November 20, 2009

Asian Carp At Great Lakes' Door

Bad news this week from the team trying to keep destructive alien fish species out of the Great Lakes - there is new evidence that asian carp may have made it to the brink of Lake Michigan - O'Brien Lock and Dam on the Calumet River.

Today's news:
New eDNA Monitoring Results Spurs Rapid Response Action

(Chicago) -- On November 17, the University of Notre Dame notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that some water samples, taken from the area between the electric barriers and Lake Michigan on September 23 and October 1, tested positive for the presence of Asian carp. The positive samples were from an area about one mile south of the O'Brien Lock, approximately 8 miles from Lake Michigan.

As part of its ongoing Asian carp monitoring program, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to work with the university to use eDNA genetic testing of water samples to monitor the presence of bighead and silver carp in Chicago area waterways.

"Keeping Asian carp from reaching Lake Michigan remains the focus and goal of the IDNR and the Rapid Response Work Group. We will continue to work with the group and our partners on how best to address this new issue and move forward with achieving our overall goal," said IDNR Assistant Director John Rogner.

The multi-agency rapid response team is working to develop appropriate courses of action based on this new information. Initial response actions will include focusing Asian carp eDNA sampling and other monitoring efforts on areas upstream of the barrier to gather near real-time data on the current location of Asian carp to aid the Rapid Response team in their planning efforts.

The Rapid Response Work Group is finalizing plans to apply rotenone to a section of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in early December as part of a scheduled fish barrier maintenance shut down.

“Scheduled barrier maintenance will proceed as planned,” said Major General John W. Peabody, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division. “This new information reinforces the importance of preventing any further intrusion of the Asian carp via the largest pathway, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.”

Additional information about the recent sampling efforts is available on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' website at www.lrc.usace.army.mil.

Additional information about Asian carp and the Rapid Response Work Group members is at www.asiancarp.org/rapidresponse.
There are not a lot of good options available at this point. All options are not certain to succeed, and also have negative side effects. Still, it seems we have little choice than to keep all options on the table to try to keep these voracious predators out of Lake Michigan and our Great Lakes.

November 13, 2009

Video: Weatherizing Chicago

Recently we participated in an event in Chicago to celebrate National Weatherization Day (haven't seen the greeting card for that one yet!). The purpose was to raise awareness among homeowners that there are major new resources available for cutting your energy use and utility bills, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). ARRA is putting people to work in these programs all over the country. In Cook County, the Community Economic Development Association of Cook County, or CEDA, is the agency providing the jobs and the services. Other community action agencies are implementing similar programs elsewhere in Illinois.

Here's some highlights from National Weatherization Day event at an apartment building in Chicago's Austin community:

video

The jobs and energy savings being created through ARRA funding is especially exciting here in Illinois, where we recently won a great victory for funding this important work. As part of the state capital spending plan approved by the General Assembly this year, $425 million was budgeted for weatherization programs in the future. Those dollars will be available after the federal ARRA funding has been spent, allowing Illinois to sustain the changes, jobs, and energy savings initiated by federal funding well into the future.

We're also proud of the fact that we passed state legislation this year to require state-of-the-art buidling codes for energy efficiency statewide, so in the decades ahead, new Illinois buildings will be energy efficient from the beginning.

Green jobs are here now, and more are on the way!

October 19, 2009

USEPA Blocks BP Refinery Expansion

Good news today on the clean energy front:
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued an objection to the operating permit for BP North America’s refinery in Whiting, IN that will require the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to rewrite the permit. The decision is a
victory for the citizens and environmental groups who petitioned EPA to
object to the permit in August 2008 on the grounds that it did not
accurately account for the large increases in dangerous air pollution that
would be caused by BP’s expansion of the refinery. The petition was
submitted by Environmental Law & Policy Center, Hoosier Environmental
Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, Save the Dunes Council, Sierra
Club, Susan Eleuterio and Tom Tsourlis.

BP began a major expansion of the Whiting Refinery in 2008 in order to
process dirty Canadian tar sands crude oil at the facility. The expansion
would make the refinery the largest refiner of tar sands oil in the U.S.
and would increase numerous traditional air pollutants like sulfur dioxide,
nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. In addition, the expansion would
create approximately as much new global warming pollution as a new 300-400
megawatt coal plant, about a forty percent increase from current refinery
levels.

BP’s permit application claimed the expansion would not increase pollution
because the company would offset the increased emissions by shutting down
some older equipment at the refinery at a later date. But the company
failed to take into account many distinct sources of pollution from the
refinery, including flares (the large torch-like tower structures that burn
excess gases from the refining process) and “fugitive emissions” from leaks
and other sources. EPA’s objection requires the Indiana Department of
Environmental Management to go back and redo the permit taking these
sources into account. In the case of flares, EPA also presented the option
of prohibiting all new and increased flaring emissions. This is the first
Title V decision from the EPA requiring that these pollution sources be
addressed in refinery permits, and stands as important direction-setting
for future projects.

October 15, 2009

Last Day to Give IDNR Your Advice

Here's a good story on the latest in IDNR's effort to engage the Illinois outdoor community in discussion about the future of the agency.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is only now beginning the long road to recovery after years of budget cuts, layoffs and park closures.

In the latest example of Gov. Pat Quinn-style electronic democracy, IDNR Director Marc Miller is asking outdoor enthusiasts to fill out an online survey to help find cures for what ails the agency. He's hoping for input in three areas:

-- How can IDNR get more people involved in outdoor recreation?

-- How can the agency boost public access to recreational opportunities in a state where 98 percent of the land is privately owned?

-- Where can the financially-strapped state find more cash to enhance conservation and recreation?

Visit http://dnr.state.il.us/nrab/cc.htm to take part.

The Conservation Congress will review the results at its upcoming meeting Oct. 24-25 at IDNR headquarters in Springfield. The congress is a grassroots citizen input structure originally put in place by Brent Manning, director of IDNR during what many view as the agency's golden age under Govs. Jim Edgar and George Ryan.


If you haven't yet filled out the survey, take 5 minutes today to do so - today is the last day it is online, to give the Department time to analyze the results before the Conservation Congress next weekend.

October 06, 2009

Cook County: Wheeling and Dealing With Our Preserves


This year the Chicago region is marking the 100th anniversary of Daniel Burnham's plan for Chicago that included a proposal for the Cook County forest preserve system, among other visionary features (like our open, green lakefront, to name another.)

Unfortunately, some on the Cook County board are prepared to mark the occasion by chipping away at the precious "emerald necklace" of forest preserves that rings Cook County and offers all of us a brief break from the pavement. On September 2nd, the Real Estate Committee of the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to allow the clearing of 26 acres of Bemis Woods and to negotiate a long-term lease on the forest preserve property.

