December 05, 2007

Coal-To-Liquids: Not So Fast

The coal rush slowed yesterday when the company seeking to turn coal into diesel fuel at a plant in East Dubuque shelved the proposal.

Getting auto fuel from coal basically doubles the global warming pollution that comes out of a car.

Sierra Club fought the proposal, primarily because the company, Rentech, made no commitments to deal with their global warming pollution.

According to Verena Owen, chair of the Sierra Club's Illinois Clean Energy Campaign:

"Over 30 Sierra Club volunteers from Iowa and Illinois showed up and spoke up at the hearing for the Rentech facility, facing 200 some Rentech supporters. We have been working with the NRDC office in Chicago to develop comments. Rentech knows we are serious.

It is noteworthy that Rentech pulled out not only over carbon regulation uncertainty but also because of economic factors. It is clear that CTL will need substantial state and federal financing in order to get off the ground, even in Mississippi. We will have to work on not giving hand-outs to this new market for dirty coal. We can't drill or mine ourselves out of global warming."

November 15, 2007

Blagojevich Joins MW Govs to Lead on Global Warming

At a summit meeting of Midwest Governors today in Milwaukee, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is joining the governors of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, and Michigan in committing to regional limits on the pollution that is causing global warming.

Illinois is now at the forefront of states working to solve global warming with smart energy solutions. The Midwest can be a laboratory for the solutions that can save our planet, while creating jobs in a new energy economy, and saving all of us money we currently spend on heat, electricity, and gasoline.

Earlier this year, Blagojevich announced goals for reducing global warming pollution to 1990 levels by 2020, and 60% below 1990 levels by 2050 - the reductions called for by the scientific community. This year, the Illinois Climate Change Advisory Group considered steps for reaching the first milestone, and has recommended a package of clean car and energy measures that would meet the first target while creating new jobs and lowering energy bills.

The good news about global warming is that we know what solutions will work. Being smarter about how we produce and use energy will not only make deep cuts in pollution, it will create new jobs in the industries of the future. We know we can’t wait for the Bush Administration to lead on solving global warming. It’s up to the states to lead America in implementing solutions to this unprecedented problem, and it's great to see Illinois at the head of the pack.

November 10, 2007

Blues Bash Sunday

Join us if you can:

Sierra Club's Annual Blues & Greens
Blues Bash @ Kingston Mines

with Linsey Alexander and the
Linsey Alexander Blues Band

Sunday, November 11
5 pm till 8 pm
Kingston Mines Blues Club
2548 North Halsted, Chicago
Tickets: $40

Join us for Chicago Blues,
down home cookin' and dancin'
Soul food buffet and cash bar

Non-smoking and family friendly - KIDS ARE FREE!

October 28, 2007

Hear That Giant Sucking Sound?

Today's Tribune has an article that explains why Sierra Club made having Illinois ratify the Great Lakes Compact one of our top legislative priorities of 2007. Indeed, we are emerging as a target for a thirsty country envisioning some very large straws pointing our way.

Good work by two lakefront legislators, State Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and State Rep. Harry Osterman (D-Chicago) to get this done this year. Sierra Club volunteers met with their legislators earlier this year in their districts to stress the importance of getting this done this year. Now we need our Great Lakes neighbor states to do the same. (Minnesota already has).

October 22, 2007

The Incredible Shrinking Great Lakes

Today's New York Times has an alarming story about the effect that low water levels throughout the Great Lakes are having on commercial shipping.

September 12, 2007

Road Looks Clear to Clean Cars

Today in Vermont, Judge William Sessions ruled against the automakers and for the Sierra Club, the states of Vermont and New York, and other environmental groups, and opened the door for states like Illinois to mandate cutting global warming emissions from cars. Over the vigorous objections of the automakers, he ruled that New York and Vermont may proceed with enacting the California Clean Car (Pavley) Standards, pending EPA approval. These standards, adopted by California and at least 11 other states, and proposed by pending state legislation in Springfield, will reduce global warming emissions from cars by 30 percent when fully implemented in 2016.

