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!