December 28, 2006

A Salute To Heroes (and Heroines)

At a press conference in Chicago Thursday afternoon, Illinois Lt. Governor Pat Quinn honored twenty-four 2006 Illinois "Environmental Heroes", including five from the Sierra Club.

Among those honored were Sierra Club's Joyce Blumenshine, Connie and Jerry Heinrich, Verena Owen, and Cindy Skrukrud. According to Quinn, "I am proud to honor these environmental heroes and the hard work they have done to protect the health and well-being of people all across the Land of Lincoln. These individuals are fine examples of environmental citizenship, and teach us all that we have the power to make our state a better, cleaner place."

Joyce Blumenshine, Conservation Chair for the Illinois Chapter, was honored for her three decades of work with our Heart of Illinois Group to protect natural resources in Illinois, including her work to create the Rock Island Trail and the Banner Marsh Wildlife Area. Quinn commented on what a remarkably cheerful and tireless advocate Joyce is.

Connie and Jerry Heinrich, Conservation Chairs for our Sauk-Calumet Group, were honored for their integral role in the creation of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie on the site of the former Joliet Arsenal, and for their leadership since in the big effort to convert a former munitions facility into a 19,000 acre tract of tallgrass prairie and protect it from numerous threats over the years.

Verena Owen was recognized for her leadership of the Club's Illinois Clean Air Campaign, in particular her work on the successful effort to limit mercury pollution from coal plants. Of her role in Illinois' new requirement that Illinois coal plants cut their mercury output by 90% by 2009, Quinn said, "It took real citizens blazing the trail to get the mercury rule passed, and Verena Owen led that citizen effort."

Cindy Skrukrud, who is the Clean Water Advocate for the Illinois Chapter, was recognized for her career efforts to protect water quality and habitat in the Fox River watershed and McHenry County, including helping to found and now chairing the Fox River Study Group, an effort to plan for better Fox water quality as the region continues to grow. Before coming to work for the Sierra Club, Cindy was the Executive Director of the McHenry County Defenders, and she is a past president of the Friends of the Fox River.

Sierra Club was the only organization with more than one person honored, and we had five! What a proud day for the Sierra Club, and most importantly, for these five Hero(in)es. Congratulations to Joyce, Connie, Jerry, Verena, and Cindy! You certainly deserve it!

The entire list of honorees and the press release is available at

Happy New Year!

December 19, 2006

Cease Fire!

Great news yesterday that the Coast Guard has backed away from a proposal to establish a live-fire target practice zone off of our Lake Michigan shoreline. Sierra Club worked here in Illinois and around the Great Lakes to call attention to possible safety and environmental risks associated with war games on our water supply.

Congratulations to the Illinois citizens who mobilized to fight this proposal so quickly and so effectively. Senator Durbin and Lt. Gov Quinn were among those who lent their support to an effort to get the Coast Guard to rethink the plan.

Illinois Joins States Suing Over Soot

Monday Illinois joined a coalition of states suing the Bush Administration over their new proposed health standard for fine particulate matter. These particles are so small they get past our bodies' defenses and lodge deep in our lungs, where they can cause serious, even life-threatening, pollution problems.

From a news report:

"The emissions, described as much smaller than a grain of sand, come from automobiles, power plants, factories and wood fires.

The states want to reduce the current limit by 1 microgram or 2 micrograms of soot allowed per cubic foot of air. The current maximum is 15 micrograms. The states contend the EPA has ignored their pleas and scientific evidence in choosing to continue the current standard.

The federal Clean Air Act requires a review every five years to determine if air pollution standards should be adjusted. The states argue this compels the EPA to act. The states want the federal court to find the EPA failed to obey its "Congressional mandate to protect the environment and the public health," according to a statement from Spitzer's office."

Good to see Illinois among the states trying to do better.

December 15, 2006

Pics from Mercury Victory Party

The State had a nice little victory party Tuesday afternoon after the mercury rule was finalized. State officials, environmentalists, and utility executives all gathered with Gov. Blagojevich to celebrate this unique accomplishment.

Of course, it's not a party if there's not a cake, so that produced this surreal touch

Yep, that's a No Mercury Cake. Quite good, actually.

The Governor was justifiably happy with the big win and made sure to thank everyone in the room, including Jen Hensley, Verena Owen, and yours truly.

December 12, 2006


With today’s approval by the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, Governor Blagojevich’s proposal to cut 90% of the mercury pollution coming out of Illinois coal plants by 2009 will go into effect. This is a historic victory to dramatically reduce a dangerous neurotoxin that threatens the brains and nervous systems of Illinois children.

Illinois women should not have to worry that the tuna fish sandwich they have for lunch, or the fish they put on the family dinner table may cause permanent harm to their children. Most of this mercury pollution comes from coal-burning power plants that have not installed the pollution controls that can eliminate most of the threat to our children. Now they will finally clean up their act to protect our kids.

This cleanup plan will not only protect Illinois children, it also sets an example for America to follow. States can and must do better than the Bush Administration’s proposal to go slow and easy in requiring mercury pollution controls, and Illinoisans can be proud that this proposal is the strongest of any state’s response.

This ruling is a major public health victory.   This mercury cleanup plan will protect future generations of Illinois children from the very serious dangers posed by mercury contamination.    It is a major step forward towards the day when Illinois can hopefully lift the health warnings currently posted about the dangers of eating certain fish from every lake and river in our state.

We applaud the leadership of Governor Blagojevich, Director of Policy Development Steven Frenkel, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Director Doug Scott, and all of the IEPA staff, including Laurel Kroack, Jim Ross, Chris Romaine, and many others, for their hard work over the past year in enacting this historic pollution cleanup plan.

The Sierra Club’s Illinois Clean Air Campaign, led by Verena Owen, has been working in Illinois to create awareness about the threats posed by mercury contamination, and to promote solutions such as this proposal for many years. Our volunteers and staff offered free hair testing events across Illinois, where concerned people could their own mercury exposure could check their own levels and get involved in the cleanup campaign. We reached out to Illinoisans at fishing and hunting shows, health and environmental fairs, and concerts to engage people across the state in promoting this solution. We held town hall meetings with community partners and went door to door in communities uniquely impacted by mercury pollution. We worked with the Blagojevich Administration at key points along the way to develop and support the proposal.

We are proud of our work, but the real winners today are the children of tomorrow. We look forward to the day when Illinois women don’t have to worry that the food they eat or put on the dinner table may be putting their children at risk. Today’s action means those days may be numbered.

December 07, 2006

Final Vote on Mercury Cleanup is Tuesday

The last step in the long fight to cut Illinois mercury pollution hopefully comes Tuesday, with the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules of the General Assembly votes on Blagojevich's plan, now approved by the Pollution Control Board.

