June 20th to add your voice to Illinoisans who are asking the Forest Service to make habitat protection and passive outdoor recreation the top priorities for the Shawnee.

More information is available at:

June 03, 2005

Spring Session Brings Modest Gains For Illinois' Environment

The 2005 Spring session of the Illinois General Assembly produced some modest but important gains in environmental policy, clear defeats of all anti-environment proposals, and wins and losses in the battles over the budget. Thanks to the grassroots lobbying work of Sierra Club members and others across the state, the professional lobbying under the Capitol dome by the Illinois Environmental Council and its affiliates, and the dedication of the legislators in both chambers and parties who made clean air, clean water, and conservation among their priorities in a very busy session. All our work absolutely made a difference, and our state is better off for it.

Among the important improvements made to Illinois law that await Governor Blagojevich’s expected signature are these pollution control measures:

-A ban on two flame-retardant chemicals that are linked to cancer, reproductive damage, and other major health problems. These chemicals do not break down quickly in the environment, and can be found in the dust virtually everywhere – on our furniture, on the floor, in the air. Rep. Elaine Nekritz, who is quickly establishing herself as one of state government’s most effective environmental advocates, did an impressive job neutralizing strong opposition from big chemical polluters. She had to compromise her original proposal to study instead of ban a third chemical of concern, but that study will be underway soon.

-New authority for Illinois EPA to force immediate action to stop toxic waste dumping at contaminated sites, and new requirements for the Agency to notify residents when groundwater may be threatened by toxic waste. Credit Lt. Governor Pat Quinn for drawing attention to these weaknesses in existing law, and IEPA Director Renee Cipriano, Sen. John Cullerton, and Rep. Tom Holbrook to capitalizing on the political moment to close a longstanding loophole in the law.

-The Governor’s proposal to crack down on illegal dumps may have been born of a political clash, but the end result is another needed upgrade in Illinois EPA’s ability to immediately close down unpermitted dumping operations.

-New authority for counties in the Metro East area and the exurban counties beyond Chicago’s current suburbs to adopt the kind of local stormwater management programs that have proven successful in northeastern Illinois at reducing pollution and protecting wetlands.

The clearest trend of the session was the sound defeat of all anti-environment measures. Dirtbikers folded their campaign to open up state parks to ATVs early. There was little support for refunding pollution fees to water polluters. The Governor’s office wisely pulled the plug on a proposal to relax controls on large livestock facilities. And after “The Wetland Destruction Act” passed the Senate while opponents weren’t looking, SB 761 wasn’t even called for a vote in the House Energy and Environment Committee in the face of a storm of opposition from local governments and conservationists.

As the ink dries on the new state budget, the most striking fact is that the key land acquisition funds used by the IDNR to protect natural areas and open space were among the ONLY dedicated funds in state government spared the axe. This is a huge victory for all of us in the Partners for Parks and Wildlife coalition, and a continuing benefit of the tremendous show of support for these programs in 2004 and again this Spring. On the downside, it remains to be seen how broad raids on many funds used by the Illinois EPA will affect their ability to protect out air and water. The help for the CTA, thanks to Rep. Julie Hamos, definitely averts increases in air pollution that service cuts and more fare hikes would produce. More transit funds in St. Clair County will help, while cuts to most downstate transit districts will hurt.

Certainly there were disappointments, including the failure to move a positive wetland protection bill. State Rep. Karen May’s dogged pursuit of a consensus proposal to protect kids from the toxic mercury in car parts fell short this year. But by and large, Illinois environmentalists who were a part of this year’s legislative process can be proud that their effort made a difference for the better.

Anne Kawaters, 1936-2005

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of a great environmentalist and friend Anne Kawaters. After about 40 days of fighting ovarian cancer Anne succumbed to the disease in the St. James Hospice Unit quietly and with no perceptible pain on Monday night, May 23rd.

Anne was born in Paradise, PA (near Lancaster) on January 16, 1936. After moving from the East in 1968, Anne resided with her husband Alan in Chicago Heights, Illinois. She and Alan have two children Cassandra (Cassie) and David. They also have two grandchildren Colleen and Ryan.

Anne trained her son David and daughter Cassie early in sound conservation practices. David Kawaters remembers the races his Mother organized to get the most pine seedlings planted to control erosion on scouting outings in New Jersey.