In Illinois, the cleaner standard would be required under House Bill 3424, sponsored by State Representative Karen May (D-Highland Park). State Senator Terry Link (D-Waukegan) has introduced similar legislation, Senate Bill 663. Clean cars have been recommended to Gov. Blagojevich by the Clean Car and Energy Efficiency Working Group he appointed in 2006, and most recently by the Illinois Climate Change Advisory Group.

Today’s ruling makes it very clear that Illinois indeed has the authority to choose cleaner, more efficient cars. Gov. Blagojevich and state lawmakers are considering proposals to bring cleaner cars to Illinois, and we urge them to act quickly so we can all start saving money at the gas pump, breathing cleaner air, and making a big dent in global warming pollution.

The cleaner car standard will mean more vehicle choices for Illinois drivers, so matter what kind of car you need, you will have choices that will go farther on a gallon of gas, and pollute less. Adopting California standards here will save Illinois drivers 3 billion gallons of gasoline per year by the year 2030, which will mean money that would have gone to big oil companies will instead stay in our pockets.

The faster Illinois chooses clean cars, the faster we all will enjoy the benefits, and a cleaner, more affordable future.

The decision can be found at:

August 28, 2007

Clean Energy Bill Now Law!

The major new clean energy programs signed into law today by Governor Blagojevich are two major steps forward toward a cleaner, safer, and more affordable energy future for Illinois. After decades of dealing with the pollution and cost of relying solely on dirty coal and nuclear power, Illinois is now a national leader in promoting clean, renewable energy, and in helping consumer and businesses cut their electric bills by using less power.

The new requirement that 25% of Illinois’ electricity will come from renewable sources by the year 2025 will create new jobs in a pollution-free power industry. At the same time, utilities, the State of Illinois, and local governments will begin major new programs to reduce existing power use. By 2015, these programs are to cut existing power use 2% below today's levels. These conservation programs will deliver savings each and every month as our homes and businesses use less power. They will also create high-paying jobs in a clean, new energy economy.

By using less power overall, and by getting more and more of it from pollution-free sources like wind, Illinois is also taking two big steps to reducing our contribution to global warming. Scientists tell us that we need to reduce pollution by 80% to solve global warming, and that energy efficiency and renewable energy are the two most effective strategies for reaching these goals.

Historically, Illinois has lagged behind in implementing smart energy policies. Today, we move from the back of the pack to the head of the class in implementing smart energy policies for the future. This is one area where our leaders have agreed on major changes that are the right choices for Illiniosans today, and for our future.

August 24, 2007

BP: Put It in the Permit, Not Just the Press Release

We welcome BP's "promise" today to "not make use of the higher discharge limits" recently granted them by the State of Indiana. This is a welcome first step that BP has, perhaps belatedly, realized how much the people of this region love and depend on Lake Michigan, our Great Lake.

We now challenge BP to make this commitment not just in a press release, but in the legally binding permit they will operate under. That is the only way that the 12 million people who relay on Lake Michigan for drinking water will know for sure that the Clean Water Act will be there to enforce BP's new promise. Fixing the permit to require better pollution controls would add penalties if they fail to make good on this new commitment. That is the strongest guarantee that the people of this region can have that their water will get the best protection.

Every day Sierra Club works with other ammonia dischargers, mostly local governments on a strict budget, in this region to help them reduce their ammonia discharges to protect area waters. We stand ready to help BP identify solutions to help them avoid increasing ammonia discharges to the Lake. We are confident that if cash-strapped communities in Illinois can do it, so can BP.

Putting the promise in the permit will give this welcome new commitment the force of law. It will also erase the bad precedent the State of Indiana set by granting the original permit, and raise the bar for other industrial polluters around our Great Lake.

Put the promise in the permit, not just the press release.

August 15, 2007

Summit on BP Pollution Proposal

I participated in a summit today at USEPA regional headquarters in Chicago on BP's proposal to increase pollution to Lake Michigan as part of their Whiting refinery expansion.

