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.