Come watch in person -

10:30 AM, Tuesday, December 12th
James R Thompson Center, Chicago
16th floor, Room 503

It has been quite a year of hard work for Illinois EPA and all of the proponents of the rule - let's hope it all pays off Tuesday with a victory for the children of tomorrow.

November 16, 2006

Springfield Clean Power Deal Now Done

The Springfield City Council tonight approved an agreement with the Sierra Club that will allow a new coal-fired power plant to be built with better pollution controls, launch a new effort to save energy in Springfield, and boost Illinois' wind energy industry.

The agreement has been on-again, off-again for the last several months, but is now a done deal. Congratulations to the Sierra Club volunteers and staff who worked in the face of very long odds all year to strike a great deal for the people of Springfield and for our environment.

November 04, 2006

Thinking of Going Green on Tuesday? Think Again

As you know, we will have three choices for Governor when we go into the voting booth on Tuesday. We all know, however, that when all is said and done Tuesday night, either Rod Blagojevich or Judy Barr Topinka will have been elected Governor of Illinois for the next four years.

I agree with much of the platform of the Illinois Green Party, and as a fellow environmentalist, I’m sure you do too. I also believe that our best hope for enacting these policies and programs is to vote for Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday.

As environmentalists, we have to ask ourselves, who would we rather have leading our state, as we face continuing assaults on our environmental laws in Washington, and as we face major decisions of our own about energy policy, clean air, clean water, and natural areas protection?

Rod Blagojevich is the first Illinois Governor ever to stand up to the owners of Illinois’ coal plants, some of the heaviest hitters in Illinois politics, and force them to clean up their act. Cleaning up old, dirty coal plants has been at the top of the agenda for the Illinois environmental community for decades, but Blagojevich was the first Governor to act on these concerns. On November 2nd, the Illinois Pollution Control Board approved his proposal to cut 90% of coal plant mercury by 2009 – much deeper and faster cuts than proposed by President Bush. Blagojevich stood up to another powerful lobby, hospital owners, and ordered them to shut down the 11 hospital waste incinerators in the state spewing dioxin, mercury, and other toxins into our air. Eight of them are now closed, and the remaining three are expected to close soon.

Blagojevich is the first Illinois Governor to aggressively promote wind power. His energy plan calls for 10% of our electricity to come from wind by 2015. He has committed to powering the state’s buildings in Springfield entirely by wind energy. His energy plan also includes $100 million to promote “cellulosic” ethanol development, and new programs to conserve energy.

Our rivers and streams are cleaner today than four years ago, thanks to Blagojevich’s requirement that all new wastewater plants include phosphorus controls. Clean water advocates have sought action on nutrient pollution for many years from Illinois EPA, but Blagojevich was the first Governor to act on the clear evidence that nutrient overload is choking many of our state’s waters. Blagojevich continues efforts to reform the Facility Planning Area process to protect high quality streams from poorly planned development. He is moving to address Illinois’ longstanding lack of any program to regulate water withdrawals, to make sure we have enough clean water for drinking and for wildlife.

If it were not for Rod Blagojevich’s vetoes of bills to let dirtbikes and four-wheelers into our state parks, they undoubtedly would be roaring through some of our parks today. When the Bush Administration proposed logging and selling off parts of our Shawnee National Forest, Blagojevich objected, and those threats never materialized. Blagojevich supported efforts to pass the Illinois Wetland Protection Act, and is committed to working to fill the wetland protection gap left by recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Finally, Blagojevich is the first Illinois Governor, and first Midwest Governor, to commit to serious action to confront global warming. He has signed a binding commitment to reduce state government’s emissions of greenhouse gases by 6% by 2010, and launched an effort to develop a greenhouse gas regulatory program for the state. The cap and trade program recently adopted by California is being studied closely as a possible model for Illinois.

To be sure, environmentalists have had their differences with the Blagojevich administration. We have opposed new pulverized coal plants that the administration has supported, and we will continue to do so. Blagojevich is not the first Illinois Governor to champion the Illinois coal industry, and he will not be the last. We are encouraged that the Governor’s energy plan does not include any plans for further pulverized coal plants, but instead focuses coal development resources on promoting gasified coal plants, which are far cleaner than pulverized plants, and at least have the potential to capture their carbon emissions. The Green Party platform promotes the same policies.

There is no question that the state’s budget problems have had an impact on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources ability to carry out its mission. It is important to note, however, that these problems began with significant losses during the Ryan administration due to early retirement, and while they did worsen during the beginning of the Blagojevich administration, they have also begun to improve, thanks to increasing appropriations and staffing levels in recent budgets. We are confident that this trend will continue, and that the IDNR will continue to build strength as the state’s fiscal health improves.

Blagojevich is the only Illinois Governor ever endorsed by the Sierra Club. I certainly agree with the majority of the Green Party platform, but it is also clear that of the three candidates in this race, none has come close the record of environmental achievement of Governor Blagojevich.

Historically in Illinois, state government’s goal in protecting the environment has too often been to do the minimum to comply with the law. While bureaucratic cultures do not change overnight, more and more Illinois is asking “What’s the best we can do?” instead of “What’s the least we can do?” This is the beginning of a remarkable change for Illinois, particularly set against the backdrop of what is happening to the environmental protection framework of our federal government.

As Illinois environmentalists, and as citizens of the planet, we need that trend to continue. We need to reward innovation and initiative when it comes to the major energy and environmental policy questions of our time. We cannot afford to revert to an era where we did the minimum Washington asked of us, especially now.

Rod Blagojevich’s environmental accomplishments have earned him the support of this green voter. I urge you to consider the record, be proud of the fact that your state is becoming a national leader on the environment, and reward this initiative with your vote on Tuesday.

November 02, 2006

It's Unanimous - IPCB Approves Mercury Rule

The Illinois Pollution Control Board voted unanimously today to adopt Governor Blagojevich’s proposal to cut 90% of the mercury pollution coming out of Illinois coal plants by 2009. This is a historic victory to dramatically reduce a dangerous neurotoxin that threatens the brains and nervous systems of Illinois children.

Illinois women should not have to worry that the tuna fish sandwich they have for lunch, or the fish they put on the family dinner table may cause permanent harm to their children. Most of this mercury pollution comes from coal-burning power plants that have not installed the pollution controls that can eliminate most of the threat to our children. Now they will have no choice but to clean up their act to protect our kids.

This cleanup plan will not only protect Illinois children, it also sets an example for America to follow. States can and must do better than the Bush Administration’s proposal to go slow and easy in requiring mercury pollution controls, and Illinoisans can be proud that this proposal is the strongest of any state’s response.

This ruling is a major public health victory. This mercury cleanup plan will protect future generations of Illinois children from the very serious dangers posed by mercury contamination. It is a major step forward towards the day when Illinois can hopefully lift the health warnings currently posted about the dangers of eating certain fish from every lake and river in our state.