After moving to Illinois in 1968, Anne was involved in Girl Scout of America activities as both a mother, leader, and camp director. In the late 1960’s there were numerous outings to the Girl Scouts of America camp near Elkhart, Indiana. The family humorously remembers the time when Anne was in charge of the GSA cookie distribution for all of Cook County. Answering a sharp rap at the door Anne saw their entire street filled with four highway trucks waiting to unload the cookies. Apparently on the shipping documents the ordered by and ship to address had been reversed. Anne quickly got the trucks rolling again to the warehouse location where they were meant to be delivered. The re-routing brought relief of the family who thought that they might have to unload and store that many cookies.

In 1979 and 1980 Anne organized and led family canoe camping sojourns through Quetico Park in Ontario, Canada. David Kawaters remembers picking up and carrying trash back in the canoes from campsites where users had not practiced good wilderness etiquette. About this time Anne participated and urged her family to join her in canoe races throughout Illinois and Wisconsin. The Fox River Race and Des Plaines Marathon are two races that the family remembers clearly.

Anne’s love for the outdoors and passion for conservation led her to join the Sierra Club in 1978. She was one of the early organizers of the Sauk-Calumet Group of the Sierra Club, which serves Sierra Club members in Chicago’s south suburbs. Today, the Sauk-Calumet Group has nearly 1900 members and is one of 15 groups comprising the IL Chapter of the National Sierra Club. The Sauk-Calumet Group has met continuously since 1979. Anne was elected Chair in 1987. She served in that role from 1987-2005.

Anne was a natural leader, and had a wonderful ability to facilitate meetings and bring people together. Although the Sauk-Calumet board meetings ran long, Anne allowed all members to state their viewpoints fully. She also worked hard after meetings to get those with differing viewpoints to agree on a consensus point of view after heated debate. This led to long tenures for persons on the executive board and the forming of lifelong friendships of the board members. Anne was also skilled at getting people to volunteer for tasks both large and small. And last but not least was Anne’s legendary ability to raise funds through Sierra Club Calendar sales that supported Sierra Club’s conservation work in the south suburbs and Illinois.

As one of the founding members and longtime leader of the Sauk-Calumet Group of the Sierra Club, Anne was involved and often a key leader in conservation and environmental protection efforts in the south suburbs over the last quarter century. Among them are:

-The successful campaign to establish the Old Plank Road Trail as a hiking and biking path from Park Forest to Joliet. Just a vision when Anne and her friends began to work for it decades ago, today it provides recreation opportunities for residents of the entire region, and restored habitat for wildlife.

-The establishment of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie at the former Joliet Arsenal, and the ongoing volunteer work to restore native habitat there for future generations to enjoy.

-The protection of Cook County Forest Preserve properties, including Bartel Grasslands, from commercial use proposals

-Successful opposition to garbage and tire incinerator proposals that would have brought major sources of toxic mercury and dioxin pollution to the south suburbs.

-The protection of new natural areas and open spaces by local park districs and the Forest Preserve Districts of Cook and Will Counties

-Opposition to the third regional Chicago area airport proposed at various times for the Lake Calumet region, Gary, and Peotone

-Successful effort to protect the waters of Thorn Creek from a proposed “peaker” type electric generating plant that was to be located in Chicago Heights.

Through her work conservation work Anne leaves a legacy of a cleaner and greener south suburban region, to the benefit of current and future generations.

In addition to her Sierra Club leadership, Anne was a long time member of Thorn Creek Audubon and a habitat restoration volunteer in the Bartel Grasslands. She also participated in the Chicago Heights Advisory Panel, which made regular plant visits to local chemical manufacturers to examine their safety procedures.

While Anne devoted substantial energy and hours to conservation efforts, she also had other passions, interests and contributions to her community.

She was a great advocate of the arts. Recently she gave her own presentation to the Flossmoor Art Associates about Auguste Rodin and Camille Caudette. Both Anne and her husband Alan enjoyed the annual season performances of the Lyric opera. She also presented programs on archeology at Governors State University about of the archeology in the Yucatan region in Mexico. Anne’s interest in archeology stemmed from her studies and degree in geology from Governors State University.

Anne and her husband Alan were also competitive tennis players. They followed the sport avidly and traveled to see the Wimbledon Tournament.

Anne was also very involved in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Park Forest, where she served as the Pledge Drive Coordinator as well as being a soprano in the church choir.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 12, at Unitarian Universalist Community Church, 70 Sycamore Drive, Park Forest.