On Wednesday, the full Cook County Board will consider the Real Estate Committee's recommendation. Hundreds of Sierra Club members have been contacting their Commissioners, and we expect a close vote at the meeting. On Monday, the Chicago Tribune weighed in with a strong editorial against the proposal. If you live in Cook County, you can help keep our forest preserves intact by:

1) contacting your Cook County Commissioner and urging them to vote no on the lease at Wednesday's meeting; and
2) attending a Friends of the Forest Preserves rally Wednesday morning before the vote:

9 a.m. Wednesday, October 7,
outside of the County Board Room,
118 N. Clark St., 5th Floor


We are all the beneficiaries of visionaries like Burnham who planned and sacrificed so that we can enjoy these natural areas, and pass them on to future generations. In tough times like these, we especially need places nearby when our kids and all of us can experience nature, even if we can't afford to get out of town to bigger, more pristine parks and preserves far away.

Let's show the Cook County Board that these are not their preserves to be making deals with - they belong to all of us, and to the future.

September 30, 2009

Bring the Blue-Green Games to Chicago

There's a lot riding on the International Olympic Committee vote Friday, including a very unique opportunity to make the Chicago region a cleaner, greener, healthier place for 2017 and beyond.

Chicago 2016 has put together an impressive vision for a Blue-Green Games that deals with the air, water, habitat, open space, climate, and other issues associated with an event on this scale. Chicago's games will be very compact, not contributing to urban sprawl. All spectators will take public transit to all events - no parking lots. The games will be powered by 100% renewable energy, and leave our wonderful parks bigger and better after the Games leave town.

There is a tremendous amount happening in our city and our region in the area of sustainability. With environmental protection at its heart, the 2016 games have the potential to bring new energy, audiences, funding, and commitment to these already strong efforts.

I've really enjoyed being a part of the 2016 environment team, and am excited to get to work on the next phase of implementing the Blue-Green vision after we win on Friday!

September 16, 2009

Mark Kirk: Solving Global Warming a "Narrow Interest"

Last Saturday at an event in DuPage County, Mark Kirk discounted what had looked like a courageous vote in favor of the American Clean Energy Security Act in June.

On Saturday, here's how Kirk described his vote on preventing climate change:

"I voted for it because of the narrow interests of my Congressional district. But, as your representative, representing the entire state of Illinois, I will vote no".

Climate change is a "narrow interest"?

It is hard to imagine anything that this, or any, Congress could vote on that is a broader interest than climate change. Scientists agree that urgent action is needed by the world, and the U.S. in particular, if we have any chance to avert catastrophic change that threatens life as we know it.

When he says that climate change is a "narrow interest" of north suburban voters, does he mean it won't affect other parts of Illinois? The Union of Concerned Scientists recently released a report that found these risks to Illinois agriculture:

The Illinois agriculture sector would suffer from substantially more heat stress, which would impair livestock productivity. Illinois hog producers -- whose hog sales reached $800 million in 2007 -- already lose $20.5 million annually due to heat-stressed animals. By the end of the century, nearly permanent heat stress would plague hogs, dairy cattle and other livestock unless they are kept cool, for example, in costly air-conditioned barns.

Crop yields would also suffer. Illinois has 67 percent of its land in crop production and ranks second among the states in crop value. A 1988 heat wave that cost the United States $40 bil lion -- mostly due to crop losses -- reduced Illinois corn and soybean yields by more than 75 percent of their average annual yields from 1978 to 1997. By mid-century under the high er-emissions scenario, all Illinois summers are projected to be hotter than 1988.

Warmer winters and a growing season as much as six weeks longer than during the baseline decades would enable pests, such as the corn earworm, to expand their range. Between 1961 and 1990, conditions favorable to the corn earworm occurred once every 15 years in the middle of the state and once every three years in southern Illinois. With unchecked global warming, by the end of this century corn earworm infestations could happen nearly half the summers in the state's midsection and nearly every summer in the south.

Crop production also would be threatened by changing rain patterns, ranging from wetter springs -- which delay planting and increase flood risk -- to nearly 15 percent less rain during increasingly hot summers. Crop-damaging three- and seven-day heat waves would occur at least every other summer toward the end of the century. During the report's baseline period, three-day heat waves occurred only about once a decade, and seven-day heat waves occurred once out of 30 summers.
So global warming threatens our entire state, not just the 10th Congressional district. What about public support? I have not seen district-specific polling, but this recent national poll finds the American people in favor of the legislation Kirk has apparently disowned by about a 2:1 margin.

To be sure, there are powerful narrow interests working hard against these changes. Dirty coal is pulling out all the stops to keep their loophole, exempting CO2 pollution, wide open. Big oil is trying hard to keep us all on their hook, including scaring farmers, most of whom depend on fertilizers and fuels made out of their oil.

Kirk's vote for a clean energy future, and a chance to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, was the right choice for the broader interest. Now that he has told us all he wouldn't do it again, lots of Illinois voters want to know -

Mark Kirk - is my interest in a cleaner, better energy future a "narrow interest", or the public interest?

September 01, 2009

Springfield an Ironic Choice for Rally Against New Energy

Tuesday oil and coal lobbyists are bringing outsiders to Springfield for a few hours to protest the clean energy jobs legislation pending in Washington, and to attempt to argue for the status quo.

I know the location was picked by the American Petroleum Institute inside the beltway, but still - haven't they heard that Springfield is basically doing what the clean energy jobs bill proposes for the country?

Most of the "energy citizens" are getting a free ride, a free lunch, and a day's pay to show up and protest clean energy Tuesday. Here's what the DC organizers of the rally are against, and how Springfield is already doing just that:

-Targets for reducing global warming pollution
Springfield has committed to reducing global warming pollution 7% below 1990 levels by 2012, and gave residents cleaner air by shutting down an old dirty coal plant to help meet these levels

-Investing in the future with renewable energy
Springfield is leading the transition to a new energy future with its investments in wind energy, which protect local ratepayers by diversifying their power supply, and make our state capitol 100% wind-powered.

-Creating jobs cutting power bills
Springfield has begun major new energy efficiency programs to help residents and businesses use less energy, and create good jobs for skilled workers qualified to do energy efficiency upgrades.

So while Springfield moves to the future, national and state lobbyists gather here to argue for failed energy policies that leave most of us with high prices and pollution, and make the companies financing this “rally” richer and richer.

Springfield is showing that solving global warming works - they are doing it NOW, and know that it creates jobs, lowers energy prices, and cleans the air.

These are the same major changes before Congress this fall. Springfield knows these were good choices, and we are already seeing the results.

Maybe big oil and dirty coal can take some of those lessons back to Washington.

August 28, 2009

Obama, Madigan Sue Midwest Generation

Yesterday the Obama administration and Lisa Madigan stepped up to defend the air we breathe, and expedite Illinois transition to a cleaner energy future.

These plants have avoided modern pollution controls for too long, and hopefully there will be cleaner air on the way very soon.

August 20, 2009

Jacky Grimshaw on the CTA Board!