We commend the Illinois Pollution Control Board for the time and work they put into weighing all the evidence and ruling in favor of our children. We also applaud the leadership of Governor Blagojevich, Doug Scott, and all the staff at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for their hard work in enacting this historic pollution cleanup plan.

The last step before Illinois women can know that the State is doing all it can to protect them and their children from mercury is the approval of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules of the Illinois General Assembly. We are hopeful that the members of that Committee will agree with the doctors, public health professionals, and thousands of Illinois citizens who have expressed their strong support for this important proposal.

November 01, 2006

Blagojevich, Topinka on the Environment

At Channel 2's (Chicago) website -

October 17, 2006

Black Crown Marsh - One That Didn't Get Away

Monday I attended an event to announce the acquisition of Black Crown Marsh near the Lake-McHenry county line. The key purchase finlized last week was the IDNR buying 113 acres that used to be a private hunting club. The tract is home to nine threatened or endangered bird species, and features high quality wetlands, wooded areas, and rolling terrain.

The area around the Marsh is under severe development pressure, of course, and most of the woods and wetlands in the area seemed to have for sale signs in them. Event as we stood to celebrate the purchase with the protect landscape behind us, off in another direction heavy construction equipment could be seen finishing scraping the topsoil off of an adjacent parcel, soon to be another subdivision.

But that won't happen to Black Crown Marsh, thanks to the State of Illinois, which ponied up close to $5 million for the purchase, and its partners in the deal, the Lake County Forest Preserve District, and Corlands, a nonprofit land protection organization. Thanks to their efforts and their dollars, the residents of those new subdivisions, and the entire region, will have a beautiful piece of Illinois' natural heritage to enjoy.

October 09, 2006

Blagojevich the Right Choice To Protect Illinois' Environment

Illinois’ air and water are cleaner today because of the work Governor Blagojevich has done to take on the polluters, and promote solutions to environmental problems. Sierra Club acknowledged this record of achievement with our endorsement Sunday.

This is exactly the kind of leadership that Illinois needs in the years ahead, when we face major choices about air, water, land, and energy policies. Illinois will decide whether or not we take serious action to combat global warming, whether we make smart, clean energy choices, whether we protect our drinking water supplies, and whether we protect our last remaining wetlands, prairies, and forests.

Unfortunately Washington has been making the wrong choices. Congress and the Bush Administration choose to keep subsidizing big oil, and to keep shortchanging renewable energy. Washington chooses to go slow and easy on pollution controls on coal-burning power plants, despite clear evidence that their mercury, smog, and soot emissions are hurting our children and many others. The U.S. Supreme Court has left most of Illinois’ remaining wetlands open to destruction, despite the fact that we count on them to protect us from floods, protect our drinking water, and provide a home for wildlife.

Washington isn’t helping, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do better. We can do better, and under Governor Blagojevich, we have been doing better.

Under Governor Blagojevich, Illinois has done better at cleaning up air pollution. After the Bush Administration proposed going slow on installing mercury pollution controls on coal plants, Illinois is poised to require a 90% reduction of mercury by 2009 – by far the strongest response of any state. Three years ago, there were 11 hospital waste incinerators burning across our state, putting mercury, dioxin, and other pollutants into our air. Since Governor Blagojevich called on them to shut down, all but one of them has, and the last may close soon – a remarkable achievement.

Illinois is taking major steps toward a smart energy future, where consumers are protected against rate shocks, our air and water are cleaner, and new jobs are created in clean energy businesses. Governor Blagojevich has proposed a requirement that 10% of Illinois’ electricity come from wind power by 2015. He has led by example by pledging to power the buildings under his control in Springfield exclusively by wind energy. His energy plan includes provisions to encourage cellulosic ethanol development, and energy efficiency programs to save consumers and businesses money by saving energy.

Illinois is doing more to keep our drinking water clean and ensure that we have enough for everyone. Under Governor Blagojevich, Illinois has moved to control phosphorus pollution, which threatens drinking water and wildlife across our state. Illinois is also moving to make sure that we have enough ground and surface water for drinking, for agriculture, for industry, and for wildlife.

Finally, Illinois is serious about addressing the threats posed by global warming. While top scientists tell us we may only have ten years to do something about global warming before it becomes irreversible, Washington has their head in the sand and their hand out to special interests. With as little as ten years to reverse this problem, we can’t wait for change in Washington, we need to start now here in Illinois. This week the Governor announced the first step in a major effort to combat climate change, beginning with a commitment to reduce state government’s emissions of global warming pollution. Illinois is the first state in the Midwest to make that commitment. We know that Governor Blagojevich is committed to developing a comprehensive program to reduce Illinois’ contribution to global warming by regulating carbon emissions. We look forward to working with him and his team to come up with a solution that works best for Illinois.

The Sierra Club endorsement is a hard one to get. We do not make an endorsement in every race, but only the ones in which we find a candidate who truly shares our values, and who is willing to put the public’s interest in a clean environment above the special interests that too often dominate our politics. We do not endorse the lesser of two evils, we choose the strongest of champions. Four years ago, Governor Blagojevich became the first Illinois Governor to be endorsed by the Sierra Club, and we are proud to announce that he has earned our support again, and the support of all Illinois voters who value clean air, clean water, and Illinois’ natural heritage.

I have been working my whole adult life to encourage the State of Illinois to take strong action to protect our environment. Historically, Illinois has lagged behind – too often the goal would be to do the least we could to comply with the law Under Governor Blagojevich, however, Illinois a is emerging as a national leader in promoting innovative solutions to environmental problems. We no longer ask “what’s the least we can do”, and instead ask “what’s the best we can do.”

The people of Illinois want clean air and clean water. They know that our old energy policies have given them high prices, high pollution levels, and threats to our national security. They are hungry for solutions. Over the last four years, Governor Blagojevich has been working to promote those solutions, and Sierra Club is proud to recommend him to pro-environment voters across Illinois.

September 29, 2006

A Big Blow To a Big Polluter

This week the federal Environmental Appeals Board dealt a major setback to proposal by Indeck for a new dirty coal plant south of Joliet, right next to the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

This is a huge victory for those who have fought against all odds against the Indeck proposal. The proposal is not dead, but serious questions have been raised. Congratulations to Bruce Nilles, Verena Owen, Becki Clayborne, Jerry Heinrich, and everyone else who has been working to stop the plant.

More details are available here and here.

September 26, 2006

Clean Cars - Not Just for The Feds Anymore

Today's Chicago Tribune has a front-page article on the village of Wilmette's proposal to give residents who buy efficient cars a break on their annual sticker fee.

Good for WIlmette. Good for the Chicago proposal to give free parking to hybrids. Good for Gov. Blagojevich for proposing a $500 tax credit for buyers of efficent cars. Good for State Rep. Dave Winters, whom I heard at a forum in Rockford Monday night talking about plans for legislation to give state sales tax breaks to clean car buyers.