At the summit, there were many good ideas about how BP can do better - from citizen groups, the City of Chicago, and others. BP and Indiana didn't accept the recommendations, or commit to accepting them if they prove to be workable, but they didn't rule them out, either.

The closer we look at BP's proposal the more questions we have. I asked BP today about their mercury emissions, both directly into the lake in their wastewater, and through the air as part of a sludge incinerator they were operating on the property. They weren't prepared to answer that, but ultimately announced that they closed the incinerator in February of this year. If that's true, that is probably a postive step, although they didn't say where the sludge is going now.

Congressman Rahm Emmanuel did a great job of making crystal clear how angry and exercised the public and their elected officials are about this. He said that Lake Michigan is "our Grand Canyon, our Yellowstone," and claimed that BP wasn't being totally honest with the public about their reasons for avoiding full treatment of their effluent.

Unless BP wants to undo all the work they have done, and money they have spent, to build their image as a green company, at least in this major market, one has to believe they will soon come to their senses and adopt some of the promising alternatives that are coming forward from a variety of sources.

July 26, 2007

Power Shift

Historically, whenever Illinois has passed major energy legislation, environmentalists have made good arguments about the impacts of energy production and consumption, worked long and hard to educate legislators, and then ended up with the table scraps from the real deal (studies, task forces, voluntary goals, some new dollars dwarfed by the boatloads sent to coal and nuclear power…..).

Now, the General Assemlby is poised to approve a mandate that 25% of our electricity come from clean, renewable sources like wind by 2025; and to require that utilities plan for helping us customers use less energy.

The environmental benefits of the clean energy pieces of the rate deal are as significant as the shift in the politics of environmental protection in Illinois.

What’s changed? Why are we poised to set off in an entirely new direction on energy policy, instead of throwing more money at the same old, dirty system?

Here’s my take on some of the key factors -

-State Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), seeing in January that the rate crisis would make energy one of the session’s top priority issues, introduced the Affordable, Clean Energy Standards Act (ACES). State Representative Deborah Graham (D-Oak Park) carried it in the Illinois House. The rate deal essentially incorporates the ACES goals for renewable energy (but strengthens them), and for major new energy efficiency programs.

-Attorney General Lisa Madigan and her team insisted that targets for renewable energy development and energy conservation be a part of any final deal. Her smart and dedicated team made sure that the deal worked for consumers and for our environment.

-ComEd and Ameren seem to be realizing that green power is good business, and they ended up to committing to reach ambitious, but achievable goals.

-Speaker Madigan and President Jones kept open minds about talks that started on the narrow topic of a rate freeze or refund. Many rank and file members of both parties understood the importance of clean energy as part of a rate solution, and spoke up for it.

-Governor Blagojevich, while not a direct party to the negotiations, did set the bar last fall with his Sustainable Energy Plan. The clean energy components of the rate deal reflect components of that plan, and his Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will have a major role in running the new energy conservation programs.

-THE PEOPLE of Illinois are demanding better energy policies. We have never had more people from all over the state standing up to do their part to solve global warming.

From the back of the pack to setting the pace, these are truly exciting times in Illinois, and the results are good for us all.

July 15, 2007

1,000 New Reasons to Buy a Hybrid

Here's a bright idea from State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulis - a $1,000 rebate when you buy a hybrid and you get a car loan through a participating financial institution.

26% of Illinois' global warming pollution comes from cars and trucks. To hit the goals science tells us we need to reach, we have to make cars cleaner and encourage people to choose the most efficient car that meets their needs. Now there are $1,000 more reasons for Illinois drivers to make the right car choice.

June 28, 2007

House sends iSPACE resolution to Blagojevich

The Illinois House today approved, 107-0, a joint resolution in support of iSPACE. It had been adopted by the Senate, so now goes to the Governor and the leaders negotiating the budget, calling for $100 million annually in new conservation land acquisition funding.

Legislators are about to take a break for the 4th of July holiday, and will return the week of July 9th to resume budget talks. If you see yours over the break, ask them for an update!