Today Governor Quinn appointed longtime public transportation champion Jacky Grimshaw to the board of the Chicago Transit Authority. I've known Jacky for a long time and she is very dedicated to quality transit options for all people and communities. She also understands very well the key role that good transit will play in solving global warming, and how transportation and land use planning have to be coordinated. That has often not been the case in our region, where fiefdoms and small agendas historically have often trumped regional planning for the good of everyone. There have been encouraging steps in the right direction in recent years, and Jacky's appointment to the CTA board is another big one.

Congratulations, Jacky, on recognition well deserved and long overdue. Good pick Gov!

August 17, 2009

IL Home to "Clunkers" of the Power Plant World

There's a great piece in today's Washington Post about how "the clunkers of the power plant world" (great quote by clean air champ Brian Urbaszewski of the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago!)may or may not be impacted by energy legislation before the Congress this year.

The Post story focuses on the two "clunkers" in Chicago - the Crawford and Fisk coal plants that we are currently targeting with legal actions, but they are not the only plants in Illinois. Illinois has 16 of these old plants that don't have to burn as cleanly as a modern plant.

The real fix here would be to level the playing field, and establish clean national standards for emissions that apply to all coal plants, and end the double standard that keeps these clunkers roaring throughout the state, and the country. That would correct an error in the Clean Air Act that created the double standard we are living with today, and expedite a transition to cleaner energy, create new jobs, and clear the air.

August 12, 2009

A New Voice for Clean Water at MWRD

Gov. Quinn has appointed a new Commissioner to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Last week he appointed Mariyana Spyropoulos to the MWRD seat vacated in January when then-Commissioner Patricia Young resigned her seat.

Spyropoulos very nearly won a seat on the MWRD at the ballot box in 2008, and Sierra Club supported her in that campaign. She believes the loophole allowing un-disinfected sewage to flow into the Chicago River system should close, and that MWRD should install modern pollution controls to protect the thousands of people using the North Shore Channel, Chicago River, and Cal-Sag Channel for recreation.

Congratulations to Gov. Quinn on a good choice for clean water, and to Mariyana Spyropoulos. She will now, presumably, stand for re-election in the 2010 primary and general elections.

July 28, 2009

UPDATED: Sierra Club And Our Allies To Sue Midwest Generation

UPDATED OCTOBER 12TH:

Since we filed notice of our intent to sue this summer, the Obama Administration and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan brought suit on their own against these plants.

Now we are seeking to intervene in the governments' action to help them secure the best possible outcome for public health:

Health and Environment Groups Intervene in Federal Pollution Case Against Coal Plant Operator

CHICAGO (October 12, 2009) — A coalition of health and environmental groups have rejoined the fight over illegal air pollution from a fleet of six aging coal plants owned and operated by Midwest Generation, LLC in Illinois. The coalition had signaled their intent to sue the company for violating the Clean Air Act this summer before the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), US Department of20Justice (DOJ), and Illinois Attorney General stepped in and filed suit last month. The government suit supersedes the suit that the coalition had initiated, so the groups are moving to intervene in support of the new case.

The coalition members, Citizens Against Ruining the Environment (C.A.R.E.), The Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago and Sierra Club, filed a motion to join the suit relating to issues of opacity violations. Opacity is a measurement of the amount of light blocked by particulate matter coming from smokestacks. Particulate matter is fine dust and soot that stays close to the plant and concentrates negative air quality and health effects in nearby communities leading to respiratory illnesses and premature deaths. The USEPA has cited Midwest Generation’s coal plants for numerous air pollution-related violations..

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health have found that the Fisk and Crawford plants in Chicago are responsible for 41 premature deaths, 550 emergency room visits and 2800 asthma attacks annually. Midwest Generation owns coal plants in Chicago, Waukegan, Joliet, Romeoville and Pekin, Illinois.

Midwest Generation’s own reports document that all of the company’s coal plants regularly violate opacity regulations. The coalition has chosen to support the government suit in the hope for quick relief in court that will force Midwest Generation to clean up or close these facilities.

“Midwest Generation’s coal plants have been polluting our communities and blocking our path to a clean energy economy for too long,” said James Gignac, Midwest Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “It’s time for them to pay the piper, and we want to make sure the government acts swiftly to enforce the law and hold Midwest Generation accountable.”
END OF UPDATE


Today Sierra Club and our allies notified Midwest Generation of our intent to sue them over a long pattern of violations at their plants in Chicago, Joliet, and near Peoria.

Because they are very old, these plants do not have to operate as cleanly as a new coal plant would. Today we are charging that they repeatedly failed to meet even the lesser standard. Pollution from coal plants in our region has been linked to 311 premature deaths, 4100 emergency room visits, and 21,500 asthma attacks per year.

The people who live near these smokestacks, and indeed our entire region, deserve better.

From our press release:
A coalition of Illinois health and environmental groups notified Midwest Generation, LLC of their intent to sue the company because its coal plants release illegally high amounts of particulate matter that leads to respiratory illnesses and premature deaths in nearby communities. The suit follows a number of air pollution-related citations from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against Midwest Generation’s coal plants in the state, particularly the Fisk and Crawford Generating Stations located within the Chicago city limits.

The coalition members, Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, The Environmental Law and Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), The Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago and Sierra Club, filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue today, the first step in a Clean Air Act citizen suit. This action brings a new legal development in an ongoing campaign by environmental, health and community groups representing the communities in which the coal plants are located. All of the plants are located in working class and/or minority neighborhoods.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health have found that pollution from 9 coal plants in northern Illinois causes 311 premature deaths, 4100 emergency room visits, and 21,500 asthma attacks annually. Midwest Generation owns coal plants in Chicago, Waukegan, Joliet, Romeoville and Pekin, Illinois.

The potential lawsuit focuses on the coal plants’ opacity violations. Opacity is a measurement of the amount of light blocked by particulate matter coming from smokestacks. Particulate matter is fine dust and soot that stays close to the plant and concentrates negative air quality and health effects in nearby communities. EPA issued a notice of violation to Midwest Generation in August 2007 but has failed to take meaningful action to force clean ups at the plants and has allowed the plants to continue violating the law for the past two years.

Because of their age, Midwest Generation’s coal plants are subject to more lenient opacity regulations than more modern plants. But Midwest’s Generation’s own reports document that all of the company’s coal plants regularly violate even these relaxed opacity regulations. Installing modern pollution controls could greatly reduce particulate matter from these plants.

July 20, 2009

John Rogner to IDNR

There's great news today for fans of Illinois' great outdoors - John Rogner, a career biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been named Assistant Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

I've worked with John for many years, and he will be a tremendous asset to Marc Miller and Gov. Quinn as they go about rebuilding the IDNR. He is a scientist and career natural resources professional with a strong track record of building consensus for conservation among diverse stakeholders. For the past decade, he has chaired the Chicago Wilderness initiative, an award-winning effort to raise awareness and support for protecting the natural heritage of the greater Chicago region.