The public clearly does not want to drive around in their gas guzzlers waiting for Washington to get its collective head out of the sand. We can do better, as individuals and local governments.

August 22, 2006

Blagojevich Unveils Energy Plan

Today Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich proposed a major new package of policies, programs, and incentives entitled "Leading the Way to Energy Independence."

We certainly agree with Governor Blagojevich that we can't count on Washington to lead Illinois or America into a smart energy future. Congress and the Bush Administration have largely pressed on with old policies that have left us with soaring oil prices, a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, and pollution problems that pose major threats to our health. It is indeed up to states like Illinois to take the lead on their own to implement the solutions we need to break our foreign oil addiction, create new jobs in clean energy, and reduce the pollution that threatens our health and our planet.

Blagojevich's plan includes several bold new proposals that would move Illinois towards a cleaner, safer energy future. We strongly support the Governor's proposal to get 10% of Illinois' electric power from wind and other renewable sources by 2015. The Governor has already boosted the Illinois wind industry by moving to power the State Capitol in Springfield with wind energy, as part of a groundbreaking agreement between the Sierra Club and Springfield's City Water, Light, and Power. We also welcome proposals for more investment in energy efficiency, which will help ratepayers cut their electric bills and save energy, a new loan program for local governments and small businesses to conserve power, and a new statewide residential building code to require efficient building practices.

The Governor's initiative to promote the production of ethanol from switchgrass, crop residues, and other plant materials is particularly exciting. Cellulosic ethanol production promises significant advantages over corn ethanol production, including higher energy return, lower cultivation inputs, and soil conservation benefits. Cellulosic ethanol production mixing ethanol feedstocks with conventional agricultural produce should be explored.  

The Governor's plan also could deliver savings in fuel consumption and pollution by considering clean vehicle requirements, more investment in mass transit, and improved land use planning to reduce traffic congestion and give more residents choices in how they travel to work, shop, or play.

These conservation and clean energy proposals are exciting and an important foundation of any balanced energy strategy for Illinois. However, most of the proposed state spending in the Governor's plan is focused on increasing the supply of energy from coal and biofuels. These energy sources have the potential to be a part of a smart energy future, but they also raise key questions that we will be paying close attention to as the plan moves forward.

Burning gas produced from coal for electricity can be much cleaner than traditional pulverized coal plants like those in Illinois today. The potential also exists to capture the carbon emissions, which are main cause of global warming, and "sequester" them underground. The Governor's plan would not require coal gasification plants receiving subsidies under this plan to sequester their carbon emissions, but would apparently strongly encourage them to do so. The proposal to build a pipeline to use sequestered carbon from coal gasification plants to increase oil-field production is an interesting one which we believe is unprecedented. We pledge to work with the State as this idea develops to gauge its effectiveness in sequestering carbon, and any potential impacts caused by the new oil production. The state must also ensure that the mining of coal is done at locations and in such a manner as to minimize the loss of habitat and water quality impacts to our rivers and lakes. Sierra Club does not support the production of auto fuel from coal, as it produces more pollution than gasoline.

We understand the potential economic development benefits of corn-based ethanol production in Illinois, but the environmental benefits are difficult to measure. Burning ethanol blended-fuel in our cars does reduce global warming pollution slightly, but does not affect smog and soot levels. Depending on their location, ethanol production plants can have major impacts that must be taken into account. It takes 4-5 gallons of water to produce a gallon of ethanol, and Illinois historically has lacked programs to regulate water withdrawals to ensure that large users in the wrong place do not take water needed for drinking, for wildlife, or for other uses. If 2.5 billion gallons of ethanol are produced in Illinois under this plan, it will require a tremendous amount of water. We urge the State to use the financial incentives in this plan, and develop new regulatory programs, to ensure that the burgeoning ethanol industry in Illinois does not drain our aquifers or our rivers dry. Sierra Club opposes coal-fired ethanol production because it causes more pollution than gasoline.

Finally, we encourage the State to develop a framework for ensuring that the plan contributes to real and regular reductions in the air pollution that harms public health here in Illinois and contributes to global warming. Cleaner energy technologies will deliver much cleaner air to Illinois if they replace old, dirty technology, rather than simply supplementing it. We also will work with the State to ensure that steps taken to expedite the development of the plan allow for adequate public participation in the planning and consideration of these major projects.

Sierra Club applauds Governor Blagojevich’s commitment towards an energy independent Illinois. We share that commitment, and pledge to work with the State as it further develops and implements this plan in a way that harnesses modern technology to meet our energy needs and reduces air pollution, including global warming pollution.

August 11, 2006

Bush Administration Proposal Much Weaker Than New Illinois Law

USEPA Administrator Stephen Johnson’s visit to Chicago to tout the Bush Administration’s voluntary approach to keeping mercury from junked cars out of our air and water is ironic. Just like their proposal to go slow and easy on cleaning up mercury from coal plants, they now propose to ask automakers and junkyards nicely to please keep this brain-damaging toxin out of our air and water supply. This is much too little, too late when the health of our children is at stake.

Why Johnson chose Chicago to showcase this is a mystery. Illinois is doing far better. A new law took effect in Illinois July 1st that sets firm goals for make sure we recycle the parts of cars that contain mercury, and recycling efforts began earlier this summer. Governor Blagojevich’s proposal to cut mercury from coal plants by 90% by 2009 would cut 2,906 more pounds of mercury than the Bush Administration’s plan. A single teaspoon of mercury is enough to contaminate an entire lake.

Perhaps the best thing Johnson can do about mercury while in Illinois is to take notes. We don’t need press conferences and voluntary initiatives to protect our kids’ health, we need strong action. Illinois is doing what it can, but mercury in the air crosses state lines, so we could also use help from Washington cutting mercury pollution across the country.

August 09, 2006

Victory for Springfield!

Tonight in Springfield, the City Council approved the agreement between the Sierra Club and City Water, Light, and Power that will clean the air, promote renewable energy, and create jobs in the Springfield region - a win-win-win for Springfield residents and businesses.

Among the highlights of the agreement -

-State-of-the art pollution controls on the new coal plant CWLP will build
-A commitment to purchase 120 megawatts of wind energy, including enough to power the entire state capitol!
-New conservation and efficiency programs to help residents and businesses cut power bills
-A commitment to reduce city-wide emissions of global warming pollution to 7% below 1990 levels by 2012, as called for by the Kyoto Protocol

CONGRATULATIONS to our Sangamon Valley Group leaders and volunteers, who have withstood baseless criticism of the Sierra Club since the agreement was announced a month ago, and to Becki Clayborn, Bruce Nilles, and Verena Owen who worked with them to negotiate and then defend the agreement. Thanks also to CWLP for thinking outside the box to work with us to craft a truly groundbreaking agreement that sets a great example for others to follow, while also being the best deal for local ratepayers.

