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.