I expect that John will help strengthen the DNR in many important ways. He will reinvigorate relationships with federal agencies involved in protecting Illinois habitat, make it clear that science and professionalism are key principles, build trust with a wide range of DNR constituency groups, and bring state assistance and expertise to conservation projects in the Chicago region.

Congratulations to Gov. Quinn and Marc Miller for landing top talent here. The folks at IDNR who look after our forests, wetlands, prairies, and drinking water aren't out of the woods yet, as state budget pressures will likely make for hard choices for the foreseeable future. But John Rogner's appointment makes clear that there are better days ahead for the public servants who work there, and for all of us who benefit when they have the funding and direction to do their job well.

July 10, 2009

Quinn Signs Major Energy Savings Plan Into Law

At an event on Chicago’s west side today, Governor Quinn signed SB 1918 into law, giving Illinois one of the strongest programs in the country to help homeowners and businesses cut their heating costs by reducing use of natural gas. The program was a top priority of Sierra Club and other environmental advocates in this spring’s session of the Illinois General Assembly, and will result in significant reductions in the air pollution that contributes to global warming.

Here's Governor Quinn on energy efficiency:

video

Illinois will now be at the head of the class when it comes to saving energy. This legislation is going to save us all $10 billion over the next decade, and make the air we breathe cleaner and healthier. Coupled with similar a program to cut electricity bills enacted in 2007, and with new requirements for renewable energy, Illinois is making a fast transition to the clean energy economy of the future.

SB 1918 requires Illinois natural gas utilities to reduce natural gas use 7% below today’s levels by 2020, and an additional 1.5% per year thereafter. The utilities are expected to meet this target with new programs, incentives, and assistance to help homeowners winterize their homes and upgrade to better gas appliances, and help businesses cut costs by reducing their natural gas consumption. Also included in the measure is a provision for “on-bill financing”, which will allow Illinois ratepayers to upgrade furnaces, boilers, and hot water heaters without any upfront cost. With on-bill financing, the customer pays for a more efficient appliance with a no-cost loan from their utility, which is paid off on their monthly bill with no increase - the energy savings are used to pay back the loan. When the loan is paid off, the utility bill is permanently lower.

According to an analysis by Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, the natural gas efficiency standards in the legislation will save Illinois ratepayers over $10 billion off utilities bills and reduce CO2 emissions by 53.27 million tons by 2030.

The new law is the product of negotiations spearheaded by the office of Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and including Illinois utilities, industries, consumer and senior citizen advocates, and environmental advocates. We applaud Attorney General Madigan’s leadership in forging consensus for these savings among many parties that don’t often agree. Thanks to her team, led by Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Hedman, Illinois is now a leader in the kind of smart energy solutions that will benefit us all.

We can be especially proud that we have done all this while Congress debates what kind of energy efficiency programs to give the country. Hopefully this great new example gets some attention from those deciding America's energy future this summer.

June 29, 2009

SCOTUS Backs Sierra Club vs. IL Dirty Coal Plant

Another big decision from Washington today in favor of a clean energy future:
U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Last-Ditch Effort to
Build Outdated Illinois Coal Plant

Washington, D.C.--In a victory for clean energy, the United States Supreme Court today refused to consider an appeal by EnviroPower, LLC. The company was attempting to build a coal plant in Southern Illinois using outdated plans that lacked modern pollution controls. Today's decision affirms earlier rulings by the federal courts on this proposed coal plant. It also reflects a broader national trend as states, businesses and cities reject dirty coal in favor of clean energy and the green jobs it brings.

In response, Bruce Nilles, Director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, issued the following statement: "EnviroPower has been pursuing its coal plant project for nearly a decade. The fact that the company tried to take this case all the way to the Supreme Court, losing at every step along the way, shows how desperate coal plant developers are these days. Today marks the end of the road for EnviroPower's outdated plans, but only the beginning for a clean energy economy. We have barely scratched the surface of energy efficiency and clean energy's potential to create jobs and boost the economy."

A copy of the Supreme Court's order regarding Franklin County Power, et
al. v. Sierra Club is available here.

June 27, 2009

Why Foster Voted No

“As a scientist, I believe that climate change is real and that action is necessary. It is also crucial that we restructure our energy systems to increase efficiency and reduce our dependence on imported sources."

So why'd he vote no? Here's what he says.

June 26, 2009

Victory

The U.S. House's approval of legislation making sweeping changes in America's energy policies is truly an historic action that brings our nation one giant step closer to a clean energy future that includes millions of new jobs, cleaner air for all of us to breathe, energy independence, and most importantly, a solution to the climate crisis that threatens our very way of life.

We salute the Illinois members of Congress who cast their vote today for economic recovery now, and for a cleaner, better world in the future. We will all benefit from these policies, but that did not make this an easy vote. The forces behind our old, dirty energy economy are very powerful, and the lobbying against these changes has been fierce. However, Representatives Bean, Davis, Guttierrez, Halvorson, Hare, Jackson, Kirk, Lipinski, Quigley, Rush, and Schakowsky stood up to the status quo today, and voted for big changes that will make Illinois a more prosperous, better place to live.

We also salute the leadership of President Obama and his administration in moving America toward a clean energy future. Obama and his team have set many powerful changes into motion to spur the transition to a clean energy economy, and his leadership was crucial to today's victor.

This legislation is a major leap forward for our country, but it is not perfect. We plan to work now with Senators Durbin and Burris to strengthen and pass the American Clean Energy Security Act, and get it to President Obama's desk for his signature in a form that maximizes the job creation and environmental benefits for all of us. There is much work ahead to do that, but tonight we celebrate a major victory for Illinois, our country, and our planet.

Rush, Quigley, Biggert speak on House floor on climate

The House is currently debating the American Clean Energy Security Act, and IL reps are speaking up:

Quigley and Rush spoke in favor.

Quigley: "We’re often asked, ‘What’s our legacy here? What really matters about what we do?’ And I’d like to think it’s how our children and our grandchildren will react to what we did, and what we left behind."

Rush - "we were able to improve the bill by not only protecting low, moderate and middle income families from rising energy costs, but also providing real incentives for communities like the one I represent for new career pathways to move out of poverty and quality, career-oriented jobs in construction and related fields."


Judy Biggert tweeted about her opposition. She objects to energy efficient building codes for the country, even though the General Assembly just passed them for our whole state.

IL Delegation Could Be Decisive In Historic Climate Vote

video

Take action here

June 11, 2009

Springfield Delivers Big Gains for Clean Energy

While the severity of the state's financial crisis makes it difficult for anyone to call this year's legislative session a success, there were major advances for renewable energy and energy efficiency that make Illinois a national leader in energy innovation at a time when Congress and the Obama administration are considering similar changes for the country. As a result, Illinois is better positioned to attract and create good-paying green energy jobs, save ratepayers money, and reduce air pollution in our communities.