August 08, 2006

Ravinia PAC Party

We had a great fundraiser for Sierra Club, IL PAC Sunday night at Ravinia. Good food, drink, Yo-Yo Ma and the CSO, and we raised enough to fund one full campaign on behalf of an environmental champion this fall.

By electing more candidates, Democrats and Republicans, who share our values, we can not only do a better job protecting Illinois' environment, but also set an example for America to follow.

We sincerely appreciate the donations that gave us good food and drink while allowing us to channel contributions directly to the campaigns where they can make a critical difference. Thank you to Hel's Kitchen for the sandwiches, pasta salad, and fruit kebabs, Sam's in Highland Park for the wine, and Kathy and Mary for the tasty homemade desserts.

And thanks to everyone who came! We hope to see you on the campaign trail, and back at Ravinia next summer!

July 18, 2006

Springfield Energy Vote Delayed Two Weeks

CWLP wants to give the Springfield City Council to look at the details of their proposed energy plan.
That's fine by us - we think the more people learn about the plan the more they will like it.

The State-Journal Register ran a column from me today about the agreement. It's at:

July 12, 2006

A Smart Energy Future For Springfield

I was in Springfield today to announce a remarkable agreement between the Sierra Club, City Water, Light, and Power (Springfield's utility), and the State of Illinois, that:

-Allows CWLP to build a new coal power plant with state-of-the-art pollution controls
-Commits CWLP to reducing global warming pollution by the levels called for in the Kyoto Protocol
-Provides for all state government buildings under the Governor's control to be powered by wind
-Will bring new initiatives to save Springfield citizens and businesses money through conservation and efficiency programs.

Yes, the Capitol building and over 100 other state properties in Springfield will be powered by wind. And we're not talking about capturing the hot air from the House and Senate chambers - new investements by CWLP in wind energy will bring green power to Springfield residents and state government.

We believe this is the first utility in America to agree to the carbon reduction limits proposed in the Kyoto Protocol.
We are proud to partner with CWLP, Springfield, and the State to reach this landmark agreement for 21st century energy plan that meets Springfield's power needs while setting an example for the rest of Illinois, and indeed America, to follow.

The agreement will pay off for Springfield ratepayers and residents. The conservation and efficiency programs CWLP will offer will help homeowners and businesses save money on their electric bills. Diversifying their source of power to include wind will help protect against price shocks caused by volatile markets. And, the pollution control installations, efficiency investments, and new wind power will create local jobs.

The package awaits a vote by Springfield's city council next week. Hopefully the council will embrace this 21st century deal as a win-win for Springfield and our planet.

June 09, 2006

Back On The Blog

I am back on the job after a month on leave. Sorry for the silence here, but it won't last for long.

April 29, 2006

Mercury Rising

Today's Chicago Tribune has an excellent piece by Michael Hawthorne that shows that mercury emissions from Illinois coal plants continue to increase.

Most industries have cleaned up their act at least somewhat since the passage of the Clean Air Act, some dramatically. This latest trend shows that the coal power industry won't until Illinois' cleanup proposal is finalized.

Pollution Control Board hearings on the cleanup plan begin May 8th in Chicago.

April 22, 2006

Tackling Another Source of Mercury

Governor Blagojevich marked Earth Day today by signing legislation to require the recycling of car parts that contain mercury before the cars are scrapped. The legislation will go a long way toward eliminating the second largest source of mercury pollution in Illinois. Currently, old car parts are either landfilled or melted down for recycling, and if the mercury-containing parts aren't taken out, the mercury goes up in smoke when the metal is melted, or can leach from a landfill into groundwater.

Congratulations to State Rep. Karen May, who made this her top priority for three legislative sessions, and the Illinois Environmental Council, which led the environmental community's efforts to pass the legislation.

April 21, 2006

Happy Earth Day!

Saturday is Earth Day, and Illinois Sierra Club volunteers are marking the occasion at with river cleanups, habitat restoration projects, and public education events around the state. All the events are open to the public.

Earth Day should not be a day to be depressed about all the threats and problems facing our environment. It should be a time to celebrate what each of us can do, in our own way, to make our community and our world a cleaner, healthier place to live. Sierra Club invites anyone with a couple hours to spare this week to join us as we get our hands dirty to make Illinois just a little cleaner and greener.

The list of local projects includes:

Chicago - Montrose Beach Clean Up. 9:30 - Noon
Volunteers roll up their sleeves and pick up all the trash from the beach and the water's edge, cataloging the rubbish as they go as part of a survey of the lake's flotsam and jetsam. Some unbelievable items wash up on the beach and enough old clothes, sandals and barrettes are collected to outfit a family of five!

Meet at the Montrose Beach beach house (the large white building located on the far east side of the beach). It's a great way to get out, enjoy the lakefront, and do something to help the lake. If you can, please bring with you some rubber or plastic gloves, some garbage bags, a pen, and some friends! We will also have supplies on hand.

Chicago (NW Side) - LaBagh Woods Stewardship Day & Bird Walk - 9 am –Noon (7AM Bird Walk)
A preliminary hike will give you the lay of the land of this interesting, hilly preserve and then we’ll charge right into the clean-up. Be sure to bring gloves (cloth work gloves or waterproof rubber gloves work well), dress for the weather and wear boots to cope with muddy trails. Supplies and work tools will be provided. Located along the North Branch of the Chicago River, which is used as a migration corridor by many species of north-bound birds, LaBagh Woods is well-known as a birding hot spot in the spring. Dress for the weather including boots as conditions may be muddy. Contact Christine Williamson (evenings) at birdchris@ or 773/935-8439.

Aurora - Annual Fox River Cleanup - 9 a.m. till noon
Sierra Club’s Valley of the Fox Group Water Sentinels invites you to join clean-up efforts along the bank of the Fox River in downtown Aurora, the site of the recently removed North Avenue Dam. This clean-up will help prepare the site for planting later in the season of erosion control plants. Gloves, bags, water and snacks provided. Dress for the weather. Contact Fran Caffee at (630) 859-1687.

Batavia Environmental Fair, Government Center. 10 am till 4 pm
Sierra Club will have information table and will be giving away 100 free compact fluorescent lighbulbs with attached information about energy savings and how to recycle old bulbs. Also try the "Energy Bike" built by local Sierra Club activist Jon Wesenberg. Contact Ron and MaryAnne Gilkerson 630-879-8756

Barrington - Spring Creek Preserve Stewardship Day & Family Picnic - 10 am till 2 pm.
This is a huge, family-friendly event for the Sierra Club and its event co-sponsors. We need people to help with the restoration crew, food setup, tours of the area, and herbicide application (must be licensed). We will cut buckthorn and sow wildflower and native grass seed from 10:00-12:30. From 12:30-2:00 lunch will be provided, guest speakers will talk, and tours of the area will be conducted.