There is an obituary for Anne in today's Chicago Tribune at,1,209177.story?coll=chi-newsobituaries-hed

May 22, 2005

The Case for Clean Fish - Takin' It To the Streets

When the State's annual warning about contaminated fish came out in 2005, 13 lakes and rivers around the state were listed as "hotspots" where kids and women who might want to have children in the future should avoid eating the fish. The problem is mercury contamination, which comes from coal-burning power plants. Mercury is present in coal, and when it is burned to make electricity, it vaporizes and goes up the smokestack into the clouds.

What goes up must come down, and for several years the Illinois Department of Public Health has warned women and children to limit the large fish they eat from ALL Illinois waters due to mercury pollution. The "hotspots" registered even higher levels of fish contamination. Mercury poisoning affects 1 out of 6 American kids, causing brain and other nervous system damage.

One of the 13 "hotspots" is Lake in the Hills, at the center of a fast-growing suburb of the same name in southeastern McHenry County. With no significant industry for miles around, Lake in the Hills is the last place you would expect to find fish that could hurt your kids' brains. It's a powerful example of the cost of coal plant pollution.

This Saturday, Sierra Club volunteers went door to door in the neighborhoods around Lake in the Hills with some information about the state's advisory, to try to protect kids by informing their parents about the risks of eating fish from the lake. Volunteers also distributed a postcard that residents could send to Governor Blagojevich, thanking him for challenging a federal proposal to weaken limits on mercury pollution, and urging him to do better by requiring strict pollution controls on Illinois coal-fired power plants.

Residents were not surprised, in general, to learn of the mercury contamination, and most welcomed the chance to be a part of the solution to the problem. Volunteers met fishermen worried about the safety of their catch, moms who wanted to know what was safe for their kids, and local officials who are looking out for the lake.

If the people of Lake in the Hills have their way, Illinois will soon act to require pollution controls for mercury on our coal plants.

For more information on the State's mercury pollution warning:

May 12, 2005

Illinois EPA Director Renee Cipriano To Leave, Doug Scott Next IEPA Director

Governor Blagojevich announced today what has been rumored for some time, that Director Renee Cipriano will be leaving the Illinois EPA. The Governor also announced that Cipriano's replacement will be Doug Scott, former State Representative and Mayor of Rockford.

Illinois' air and water are cleaner thanks to the work Renee Cipriano has done during her years of public service to the people of Illinois. She has served at least three Governors, as IEPA Director, General Counsel, and Environmental Advisor to George Ryan. She was one of, if not the only agency head from the Ryan administration kept on by Blagojevich. During her tenure at Illinois EPA, Illinois has definitely upgraded safeguards against pollution in our rivers, lakes, and drinking water. Before her time at the helm the Agency was constantly battling clean water advocates in attempts to weaken standards at the behest of industry. We have also made steady progress toward healthy air quality.

Environmentalists often disagree with Illinois EPA, but Renee has always been honest and fair in dealing with citizens and environmental advocates. We wish her the best in the future.

Doug Scott has the experience and skills to be a very successful protector of our land, air, and water. We worked with Scott while he was in the legislature to strengthen environmental laws, and while he was Mayor of Rockford to promote the cleanup of toxic waste sites that threaten public health and impede economic development. His close relationship with the Governor and good relationships with many legislators will be assets for the Agency as well.

We look forward to working with Doug Scott to clean up pollution from coal-fired power plants, enforce the Clean Water Act, and protect Illinois' environment for our families and our future.

May 11, 2005

Wetland Destruction Act Dies In House

Senate Bill 761, which has been dubbed in Springfield the "Wetland Destruction Act", died today after votes for it on the House Energy and Environment Committee evaporated in the face of strong opposition from environmental groups, local governments, the Blagojevich Administration, and Attorney General Lisa Madigan. State Representative Karen May worked tirelessly for wetlands as usual. SB 761 sponsor and Committee Chairman said the bill had been assigned to a subcommittee "for a future hearing...maybe" - Springfield-speak for the legislative recycling bin.

SB 761 faced long odds on the House floor in the face of this opposition, but its failure to even clear the House Energy and Environment Committee today was a surprising development. The Committee is ordinarily deferential to industry lobbyists, and many of the heaviest hitters in Springfield were leaning on members to advance the bill. However, by the end of the day, it was clear that no amount of clout could carry such a strongly anti-environment, anti-local government bill to the finish line.