A top priority for environmental advocates this session was new requirements that our natural gas companies launch programs to help residents and businesses cut their gas usage and bills. SB 1918, now on Gov. Quinn's desk, requires gas companies to take steps to reduce statewide gas consumption 7% by 2020. They are expected to do this with incentives for upgrades to more efficient furnaces and boilers, weatherization assistance programs, and assistance to businesses to reduce wasted heat. Another innovation, "on-bill financing", will give you 0% financing on high-efficiency boilers, furnaces, and other appliances, allowing you to pay off the purchase with the savings on your gas bill. These programs are going to slash heating bills, create jobs in home weatherization, and make a dent in global warming pollution by reducing natural gas consumption. We established similar programs and targets for electric utilities in 2007, and our combined programs will be noticed in Washington, as first the House and then the Senate take up energy and global warming legislation. Credit for moving Illinois from the back of the pack to the head of the class in energy efficiency goes to a broad coalition of environmental advocates, consumer advocates and utilities who participated in negotiations, and especially the strong leadership of Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office, which forged agreement on truly bold new programs.

HB 3987 is another major advance. It replaces a confusing patchwork of local building codes with a uniform, statewide, state-of-the art energy-efficient building code. In the future, all new residential and commercial construction in Illinois will be built to the regularly updated standards of the International Energy Conservation Code. This will reduce energy waste for as long as these buildings are in use, provide certainty to the construction industry, and make significant reductions in energy use and pollution. SB 2150 makes minor adjustments to our new renewable energy requirements (our 25% renewable requirement by 2025 is far stronger than what is on the table right now in Congress, unfortunately), including jump-starting the solar power industry in Illinois.

While these new ways of thinking about energy are poised to become law with Governor Quinn's signatures, the legislature rejected attempts to maintain Illinois' historic focus on coal and nuclear options. The Illinois Chamber of Commerce made a major push for the so called "Energy to Jobs Act", but the package of coal and nuclear incentives looked very dated to many in the legislature, and was never a serious threat to pass.

It's hard not to draw parallels to the debate underway on Capitol Hill, where Reps. Waxman and Markey are preparing a plan to go in a bold new direction, while House Republicans, unfortunately, just rolled out a package of mostly old ideas that is very heavily slanted toward production against efficiency - always the cheapest, fastest, cleanest, most job-creating energy source.

Not long ago, Illinois was anything but a laboratory for innovations in energy policy - we were pretty much all-coal, all-nuclear, all the time when it came to energy. At least on one major issue, change apparently has come to Illinois, and we are rejecting the old ideas in favor of new. If Illinois, of all places, can shift its focus to the solutions of the future, surely Congress can do the same for America.

Quigley: "Nothing About Coal Is Clean"

Great statement from Rep. Mike Quigley on the House floor about the promise of green jobs instead of dirty coal.
"Mister Speaker, nothing about coal is clean.

From extraction, to waste slurry, to stream contamination in Appalachia – nothing, I repeat, nothing about this energy source is clean.

In order to extract coal from the ground, mountains are literally blasted apart, killing wildlife and destroying forests, contributing to erosion, flooding, and pollution that hits local communities and causes severe health problems. Over 1,200 miles of streams in Appalachia alone have been buried or completely contaminated because of mountaintop mining.

In order to prepare the coal for burning, an overwhelming amount of water is needed to “clean” the coal. For every ton of coal cleaned 20 to 40 gallons of water are used to wash the coal, creating a sludgey pollutant known as slurry. Over 90 million gallons of slurry are created every year while harvesting and preparing coal for burning.

Keep in mind, we haven’t even begun to burn the stuff yet.

Green jobs are the key to economic and environmental progress in regions torn by surface and mountaintop mining and struggling economically due to the destruction of the land. These include jobs in wind, hydroelectric and bio-fuel power. These jobs will give hard-hit communities a long term future for their families, instead of a short term paycheck in exchange for their quality of life."




May 29, 2009

Marc Miller Confirmed At IDNR

Congratulations to Marc Miller, who was finally confirmed today by the Senate as Director of the IDNR.

Marc is just the man for the big job of restoring the IDNR's integrity and ability to protect Illinois' great outdoors. Miller is a natural resource professional, an avid Illinois outdoorsman, and he has dedicated his career to protecting Illinois' rivers, lakes, streams, and other special places for current and future generations. He can unite the many constituents of the IDNR - hunters, hikers, anglers, birdwatchers and all of us who hope to pass on Illinois' natural heritage to future generations - to advocate for for adequate funding for the Department in these very troubled financial times.

Hopefully the IDNR budget will enjoy the same strong support in the next few days that his confirmation did today.

May 27, 2009

Illinois Voters Want Open Space in the Capital Bill

Yesterday we released a new poll showing that 79% of Illinois voters support devoting $350 million to protecting open space in the capital bill being finalized this week. Here's State Rep. Karen May from the press conference-

May 26, 2009

A Green Capital Bill? - Not Yet

Legislators are understandably celebrating the passage of a major state capital spending bill last week (although no dollars get raised or spent until Gov. Quinn signs the bill, which appears linked to closing the gaping hole in the state's operating budget).

The capital spending bill approved by the General Assembly makes some significant new investments in the environment, but it falls short, in several crucial areas, of being the "green capital bill" that Governor Quinn has repeatedly called for, and that both the House and Senate have expressed unanimous support for earlier this Spring. This week is a great opportunity to make it a capital plan that not only creates good jobs today, but makes Illinois a cleaner, greener, healthier place to live now and for future generations.

Last week the legislature sent Gov. Quinn a bill raising a series of taxes and fees sufficient to fund $12 billion in public works projects, but so far has only appropriated $10.44 billion. On the agenda for this week in Springfield is spending the remaining $1.55 billion (in addition to closing the gaping hole in the operating budget, ethics reform, and myriad other topics.)

There are two crucial areas that are ignored in the spending plan approved last week that should be a top priority when deciding how to spend the remaining $1.55 billion. The first is open space land acquisition. As passed last week, this would be the first capital plan in decades to ignore conservation. Illinois FIRST, the last major capital plan, passed in 1999, provided $200 million in funds for IDNR to expand our parks and recreation areas, and matching grants to local governments. Build Illinois before that, during the Thompson years, also made substantial funding available to expand and improve our park system. IDNR estimates that at least $2 billion is needed to protect lands for conservation and recreation. By funding the Illinois Open Land Trust with $200 million, the General Assembly can make sure this capital bill, like those before it, will pay dividends for many generations of future Illinoisans.

A second major opportunity is high-speed rail. Governor Quinn has called for $400 million for bringing high-speed trains to Illinois. These funds would match federal stimulus funds, and finally bring modern rail travel to Illinois, giving travellers fast, reliable, low-carbon options for getting around our state and the midwest.

The capital bill passed last week did not entirely ignore the environment. The bill funds transit and conventional Amtrak trains at a much more favorable ratio to road construction than ever before. It does provide $110 million for clean water projects, $75 million to clean up leaking underground storage tanks, $30 million for brownfields redevelopment, $45 million for Illinois River projects. These are critical needs, but are not a major priority in a $12 billion overall program.