Alton - City Wide Litter Clean-Up Event_9 am till Noon
Meet at one of these registration sites for FREE DONUTS & COFFEE:
Midtown Restaurant - Central @ 7th St.,
St. Peter's Hardware - State St. @ Mather St.
Main Street Methodist Church - Main St. @ Brown St.
Lowe's - Parking Lot off of Homer Adam's Parkway & Buckmaster Ln.
For more info, or to adopt a block, call: (618) 465-3026

Peoria - Environmental Film Festival at the Apollo Theatre, Peoria, 7-9 pm both days.
Peoria Heights - Tabling event at Forest Park Nature Center

April 23 – Peoria - Tabling event at Gateway building
April 24 - Peoria - Tabling at Clean Water Celebration
April 29 - Springfield - Earth Awareness Fair 10 am - 2 pm
Join Sierra Club at the Earth Awareness Fair on April 29th in the Expo Building at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. This year's event will have lots of activities and games for all ages. There will also be guest speakers, prizes, food and more!
May 3 – Aurora - Math and Science Academy Earthday event.

More details, including directions to many sites, are available at Hope to see you out there!

April 11, 2006

Risky Fishing

Spring is finally here, and people across Illinois are thinking of getting outside. Certainly one of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors is fishing - a perfect excuse to spend a morning or an afternoon on a lake or a riverbank with your family, friends, or in the quiet of nature. It's not surprising that there are 700,000 fishing licenses issued each year in Illinois.

Unfortunately, those anglers may be getting more than just a relaxing day on the water when they fish Illinois. If they are bringing their catch home for dinner, they may be putting their family's health at risk by connecting dirty coal plant smokestacks to their kids' nervous systems.

Midlothian Reservoir in Cook County's Forest Preserves is a "hotspot" for mercury pollution, carrying a special warning for women of child-bearing age.

A new report issued today by Illinois Public Interest Research Group examines two decades of fish tissue sampling data in Illinois and reports that the health threat posed by mercury-contaminated fish is a statewide phenomenon. Waters as diverse as Lake Michigan, a city park lagoon, the Rock River, Kinkaid Lake, or suburban streams like the DuPage River all are home to fish that carry dangerous amounts of mercury.

According to Illinois EPA, 70% of Illinois' mercury pollution comes from coal-burning power plants. Other states that have acted to cut their mercury emissions have seen mercury levels in fish drop substantially in less than a decade.

Fishing is still a great way to spend a beautiful spring day. Let's make sure it's not a health risk by cleaning up our coal plants.

Illinois EPA estimates that this coal plant in Romeoville put out 459 pounds of mercury pollution in 2004.

April 06, 2006

Waukegan Mayor Supports Mercury Cleanup

This week Waukegan Mayor Richard Hyde joined the growing list of supporters of Gov. Blagojevich's mercury cleanup plan. Waukegan is home to a coal plant owned by Midwest Generation that puts out over 300 pounds of mercury every year, right on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Coverage is here and here.

March 24, 2006

Primary Results Show Big Wins for Sierra Club Candidates

As the dust settles from Tuesday's Illinois primary elections, it is clear that voters in both Republican and Democratic primary races rewarded pro-environment candidates with their votes for state and local office.

Sierra Club worked hard to help its endorsed candidates in these races. Sierra Club volunteers staffed phonebanks, CTA and Metra stops, precinct walks, and mailing parties. We produced targeted mail pieces in many races to reach pro-environment voters and let them know about our endorsement. A few numbers from our primary campaign efforts:

*100 volunteers working on campaigns around the state
*35,000 mailings to targeted voters
*Over 5,000 personal phone calls to Sierra Club members
*35 Election Day volunteers in Cook County
*8 victories in 9 contested General Assembly races (5 Democrats, 3 Republicans)

Here is a roundup of the outcome in contested races where Sierra Club made endorsements:


Republican Primaries
Sierra Club targeted four suburban Republican primaries where there were clear differences between the candidates in hotly contested races. In Lake County's 62nd District, Sandy Cole is a Lake County Board member who has been a strong voice for smart growth, water supply protection, and expanding Lake County's forest preserves. She won with 59% of the vote against developer-backed candidate Barbara Oilschlager. Incumbent Paul Froehlich, a solid supporter of measures to reduce mercury pollution, protect wetlands, and preserve open space funding won handily in the 56th District. In the 95th District, West Chicago Mayor Michael Fortner, who has been active in efforts to clean up local thorium contamination, and dedicating West Chicago Prairie as an Illinois Nature Preserve, beat a well-funded challenger. Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins lost her campaign for the Republican nomination in the 27th Senate District.

Democratic Primaries
In Democratic races, House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn-Currie, who last year won the Illinois Environmental Council's Lifetime Achievement Award, and for years has been a leader in passing legislation protecting people from harmful pollution, won handily in the face of her first significant primary challenge in years. State Senator Martin Sandoval, a member of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee and strong supporter of measures to clean up air pollution, particularly from old coal-burning power plants, held off a well-funded challenger in the 12th Senate District. State Senator Don Harmon, the lead Senate sponsor of legislation to spur renewable energy development and measures to clean up water pollution and protect open space, and State Representative David Miller, a solid supporter of clean air, wetlands protection, and open space legislation each won handily against primary opponents.

In addition, Sierra Club supported Dave Koehler in the Democratic Primary for Senator from the 46th District in the Peoria area. Koehler is seeking to replace retiring Senator George Shadid. He will bring support for action by the state to clean up pollution in the Illinois River, acquire more land for outdoor recreation, and promote clean, renewable energy sources to the Illinois Senate.

Forrest Claypool's reform campaign for Cook County Board President fell just short of victory in the face of a strong showing by machine politicians and a late wave of support for incumbent John Stroger after he suffered a stroke in the campaign's final days. However, our unprecedented effort to mobilize pro-environment voters across the County clearly demonstrated the public's interest in taking better care of our magnificent forest preserves will sets the state for better protection of Cook County's open spaces in the future.

The victory for Debra Shore's outsider campaign for MWRD is a testament to the outstanding campaign run by Debra, a longtime conservationist but rookie candidate, the public's demand for clean water, and the power of a Sierra Club endorsement. Debra was not slated by the Democratic Party but appears to have finished in first place (with some votes yet to be counted) on a day when "the machine" was out in full force.

Sierra Club endorsed Republicans Dewey Pierotti for President and Roger Kotecki for the Board of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District, and both were unopposed Tuesday. Endorsed candidate Kaaryn Oldfield lost her race for the Forest Preserve District Board to Michael Formento.

Sierra Club's campaign efforts in DeKalb County were focused on supporting a land acquisition referendum for the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District. If you haven't been there lately, the county is undergoing rapid sprawl and until now had no funding available to try to save wetlands, prairies, and forests from development. Tuesday's victory provides $5 million over the next decade.

Thank you and congratulations to all the Sierra Club volunteers who worked on these campaigns - your impact was truly felt.   

