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.