Depending on how it's done, the infrastructure spending in the bill could advance Illinois' energy and environmental goals. There will be a lot of roads and buildings built or rebuilt with these dollars, and we would all be better served if all of these projects are done in a way to maximize energy efficiency and minimize air and water pollution. We can guarantee these benefits if green construction requirements are included in the fine print.

Gov. Quinn and the General Assembly have a chance to fix that this week by investing in the future. We should expect no less with our tax dollars.

May 22, 2009

Quinn Pushes for High Speed Rail

This morning I spoke at a press conference with Governor Quinn, a large bipartisan group of legislators, organized labor, and train advocates calling for funding high-speed rail in Illinois in the capital bill. Looks like there is a good chance to get $400 million in state capital funding to help match federal stimulus dollars to finally bring fast, modern, efficient trains to Illinois.

Quinn's release is here.

May 19, 2009

Illinois to Finally Get Clean Cars - From Obama

Well it looks like the next car you buy (starting in 2011) will be a lot cleaner, and save you big bucks at the pump. That's what the Illinois Clean Car Act (HB 422/SB 1941) would do, but today the big win for your wallet and the planet comes from Washington, not Springfield (although Illinois certainly played a role in today's historic announcement.)

President Obama announced historic new CAFE and tailpipe standards to reducing oil consumption by an estimated 1.8 billion barrels and cut global warming pollution 30% by 2016 with cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks.

People use the word "historic" a lot, but this is one time where it fits. Presidents going back to Nixon have talked about major changes in fuel economy, but none have ultimately been willing or able to reform Detroit. The paralysis in DC on most energy issues, but especially fuel economy, led California, and now 14 other states, to go their own way with tougher standards for the pollution that causes asthma attacks and global warming.

If Springfield had passed the Illinois Clean Car Act, we would have been next. That would have meant over half the national car market, and a big state right in the middle of the distribution chain, had gone "clean". Would Detroit have stubbornly continued to make a dirty version of every car, as they do now? Most thought not, especially with Minnesota and North Carolina also looking at going clean.

So the sponsors of the Illinois Clean Car Act played a key role, led by Karen May (D-Highland Park), but joined by many, including House Speaker Michael Madigan and 31 others, including brave Republicans Mike Fortner (West Chicago), Sandra Pihos (Glen Ellyn), and Beth Coulson (Glenview). While most of the debate on the bill was in the House, Senate Sponsors Terry Link (D-Waukegan) and Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) kept the discussion alive in that chamber.



The Illinois Climate Action Network joined the environmental community with faith organizations, local governments, public health advocates, organized labor, students, and other clean car supporters. Thousands of Illinoisans showed support with town hall meetings, "clean car washes", lobby days, district visits, and other contacts with their legislators. A May 2008 poll found that 90% of Illinois voters supported the legislation.

Clearly change was on the way, and ultimately Detroit decided to stop fighting here in Illinois and elsewhere, and finally agree to build the kind of cleaner, more affordable cars that Americans clearly want to buy. There are a few details to be worked out, and we need to voice strong support for Obama's plan so it is finalized by the federal agencies, but we are almost there.

Change comes in many ways. Sometimes Illinois is way out front, like when we passed our 25% by 2025 renewable energy requirement in 2007, that Congress will hopefully finally echo for the country this year. In this case, we also did our part, but President Obama beat us to it, and we are all grateful and better off for it.

May 13, 2009

Score One For the Babies!

Nice work by Alds. Manny Flores & Ed Burke, and by Environment Illinois and Illinois PIRG, on Chicago's new ordinance banning BPA in childrens' products. Very nice to see Chicago leading the nation here. Too bad the Illinois House wasn't part of the solution when the bill came up there last month. How did your State Rep vote? You'll have to ask him or her (and you should!) - the vote was pulled from the official record.


From Environment Illinois:

CHICAGO, IL–Chicago City Council today unanimously passed the nation’s first municipal ordinance to protect children’s health by eliminating the toxic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) from baby bottles and toddler’s sippy cups sold in Chicago.

"We applaud Aldermen Ed Burke and Manny Flores for sponsoring this crucial legislation. With Mother’s Day last Sunday, they’ve given the perfect gift to mothers and the tens-of-thousands of Chicago babies born each year," said Max Muller, program director at Environment Illinois. "The chemical companies that profit from BPA have lobbied furiously to kill these bills, but protecting children from harm prevailed in Chicago."

"Parents shouldn’t have to be chemists to know what’s safe," said Brian Imus, state director of Illinois Public Interest Research Group. "This is the only appropriate response to evidence that a known toxic chemical is leaching from baby products."

Although BPA is a synthetic sex hormone that mimics estrogen, it is used in the epoxy lining of most food cans and hard clear plastic containers, including baby bottles and most toddler’s sippy cups. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that children have the highest levels of BPA, followed by teens and then adults.

Hundreds of studies link low-dose BPA exposure to early onset puberty, hyperactivity, ADHD, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, liver enzyme abnormalities, and breast and prostate cancers.

"I am hopeful that by passing this legislation in Chicago, we can begin a nationwide movement that will inspire other municipal and state jurisdictions to eliminate BPA from food containers in their communities," said Alderman Flores.

Aldermen Burke and Flores are among a growing number of policy makers frustrated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) slow response to evidence of BPA’s harms. In October 2008, Canada confirmed that it is banning BPA from baby bottles. In the United States, BPA bans are pending in Congress and at least a dozen state legislatures. The Chicago ordinance mirrors a pending Illinois bill which is sponsored by Illinois State Representative Elaine Nekritz and State Senator Dan Kotowski.

But so far, only Minnesota (as of last Friday) and Suffolk County, New York have enacted similar bans.

The FDA has said that BPA is safe, but the agency’s position came under attack when it was learned that the only studies FDA considered were funded by the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s trade group, and by firms whose clients include BPA manufacturers. The FDA’s own science advisory board criticized the agency’s finding, noting that "the Margins of Safety defined by FDA as 'adequate' are, in fact, not adequate."

"The body of evidence that documents harmful effects of BPA at low doses—doses very similar to what is found in humans—is very compelling when examined as a whole," said Dr. Gail Prins, a physiology professor and BPA researcher who has studied Bisphenol A's effects on the prostate, including its links to prostate cancer. "To ignore this scientific data any longer will be seen as negligence."

On March 12, 2009, Sunoco, one of five BPA makers, wrote that the company now refuses to sell BPA for use in children’s food containers because Sunoco cannot be certain of the compound’s safety.

In February 2008, Environment Illinois, along with public health and environmental groups in nine states, released the report Baby’s Toxic Bottle, which found that baby bottles leached significant amounts of BPA when subjected to tests designed to simulate repeated washings. Attorneys General in Connecticut, Delaware, and New Jersey joined the groups in calling for baby bottle manufacturers to go BPA-free, and in March 2009, six baby bottle manufacturers announced a phase-out of BPA from the bottles they sell in the United States.