March 22, 2006

Victory for DeKalb County Forest Preserves

Sierra Club's campaign efforts in DeKalb county were focused on supporting a land acquisition referendum for the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District. If you haven't been there lately, the county is undergoing rapid sprawl and until now had no funding available to try to save wetlands, prairies, and forests from development.

Tuesday's victory provides $5 million over the next decade. Details are here.

signing off

Laptop battery dwindling, me not far behind. Looks like Claypool has fallen behind Stroger, still a fair number of ballots out.

Paul Froehlich Wins Big

One of the strongest pro-environment voices among Illinois House Republicans held off a spirited challenger. Paul Froehlich, who is a big supporter of mercury polllution controls, wetlands protection, and open space funding, was renominated. Good to see.

Mike Fortner Wins

West Chicago Mayor Michael Fortner won the Republican nomination in the 92nd State Rep District. Fortner's opponent, Pamela Mitroff, had major business support.

Fortner is a major advocate of better public transit for the suburbs, and has been a leader in protecting open spaces like West Chicago Prairie. He is a physics professor at Northern Illinois University.

Good work by volunteers for Sierra Club's River Prairie Group, who walked precincts and did targetted mail for Fortner. It will be great to have a new pro-environment House Republican!

Sandoval Holds On

Congratulations to Sen. Martin Sandoval, who withstood a strong challenge tonight to hold on to his State Senate seat. Sandoval has been a leader on environmental issues in the Senate, and Sierra Club worked to educate swing voters in this district that suffers from a disproportionate amount of air pollution.

Currie Seems Headed to Victory

Not enough precincts in yet for the race to be called, but House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie is way up on her opponent, which is a very good thing for clean air and water. Barbara recently won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois Environmental Council.

March 21, 2006

The Shore Line

Debra Shore ran an incredible campaign for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. Her effort would have been impressive from a career politician, but for a first-time candidate it is nothing short of amazing. Her campaign platform, her staff, her donors, her volunteers, and her direct mail were all first-rate.

She has not declared victory yet tonight, but it looks very good for her with her leading all candidates at this point of the night. Her strong showing is a strong sign that voters are looking for candidates with strong environmental values and experience, but it is also obviously largely in part to the energetic, grassroots campaign she has sustained for close to a year now.

Congratulations, Deb!!!

Sandy Cole Wins In the 62nd!

Sandy Cole, part of the core of strong conservationists on the Lake County Board, is the projected winner against developer-backed Barbara Oilschlager. Go Sandy!

Koehler Wins in Peoria!

Great to see Dave Koehler, a progressive with a strong track record on the Peoria City Council, winning handily in Peoria.

The Finish Line!

We made it.

After all the phonebanks, CTA and Metra stops, precinct walks, envelope stuffing, bad campaign food, conference calls and planning meetings, the polls are closed. Whatever happens to our candidates tonight, I am so proud of the work Sierra Club did in these primary elections. A few numbers:

*100 volunteers working on campaigns around the state
*35,000 mailings to targeted voters
*Over 5,000 personal phone calls to Sierra Club members
*35 Election Day volunteers in Cook County

If you played a role in this effort, you should feel great about what we’ve accomplished even before we hear any results. Congratulations and celebrate!

If you volunteered today, share your experience as a comment!

March 20, 2006

Illinois’ Environment On the Ballot

Please make sure to vote on Tuesday. Low turnout is projected statewide, which means your vote could make the difference.

On Election Night I’ll be posting live updates as results pour in from around the state. Check back for updates on races Sierra Club is working in, and add your two cents on the results of the night.

Check out Sierra Club’s endorsements at:

March 15, 2006

Blagojevich Proposes Mercury Cleanup Plan

Tuesday Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich moved aggressively to protect children’s health by requiring Illinois coal plants to cut mercury pollution levels by 90% by 2009. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) proposed rules that would require new controls for mercury pollution, which has been linked to neurological defects in children and health problems for adults.

This is a bold proposal to order Illinois’ biggest polluters to clean up their act to protect our children’s health. We have the technology to make sure that future generations of Illinois children are not harmed by mercury pollution, and we hope Illinois power plant operators do the right thing and install the pollution controls to protect our kids.

In February the Illinois Department of Public Health issued a warning to women of child-bearing age about the dangers of eating large predator fish (such as bass and walleye) from any Illinois lake or river due to mercury pollution. The largest source of mercury pollution in Illinois is coal-burning power plants, which spewed 4,125pounds of mercury into the air in 2003. A teaspoon of mercury can contaminate an entire lake.

Sierra Club has conducted hair sampling for mercury contamination as part of a nationwide study that found that 1 in 5 women have levels of mercury in their bodies that could harm a developing fetus. Sierra Club’s testing in Chicago found such levels in 1 in 4 Chicago-area women.

Going fishing with your kids or your grandchildren should be a wholesome, healthy form of recreation, not a health risk. We hope that Illinois power companies will choose to install the pollution controls to protect our kids rather than spend their money on lawyers and lobbyists to derail this cleanup plan.

The Illinois Pollution Control Board is expected to hold hearings on the proposal beginning later this Spring. The proposal is available online at

Very impressive move by the Gov.

March 08, 2006

Key Clean Air Measures Move Toward Passage In Springfield

Good news from Springfield as the General Assembly moves into the home stretch - two clean air measures took major steps toward becoming law last week.

State Rep. Karen May and State Sen. Terry Link reached an agreement with the automakers on a program to recycle mercury-containing car parts that are currently being landfilled, where the mercury could get into drinking water, or vaporized when junked cars are melted down. The agreement is contained in both HB5578 and SB2884, which each passed their respective chambers last week and appear headed for the Governor's desk. Congratulations to May, Link, and the Illinois Environmental Council, who have worked for two years on this issue. The Tribune has a story in Thursday's paper on it here.

Also last week State Rep. Eileen Nekritz passed HB 4782 out of the House which would limit excessive idling by diesel trucks. Diesel exhaust can be very dirty and unnecessary idling pumps these fumes into our air, often in residential neighborhoods. TV news in Chicago tonight is reporting that an idling truck near downtown building's air intake may have been the source of carbon monoxide levels that forced the building's evacuation.

Good too see Illinois moving forward toward cleaner air!

February 13, 2006

A Packed House In Pilsen for Clean Power

Tonight at Dvorak Park fieldhouse in Pilsen, in the shadow of the Fisk power plant, about 150 residents turned out to hear about Illinois EPA's plans to propose new pollution controls for coal plants across Illinois, including the Fisk and Crawford coal plants owned by Midwest Generation.

A mother spoke with her young daughter, who is developmentally disabled, about her fears that living so close to a major mercury source may have harmed her child. Another mother whose 9-month old son already has developed asthma urged her neighbors to join the cleanup campaign. A lifelong community activist pleaded for help in taking legal action against the plants' owners.