June 26, 2007

GOP Loses Solid Conservationist

I sincerely hope that Paul Froehlich's switch from Republican to Democrat, announced today, has more to do with the political issues cited in news coverage than with his strong, pro-environment voting record.

I am sure Froehlich will continue to support environmental protection as a Democrat, just as he did as a Republican. That's because he casts his votes based on the facts and the will of his constituents, and his partisan affiliation doesn't affect either.

The American conservation and environmental movement has historically had support from Republican leaders at critical times, whether it was Teddy Roosevelt protecting many of the public lands we enjoy today, or Richard Nixon overseeing the enactment of our modern environmental laws and agencies.

Here in Illinois, Republican legislators are a critical part of the growing bloc that is increasingly making our state a leader in environmental protection. Representatives Winters, Biggins, Coulson, Mulligan, Krause, Bassi, Tryon, Fortner, Pihos, Lindner, Cole, and Pritchard, and Senators Cronin, Althoff, Radogno, Peterson, and Dillard are among those who have been supportive of smart energy solutions, cleaner air, cleaner water, and protecting natural areas for future generations. (My apologies to any I missed - this is a quick list off the top of my head just to give you an idea.)

These numbers have been growing in recent years (as they have in the Democratic caucuses). For those of us who work for clean air and water, and all of us who value it, let's hope that trend keeps moving in the right direction. It makes for good public policy, and good politics as voters increasingly choose pro-environment candidates from both parties.

June 08, 2007

iSPACE in the Souhern today

Nice column in the Southern Illinoisan today on iSPACE.

Les Winkeler writes:

"Illinois is ranked last among Midwestern states in state-owned protected lands. And, with the state's recent economic downturn, funding for land acquisition has decreased about 80 percent over the past few years.

The current legislation, co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Bost and Brandon Phelps, calls for $100 million in new funding. The funding would be designated for land acquisition, provide management grants and support the implementation of the Hunting Heritage Protection Act."

June 07, 2007

IL House Backs iSPACE

Today the Illinois House adopted HJR 55, sponsored by State Rep. Harry Osterman (D-Chicago), calling for the inclusion of $100 million in new conservation funding in any capital budget. The Senate adopted an identical resolution last week.

So no state budget deal this week, but another strong showing of support for including the iSPACE (Illinois Special Places Conservation, Acquisition, and Enhancement) program in the final deal.

June 05, 2007

Part of the Solution, or Part of the Problem?

Tenaska, Inc. is planning to build the largest new source of carbon dioxide in Illinois near Taylorville. The 630MW coal fired power plant, as currently planned, would add approximately four million tons of carbon dioxide to Illinois’ carbon dioxide emissions annually, the same amount of global warming pollution as 500,000 cars, per year for each of the next fifty years.

Governor Blagojevich has set a statewide goal of reducing global warming pollution to 60% below 1990 levels by 2050 - the level that science tells us we must reach to slow global warming. Renewable energy and energy efficiency programs will be a major part of this strategy. Illinois coal can also be a part of the solution if new plants are linked to major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Last year in Springfield, just up the road from Taylorville, City Water Light and Power (CWLP) was planning to build a 200MW power plant for their city customers. We worked with CWLP to forge an agreement to offset the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions through a creative package of programs, including purchasing 120MW of wind power, and investing $400,000 into a city wide energy efficiency program.

So far, this has not been the case with the Tenaska project. Tenaska does not have a plan to deal with the massive increases in global warming pollution that would come from their plant. Such a plan could include offsetting carbon emissions through retiring existing, dirtier plants, investing in renewables or efficiency, or potentially sequestering their carbon underground, although there are still many questions about the viability of carbon sequestration.

Tenaska could be a part of the solution, and put forward a plan that gives Illinois and the planet less, not millions of tons more, carbon dioxide. We are willing to work with them to develop such a plan. If Springfield and their local utility can do it, surely a large corporation like Tenaska can do it.