The BPA-Free Kids Act will protect children’s health by ensuring that all baby bottles and sippy cups sold in Chicago are BPA-free. It would also require retailers to post signs notifying parents that these products are BPA-free.

May 06, 2009

Capitol To Be 100% Wind Powered

Some might say our Illinois’ state capitol has long been powered by wind and hot air. But from now on, thanks to Springfield’s City Water, Light, and Power and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Illinois’ capitol will now be powered by 100% pollution-free wind energy.

Sierra Club worked with CWLP to come up with a smart solution to Springfield’s energy needs that includes major new wind power investments, new energy conservation programs, and replacing a dirty old coal-fired plant. As CWLP’s largest customer, the State’s purchase of wind energy is a key part of Springfield’s clean energy plan. The State is buying 60 megawatts of CWLP’s overall purchase of 120 megawatts of wind power.

Who knows, maybe the wind energy flowing through the Capitol will really bring new energy to our politics....we can only hope!

April 21, 2009

Happy Earth Day

Wednesday marks the 40th Earth Day, and volunteers with the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, are marking the occasion at with park cleanups, habitat restoration projects, and public education events around the state. All the events are open to the public.

This Earth Day we are celebrating the big difference that each of us can make for the planet. We face big problems, but we also have made big progress in 50 years of protecting the Prairie State. 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 Illinois projects includes:

SATURDAY, APRIL 25TH
BARRINGTON HILLS - 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Event: Earth Day Celebration at Spring Creek - Ecological Restoration of Woodlands and Prairies
Spring Creek is an ecologically diverse, large forest preserve that offers native plants and animals a protected oasis of 3,900 acres of land where they can nest, reproduce and live. We are working to restore this land as quickly as possible. The more volunteer hands we have, the more area will get cleared. Whole Foods will be providing lunch. Guest Speakers and Educational Tours of the Area. No need to RSVP, just bring your spring clearing spirit and wear gloves, long pants, work shoes, bug and tick repellent. We supply the rest.
Location: Barrington Hills, north of I-90 on Rt. 72 (W. Higgins Rd.) 1 mile west of Rt. 59 Turn north on Wichman Road to the Headwaters parking lot
Contact for More Information: Donna Hriljac 847-967-7835 or email misky272000@yahoo.com

ELGIN - 9 A.M. - 5 P.M.
Event: Exhibiting at the Elgin ECCO
Bringing families and businesses in the community together to become better educated on the effects of global warming and to make us a more sustainable community. Find out how our Midwest neighbors, community non-profits and city departments are working together to make our cities healthier places to live, work and play.
Location: Elgin Community College Fox Valley University and Business Center Building
1700 Spartan Drive ~ Elgin, Illinois 60123

AURORA - 11 A.M.
Event: Annual Earthday Celebration and Big Woods Forest Preserve Cleanup
Big Woods Forest Preserve is a neglected preserve and struggling to stay healthy, as it has been bookended with urban sprawl and the wetlands and prairies are filthy with plastic bags, garbage, and styrofoam. Lunch provided after the cleanup.
Location: Meet at 2651 Prairieview Lane South, Aurora
Contact: Terri at 630-585-9212

PEORIA - 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Event: Display and tabling at the Forest Park Nature Center Earth Day Festival.
The Dirty Truth about Coal" photos of mining impacts, handouts of health impacts and environmental costs of using coal.
Location: 5809 Forest Park Drive, Peoria, 61614
Contact for More Information: John Wosik, 309-243-2230

SUNDAY, APRIL 26TH
SPRINGFIELD - 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm
Event: Green Jobs Sunday - Earth Week Film Fest Double Feature
Location: Hoogland Center for the Arts, 420 South Sixth in Springfield
Contact for More Information: Will Reynolds - willinois@gmail.com

MONDAY, APRIL 27
CHAMPAIGN - 7:00 pm
Event: Geen Business Earth Day Forum
Presenting business owners discussing how they are incorporating environmentally sound practices into their business, including: The local Coca Cola Bottling Co, Ippatsu Hair Salon, McKinley Presbyterian Church (Presby Hall LEED certified building), Prairie Rain Harvester's Austin Grammer (sells rain barrels, compost tumblers and other green garden products), and B. Lime, a new green store in downtown Champaign
Location: Champaign Public Library

MAY 2 & 3
CARBONDALE
Event:Shawnee Energy Fest
Over 30 workshops on Energy Conservation, Renewable energy, permaculture, organic gardening, living off the grid, geothermal systems, local food panel, greening the city panel, kids activities, bands, food, and more!
Location: Green Retreat - 3 miles west of Carbondale on Chautauqua Rd. & Rt. 127
Contact for More Information: Barb McKasson at babitaji@aol.com

SATURDAY, MAY 30TH
SPRINGFIELD - 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Event: Earth Awareness Fair and GreenFest
Location: Prairie Capital Convention Center, One Convention Center Plaza in Springfield
Contact for More Information: Wynne Coplea at Wynne.Coplea@cwlp.com

More details, including directions to many sites, are available at http://illinois.sierraclub.org. Each site will feature excellent visuals of Sierra Club volunteers working at these sites. Advance interviews may be possible at some of the sites.

March 27, 2009

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark!

Earth Hour is Saturday night from 8:30-9:30pm.

Last year the Chicagoland region reported an electricity savings of 7 percent - the carbon emissions equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road for one hour or planting 158 acres of trees.

Lights out Illinois!

February 26, 2009

Quinn Reopens Parks

Spring is just around the corner, and now Illinois residents and visitors can count on being able to experience the great outdoors in all of Illinois' state parks. Today Illinois Governor Pat Quinn made good on a pledge to reopen seven state parks that were closed November 30th, 2008 under Rod Blagojevich.

“This is a great day for the people of Illinois. State parks protect some of our most precious habitat and provide opportunities for families to find outdoor recreation close to home. These are the people’s parks and the people have the right to enjoy them in good and bad economic times,” said Governor Quinn. “The value of these open spaces is immeasurable to children, families and local communities that depend on these parks for crucial economic stability.”

Governor Quinn is off to a strong start rebuilding the agency we count on to protect our water supply, our wildlife, and our state parks. He has already appointed a dedicated conservationist in Marc Miller to lead the IDNR, and now has reversed the most recent cuts made by Rod Blagojevich. We know that it will take time to rebuild the IDNR to its past strength, but clearly Governor Quinn has made it a priority to do so. Sierra Club is ready to work with Gov. Quinn, Director Miller, and all of IDNR's diverse constituencies to restore the IDNR's capacity to protect Illinois' special places, safeguard our water supplies, and provide safe, quality outdoor recreation opportunities.

The seven parks affected by today's announcement are: Castle Rock State Park and Lowden State Park in Oregon, Illini State Park in Marseilles, Hidden Springs State Forest in Strasburg, Moraine View State Park in Leroy, Weldon Springs State Park in Clinton, and Wolf Creek State Park in Windsor.