The defeat of SB 761 is clearly a big victory for citizens across the state who made their voices heard in Springfield. However, it does not provide real protection for wetlands abandoned by the federal government in much of the state. For that, we'll need to craft a new proposal. But with the threat of SB 761 extinguished, we can move on to building consensus for a bill that provides real protection while respecting local authority.

May 04, 2005

House Committee Postpones Consideration of Wetland Destruction Act

The House Energy and Environment Committee today put off consideration of the "Wetland Destruction Act", as Senate Bill 761 has been dubbed, until next Wednesday, May 11th.

The vote was shaping up to be very close today with intense lobbying by realtors and developers for the bill and local governments and conservationists against it. More to come.

May 02, 2005

Springfield Lobbyists Attack Local Authority To Save Lives, Homes, and Businesses From Floods

Anyone who has seen first-hand the damage done by flooding (for instance, if you live along rivers like the Des Plaines, Fox, Rock, Mississippi, etc.) knows that lives, livelihoods, and even whole towns can be washed away.

In recent years our major river systems have lost their best defense against floods – wetlands. Studies of the disastrous floods of 1993 showed that protecting just 3% of the Upper Mississippi River watershed as wetland could have absorbed 100% of that flood. In light of the severe threat posed by flooding, and the importance of wetlands in guarding against this threat, many local governments in Illinois have enacted or proposed common-sense protections for our remaining wetland areas. In northeast Illinois, Cook, Lake, DuPage, Kane, and McHenry counties have all adopted programs to protect homes and businesses from flooding by protecting their remaining wetland areas from destruction. Now counties in the metro East and the ring of counties around the collars are showing interest in similar programs.

Wetlands act as nature’s sponges, soaking up rainwater that would otherwise gush into river systems and create flood events - a single acre of wetland can store over a million gallons of rainwater. They also happen to filter pollution out of our drinking water, and provide a home for many species of wildlife. Unfortunately, 90% of Illinois’ original wetlands are gone. One can see why local governments don’t want to lose what we have left of these multi-tasking ecosystems.

Now, however, powerful developer lobbyists in Springfield are trying to take away the ability of local governments to protect themselves against flooding by protecting wetlands. Developers are backing Senate Bill 761, which actually prohibits any local government from acting to protect its citizens, homes, and businesses from devastating flooding by protecting wetland areas.

Senate Bill 761 would replace the locally funded, coordinated effort of local governments with a statewide program run by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Dozens of local professionals would be replaced by a handful of bureaucrats in Springfield without the knowledge or funding to do the same job. In the past, when legislators have proposed giving wetland protection authority to Illinois EPA, the Agency registered its opposition, citing insufficient staff to carry out the program.

SB 761 also has a giant loophole big enough to drive a bulldozer through. Any wetland smaller than a half acre would be totally exempt from the bill. Lake County estimates that eliminates protection for over half of their remaining wetlands. For every half-acre wetland that gets filled in under SB 761, where will the 500,000 gallons of rainwater that it is now soaking up end up?

A few overworked bureaucrats in Springfield replacing strong, locally funded flood control programs will worsen the state’s budget crisis, but does it make us safer? If you own a home or business near a floodplain, it should make you nervous, but apparently it makes Illinois’ development lobby hungry. Without local watchdogs protecting communities from flooding, they’re betting they can squeeze a few more lots into a subdivision, avoid flood control requirements, and increase their short-term bottom line, and leave someone else to deal with the water.

Conservationists prefer a wetland protection program that respects the will of local governments to protect their citizens, and to fund these programs locally. Legislation previously approved by the Illinois House would maintain local wetland protection programs, while empowering the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to protect wetlands elsewhere. After all, the IDNR houses the state’s experts in flood control and wildlife habitat.

Senate Bill 761 rejects this idea of partnering with local governments to protect us all. If your goal is to build maximum density on wetlands that used to hold back floodwater, then laying off those who protect us from floods makes sense. For the rest of us, a program that welcomes local efforts to protect wetlands while utilizing IDNR’s expertise seems the best approach.

SB 761 will be heard at 3pm Wednesday in the Illinois House Energy and Environment Committee.