May 30, 2007

Full Senate, House Committee Recommend iSPACE

Today the full Illinois Senate and a majority of the Illinois house have voiced their support for $100 million in new funding to protect open space as part of a capital spending plan.

“Senators on both sides of the aisle, from all parts of Illinois, agree that investing in protected land for the future is a very smart use of public funds,” said State Senator Jeff Schoenberg, (D-Evanston). “If we don’t include open space protection as part of the next capital spending plan, many valuable acres will either be lost to development forever, or become more expensive to taxpayers as land values increase over time.” Schoenberg is the sponsor of an identical resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 52, in the Senate, which today was adopted by the full Senate.

“Protecting parks and natural areas for future generations is a critical function of state government, and in recent years we have not had the resources to protect the special places of our state from development,” said State Representative Harry Osterman (D-Chicago), the sponsor of House Joint Resolution 55, which calls for $100 million annually in new conservation spending. “Just as we need to shore up our transportation systems and provide quality schools, we have to protect places for recreation, relaxation and wildlife.” HJR 55 has been co-sponsored by 70 members, a majority of the Illinois House, and was approved unanimously by the House State Government Committee on Wednesday.

May 29, 2007

Momentum Building For New Conservation Plan In State Budget

As Illinois lawmakers work toward a new state budget, a growing number of city, suburban, and downstate legislators are calling for new funding to protect open space as part of the final spending plan.

The proposed "iSPACE" plan would invest $100 million per year in new places across the state to hunt, hike, play, bike, relax, absorb floodwater, purify drinking water, and pass our natural heritage along to future generations. The House resolution supporting the plan, HJR 55, has 70 cosponsors, and today House leaders suspended the rules to allow a hearing on HJR 55 Wednesday morning in the House State Government Committee.

An identical resolution in the Senate cleared the Senate State Government & Veterans' Affairs Committee unanimously last week, and is on the calendar for a Senate floor vote Wednesday.

Both resolutions call for inclusion of funding to establish a capital program to protect Illinois’ natural areas and open spaces for future generations. The Illinois Special Places Acquisition, Conservation and Enhancement Program (iSPACE) would invest in Illinois’ future by providing $100 million annually in a capital spending plan for conservation programs.

iSPACE would designate $100 million annually for:

(1) a new statewide land acquisition program to protect the State's most precious natural resources and provide recreational opportunities, including matching grants to local governments;

(2) implementation of the Partners for Conservation Program (formerly Conservation 2000) through land acquisition and management grants; and

(3) implementation of the Hunting Heritage Protection Act by increasing the amount of land acreage available for hunting opportunities in Illinois.

Sportsmen and environmentalists are working closely together to build support for iSPACE. This has helped build a legislative coaltion of downstaters, suburbanites, and urban legislators that crosses party lines.

As State Rep. Harry Osterman (D-Chicago), lead sponsor of HJR55, says:

“Protecting parks and natural areas for future generations is a critical function of state government, and in recent years we have not had the resources to protect the special places of our state from development. Just as we need to shore up our transportation systems and provide quality schools, we have to protect places for recreation, relaxation, and wildlife.”

Illinois has been without significant open space funding since 2002, and as a result many special places in our state have been lost forever to development. Legislative leadrs have a chance with this budget to catch up on our obligations to the future by including the iSPACE proposal in any capital budget.

May 20, 2007

Tribune on Smog

Today's Trib has a good look at the need to update current standards for smog and soot in our air.

Here's the link:,1,6363846.story?page=1&ctrack=2&cset=true&coll=chi-news-hed

April 22, 2007

Happy Earth Day

OK, it's shocking enough that global warming is on the tip of everyone's tongue, that Republicans and Democrats alike are lining up behind clean energy and toxics cleanup bills that would never have seen the light of day in Springfield, but this takes the cake - a warm, sunny Earth Day.

Here in Illinois, Earth Day is generally all the forecast you need to hear to dress for cold, sleet, gray, and perhaps a few flurries for scenic effect. So I can't help but wonder if today's weather might be the latest star aligning for the forces of good.