State Senator Martin Sandoval, whose district includes the Little Village neighborhood, gave an impassioned statement of support for the Governor's cleanup plan. Illinois EPA gave an overview of the state's plan for developing the rules to implement the plan.

The Governor's cleanup plan is playing well in Pilsen, although some frustrated residents thought giving the plants three years to cut mercury pollution sounded about three years too long.

Nice work by PERRO , the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, and the Little Village Environmental Justice Project, in organizing the hearing and turning out a great crowd.

February 08, 2006

Mercury Hair Test Results: 1 in 4 Chicago-Area Women of Childbearing Age Tested Exceed Safe Levels

The results of the nation’s largest mercury hair-sampling project were released today, and the survey found mercury levels exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended limit in one in five women of childbearing age tested across the country, but a higher rate (one in four) of contamination among Chicago-area women of childbearing age who participated in the survey.

As part of the national study, Sierra Club offered free mercury hair tests at Chicago-area salons in September and October of 2005. 104 Chicago-area residents participated in the testing events held in Highland Park, Warrenville, Willowbrook, Joliet, and in the Ravenswood, Bucktown, and Pilsen neighborhoods in Chicago. 53 were women of childbearing age, and 24.5%, or 1 in 4, were found to exceed the limit.

The Chicago-area numbers are not statistically significant, but they are cause for concern. We will continue to offer testings later this Spring to help more people learn their mercury levels, and to continue to increase the sample size in this important study.

More details are available here

February 03, 2006

New 2006 State Fish Warnings Add Mercury Hotspots

This week the Illinois Department of Public Health issued its annual fish consumption advisory.

IDPH is again warning women of child-bearing age about the risks of eating large predator fish from any river or lake in Illinois. Fish from these waters are listed as especially high in mercury contamination:

Arrowhead Lake, Campus Lake at Southern Illinois University, Cedar Lake, Devil's Kitchen Lake, Kinkaid Lake, Lake Bracken, Lake in the Hills, Little Grassy Lake, Little Wabash River and Tributaries, Marquette Park Lagoon, Midlothian Reservoir, Monee Reservoir, Ohio River, Rock River (from Rockford to Milan Steel Dam), and the Wabash River

This list of "hotspots" has grown from last year - the Little Wabash and Wabash Rivers have been added. If you fish in Illinois, learn the facts and be careful about bringing your catch home to any women or children.

January 18, 2006

Blagojevich Highlights Clean Air Initiatives in State of State Speech

Some pundits may dismiss Blagojevich's State of the State speech today as campaign hot air, but the Governor did have some strong words to say about clean air in the address to lawmakers today.

The mercury reduction and fuel-efficient vehicle programs plugged in today's speech would make a big difference for health and air quality. It's good to see the Gov. giving these two environmental initiatives priority placement in his agenda for 2006.

Both programs received decent applause from the gallery and from Democrats in the chamber. A few Republicans, who were mostly quiet throughout the speech, applauded the mercury intiative, and a few more the clean car program.

Reporters seem mostly interested in reporting this as a campaign story, but perhaps some of the substance will come through in stories this week.

For more information, see here.

January 12, 2006

Blagojevich Offers $500 To Clean Car Buyers

Gov. Blagojevich today announced a proposal to offer a $500 sales tax credit, effective July 1st, to Illinoisans who buy hybrid and other fuel-efficient cars. The proposal requires approval by the General Assembly.

The Governor is having quite a good environmental week. A week ago, he proposed strong rules to cut mercury pollution from coal plants. Earler this week, he issued an executive order aimed at stepping up research and planning efforts to better manage drinking water supplies across the state.

Today's proposal, if enacted, would save more drivers more money at the pump, and cut air pollution levels as cars that go farther on a gallon of gas also put less out the tailpipe. I don't know about you, but a $500 discount on a new car could be enough to make me choose a hybrid if I weren't otherwise inclined to do so.

A similar federal tax credit, one of the very few notable environmental policy improvements of the Bush Administration, expires at the end of this year, so the proposal comes at a good time.

The proposal is structured to offer the $500 incentive to any vehicle that gets 35 mpg CITY, or 25 mpg CITY that can run on an alternative fuel, such as 85% ethanol or biodiesel.

Good going, Guv. The policy makes sense, and I would think it stands a decent chance of winning legislative approval, given the broad demand for fuel-efficient cars and high gas prices.

January 06, 2006

Too Expensive To Protect Our Kids' Brains?

It's beginning to look like Illinois' biggest mercury polluters are going to argue that protecting children's brains and nervous system is too expensive for them. See this story in today's Chicago Tribune:,1,7313509.story

If so then they must only care about their own pocketbooks, because the rest of us are the ones paying because they haven't cleaned up their act. A Mt. Sinai study released last year estimated that mercury contamination costs at least $8.7 billion annually in health care costs and decreased productivity due to kids brains and nervous systems being damaged by mercury. (See

Also, what's the impact on Illinois' fishing and tourism industry due to the health warning now attached to every river and lake in Illinois due to mercury pollution? How many more people would spend their vacation and recreation dollars fishing in Illinois if it were safe to feed their catch to their families?

Most public health problems are difficult to solve because there are usually many contributing factors that are hard to get a handle on. This is a case where most of the Illinois mercury pollution comes out of 22 smokestacks, and the technology to shut most of it off is readily available.

It's time to do it.

Governor Blagojevich announcing his mercury reduction plan Thursday at Navy Pier in Chicago.

January 05, 2006

Blagojevich Proposes Deep Cuts In Mercury Pollution

Governor Blagojevich today is announcing a strong proposal to require Illinois’ coal-fired power plants to install pollution controls to reduce the levels of toxic mercury they put into Illinois’ air and water. Blagojevich’s plan would require Illinois coal plants to reduce mercury pollution by 90% by 2009.

The proposal will not only protect the health of Illinois children, it will also set an example for America to follow in addressing a major public health problem.

Mercury from coal-fired power plants ends up in lakes, rivers, and oceans, and certain species of fish accumulate dangerous levels of the toxic metal in their muscle tissue. When people eat these fish, they are exposed to potentially harmful levels of mercury. The Illinois Department of Public Health has issued a warning about the dangers of eating large predator fish from all Illinois waters due to statewide mercury pollution.

The Bush Administration has proposed substantially weaker pollution controls that could allow Illinois coal plants to delay or even entirely avoid installing pollution controls. Governor Blagojevich and Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit against the Bush Administration’s proposal in April of 2005.

Mothers and women hoping to have children shouldn't have to worry that by eating fish or feeding it to their kids they could be doing permanent damage to a child's brain. The technology to protect our kids is available, affordable, and it’s time we put it on these smokestacks. Will Illinois power plants will heed Gov. Blagojevich's call to clean up their act and protect our children's health?

Obviously we're not betting on that. We expect a full attack on the proposal when the Illinois Pollution Control Board takes it up in the weeks and months ahead.