April 27, 2005

Blagojevich Challenges Federal Mercury Pollution Rule

Great to see Governor Blagojevich announcing today that he plans to work with Attorney General Madigan to sue over the proposal by the Bush Administration to weaken limits on mercury pollution from coal-burning power plants.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has issued a statewide warning about the dangers of eating large fish from every water in the state. The biggest risk is to unborn children, so women of child-bearing age are warned to limit their consumption of large predator fish like bass, walleye, etc. Mercury is toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 1 in 6 babies born in America now are believed to suffer some damage due to mercury exposure.

Illinois EPA disappointed clean air advocates last year by passing on an opportunity to set strong state limits on coal plant pollution, saying they needed to wait to see where the federal government was going. In his State of the State address, Blagojevich announced that he would be urging other Midwest governors to join him in adopting proposals stronger than the Bush administration. Hopefully today's announcement is a strong indication that stronger health safeguards are on the way to better protect Illinoisans, and especially children.

The Governor's release is at:

April 25, 2005

Staying Warm By Doing Good

Thank you to everyone who braved the wintry conditions Saturday to turn out at one of our Sierra Club Service Day events around the state. From the Shawnee National Forest to the Cook County Forest Preserves, we were impressed by the turnout amidst the cold, wind, clouds, and snow flurries.

At least 300 people turned out and helped pull exotic weeds, pick up trash, clean up an old dumpsite, fix a popular trail, and plant native prairie plants. People seemed energized to make a positive contribution locally, especially after recent bad news from Washington about drilling the Arctic, weakening the Clean Air Act, and the House passing an energy bill last week focused on coal, oil, and nuclear power.

The Chicago Tribune mentioned us in a story about the cold weather.
It’s at,1,4359803.story?coll=chi-newslocalchicago-hed

April 24, 2005

Catholic Conservation Conclave

Saturday I spoke at the Ecology Day conference of the Joliet Diocese of the Catholic Church. It was inspiring to talk to Catholics from parishes in 7 counties south and west of Chicago about opportunities for congregations to help protect creation.

Obviously Pope John Paul II will be remembered for many things, but hopefully his respect for creation and call for Catholics to protect it will be among them. See here for the late Holy Father on the hiking trail, and some powerful statements about the importance of environmental protection, see:

People of faith are a fundamental pillar of the environmental movement. In fact, it’s hard to think of an important social change movement in history that wasn’t strongly supported, if not led, by religious leaders and individuals. The growing consciousness of the importance of being good stewards of creation across denonominations can only help.

April 22, 2005

Happy Earth Day!

Today is the 35th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970. For those of us working to protect the environment, we hear a lot of bad news about the state of our air, water, and habitats. Earth Day is a good day to look back and acknowledge all the progress that we’ve made since 1970.

Here’s a short list of major Illinois victories to be proud of:

-No more dangerous levels of lead in Chicago’s air
-New parks and refuges like the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
-No more nutrient pollution of Lake Michigan
-No more garbage incineration in Illinois
-Once-endangered populations of species like the Bald Eagle and the River Otter returning to healthy levels
-Going from a statewide recycling rate of virtually zero to 37%

And the list goes on.

Not a bad record of accomplishment, and many people and institutions share the credit - citizens for changing behavior and subsidizing government programs; business for investing in pollution controls.

Also crucial to this progress has been a partnership between the state and federal government. Generally the federal government sets minimum standards and the states ensure that they are met in the most efficient way.

Now this partnership is in trouble. The Bush Administration is proposing to weaken key requirements of the Clean Air Act, and has stopped protecting over half of Illinois’ remaining wetlands. Congress is poised to pass an energy policy that subsidizes oil, nuclear, and coal companies.

It used to be that states like Illinois were forced to protect the environment, or face the threat of the feds coming down on them and revoking their authority. Increasingly, however, Illinois needs to protect our air and water because it’s the right thing for our health and for the future, not merely a requirement of federal law.

Our leaders – Governor Blagojevich, Attorney General Madigan, and the General Assembly now, more than ever, are responsible for making our air and water safe.

In this space, we’ll talk about efforts to upgrade Illinois’ environmental protection policies. I’ll highlight the work that Sierra Club volunteers are doing around Illinois to build support for environmental protection, and pass on opportunities for new people to get involved. During legislative session, we’ll have updates from the Capitol on pollution control and conservation legislation. We’ll talk about the intersection of politics and the environment as we head into a big election year in 2006.

I welcome your comments and your input. And, at least for today, be proud of what we’ve all done so far.

Jack Darin