Whatever you do today, make it fun and positive. We have the rest of the year to worry about the messes we've made. Today should be about the positive - celebrating what each of us can do to make a difference, or even celebrating the simple, yet essential gifts the Earth gives us.

If you're in Chicago, you're invited to join us at the art event below.

Whatever you do, enjoy!

inspiring change:
An art exhibition raising awareness for global warming and benefitting the Sierra Club.

Celebrate Earth Day on April 20 or 22 by attending an art exhibition with the goal of using art as a vehicle to inspire global change. Twenty-one Chicago artists have each prepared a work for this event, and each will be available for purchase, with the proceeds to benefit the Sierra Club.

There is no charge for admission to view the works, or to meet the artists and other local Sierra Club members. Wine, soft drinks, and nibbles provided.

Two opening receptions only:
Friday, April 20: 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm
Sunday, April 22: 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm
(No walk-ins or appointments at other times)

Space 900
1040 W. Huron Avenue
Chicago, IL 60622

Participating artists include:
Andrea Harris
Anne Hughes
Anni Holm
Barbara Schnell
Brooke Demos
Cheryl Holz
Clark Ellithorpe
David Mayhew
Doug McGoldrick
Gosia Koscielak
Hilary Norcliffe
Jean Poklop
Jeane McGrail
Joanna Pinsky
Holly Cahill
Laura Fatemi
Laura Lein-Svencner
Nancy Paul
Tania Blanco
Tom Berenz
Yelena Klairmont

April 20, 2007

And the Winner Is ....... Open Space

When you look at the compiled results of Tuesday's municipal and local election results, there is one very clear trend - voters want open space protected, and their willing to pay for it.

All of these local conservation land acquisition proposals were approved by voters Tuesday:

-McHenry County - $73 million
-Kane County - $85 million
-Kendall County - $45 million
-Village of Lake Barrington - $5.5 million

Over $200 million raised in a single day, by voters choosing to raise their own taxes, in some of the strongest Republican areas of Illinois. And those are just the ones I know about.

Did local races or referenda in your area feature environmental issues?

March 21, 2007

"Cool Cities" Act Passes Illinois Senate

On Tuesday the Illinois State Senate passed "The Illinois Cool Cities Act of 2007", which would help Illinois local governments who want to do their part to combat global warming get the job done. The bill, SB 1242, is sponsored by newly elected State Senator Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) (and pictured here), and is her first to pass the Senate.

"Cool Cities" are local governments that have signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, committing to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions to 7% below 1990 levels by 2012, the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. Eleven Illinois cities are among 425 nationwide that have committed to these reductions, and more and more are showing interest each week.

The "Cool Cities Act" will help these communities meet these goals by offering them technical assistance from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in calculating their baseline (what their emissions were in 1990), and in quantifying how much pollution will be cut by different strategies. Cities that adopt plans to hit these targets are recognized as "Illinois Cool Cities". This will help ensure that goals and commitments translate into real reductions in pollution, and result in model strategies for ways to save energy that other communities can learn from.

Holmes is proving to be a real breath of fresh air in Springfield. This is an innovative approach to one of the most important challenges of our time. It now moves on to the Illinois House, where State Rep. Sid Mathias (R-Buffalo Grove) is the lead sponsor.

January 25, 2007

Popcorn Included: Energy Film Fest

Join us for Sierra Club's Energy Film Festival! This FREE festival is open to members and non-members alike and will focus on a range of energy issues ranging from fuel-efficient cars, to light switches, to international energy policies. Where we get our energy and how we use it are topics that are rapidly rising to the top of the list of concerns in America.

This film festival offers us an opportunity to learn more about the problems of global warming, air pollution and how to solve these problems through innovative technologies and proactive policies. Experts in energy issues will be in attendance to help answer questions and formulate solutions.

We hope you'll join us for food, fun and an exchange of ideas on how to make a change in our energy future here in Illinois!

January 06, 2007

Springfield Clean Power Deal Story

Nice story in today's Chicago Tribune on our deal with Springfield's utility:,1,1527961.story