February 18, 2009

Employee Free Choice & The Environment

Last night I had the honor of sharing the stage with some of Chicago and America's strongest champions for working families - Congressman Danny Davis, national AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Laborers' International Union of North America President Terence O'Sullivan, Anna Burger, who heads the Change to Win labor coalition, and Dennis Gannon, head of the Chicago Federation of Labor. We came together, with other faith and public interest leaders, to rally support for the Employee Free Choice Act.

Sierra Club strongly supports the Employee Free Choice Act and we are proud to stand strong with our brothers and sisters in organized labor and work to get the Employee Free Choice Act to President Obama’s desk.

Now some might ask - what does the right to organize have to do with clean air and clean water?

We know that workers are our first line of defense against toxic pollution, chemical spills, and other accidents that can devastate communities.

We know that union workers are more qualified and better trained to deal the health and safety risks of hazardous chemicals.

We know that union workers have greater protections if they blow the whistle on hazards and accidents in the workplace. Union workers have support and protection, and won’t fear for their job if they call attention to a dangerous problem.

We want to work together with our allies in labor to create good, high paying jobs in the new clean energy economy. But we also need to make sure those green jobs are good jobs. Protecting workers’ most basic rights, including the right to choose how and when to form a union, is an essential part of building a clean energy economy that lifts up all workers and saves the planet for future generations.

That’s why Sierra Club calls on Senator Burris, and all of our members of Congress to do the right thing for workers and the environment, and pass the Employee Free Choice Act NOW!

February 05, 2009

A New Day at IDNR

It was great to see Illinois Governor Pat Quinn take early and decisive action today to begin to rebuild the Illinois Department of Natural Resources by appointing an outstanding new Director, Marc Miller. Everyone who loves the Illinois outdoors can take heart today that Gov. Quinn recognizes the critical importance of the work done by DNR, and will work to restore the former strength of the Department.

Governor Quinn's appointment of Marc Miller to head the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is very strong first step to rebuilding Illinois' ability to protect Illinois' wildlife, water, and special places, and to offer high quality outdoor recreation experiences to Illinois residents and visitors. The IDNR has suffered greatly from budget cuts, layoffs, loss of talented career staff, political hiring and firing, and low staff morale.

Marc Miller is just the man for the big job of restoring the IDNR's integrity and ability to protect Illinois' great outdoors. Miller is a natural resource professional, an avid Illinois outdoorsman, and he has dedicated his career to protecting Illinois' rivers, lakes, streams, and other special places for current and future generations. He can unite the many constituents of the IDNR - hunters, hikers, anglers, birdwatchers and all of us who hope to pass on Illinois' natural heritage to future generations - to advocate for for adequate funding for the Department in these very troubled financial times.

By making the IDNR Director his first Agency appointment, in his first week as Governor, Quinn is sending a powerful signal that the mission of the DNR to protect our natural resources is critical to our well-being and our economy. Especially in the state's current fiscal crisis, we know that rebuilding the IDNR will take time, but today Pat Quinn made clear it is a priority. Sierra Club is ready to work with Gov. Quinn, Director Miller, and all of IDNR's diverse constituencies to restore the IDNR's capacity to protect Illinois' special places, safeguard our water supplies, and provide safe, quality outdoor recreation opportunities.

January 31, 2009

Quinn Can Lead to a Cleaner Future

IIllinois Governor Pat Quinn takes office with more knowledge and experience dealing with the energy, environmental, and conservation challenges facing our state than any new governor in Illinois history. As Lieutenant Governor, he pushed the boundaries of his job description to become Illinois' most visible environmental advocate, championing major upgrades to the policies protecting our drinking water, our public lands, our energy policies, and many more.

As Quinn said after taking the oath of office, "I'm an organizer. Early to bed, early to rise, organize, organize, organize". This inclination to action has attracted him to many good fights on behalf of the people versus the powerful. By lending the power of his office, his good name, and his knack for attracting public attention to causes that might otherwise go unnoticed, he has made a critical difference in many campaigns for a cleaner and greener Illinois. When developers wanted to cash in by building condos on prime bald eagle habitat on an island in the Illinois River, Quinn led an effort to save Plum Island, and it is now forever protected. He sided with Sierra Club and local officials against Gov. Blagojevich's IDNR to stop a coal mine in an Illinois River wetland connected to Banner Marsh, a major state wildlife area. He championed homeowners in DuPage County who were not notified that their drinking water was contaminated by leaking toxic waste, and worked to change our laws to require notification and give Illinois EPA more authority to crack down on polluters.

Now Quinn takes over the Governor's office in the midst of simultaneous crises of corruption, fiscal collapse, and a shrinking economy. He could be forgiven for momentarily forgetting his populist roots as he suddenly inherits such immense problems and responsibility, but his first hours indicated, if anything, a renewed commitment to change. In his first evening as Governor, Quinn spoke to the need for a major new capital spending program to have sustainability as a fundamental principle, including smart, clean energy as a priority. He said he would reopen closed state parks, and would appoint a natural resource professional to run the troubled Department of Natural Resources.

The problems he faces are big, and the competition for his attention will be intense, but Quinn can get off to a fast start making Illinois a leader in the new green economy. While corruption has dominated the headlines, environmental advocates have made big changes in recent years. New energy laws will require 25% of Illinois' electricity to come from wind and other renewable sources by 2025, and Ameren and ComEd are beginning major new programs to help homeowners and businesses save energy this year. We are moving to protect our rivers and lakes from phosphorus pollution from sewage plants and lawn runoff, and this year Illinois coal plants will install cutting edge technology to eliminate 90% of mercury pollution from their smokestacks.

However, big questions about our future face Quinn, the new General Assembly, and all of us. Will Illinois help Obama lead the country and the world to global warming solutions by becoming a clean car state, and setting state limits on greenhouse gas emissions? Will we focus new federal and state capital investments on transportation and energy projects that put people to work giving us cleaner air and healthier communities? Can we protect Illinois' remaining wetlands, prairies, and forests for future generations? How will we make sure a growing population and economy has access to clean, safe drinking water? How can we rebuild the Illinois DNR in the midst of a state fiscal crisis?

Fortunately, Quinn will have a lot of allies in tackling these questions. Changes in the Senate leadership have put John Cullerton and Christine Radogno, both longtime environmental champions, in charge of the Democratic and Republican caucuses, respectively. In the House, the 2008 elections were bad news for some who resisted change, and good news for a new class of leaders who have clean energy high on their list of priorities. In both the House and Senate, Quinn will find new allies for change, even among longtime veterans who will now see the writing on the wall. He can work with Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who has been a vigilant enforcer of our environmental laws, and who helped stem the Bush Administration's attacks on our environmental laws with regular legal challenges. State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias has come up with creative ways to put the power of the state's purse to work protecting the planet. Old divides between interest groups are melting, and new alliances forming, as the very broad appeal of change becomes clear. Businesses see the imperative of energy efficiency in cutting costs. Organized labor recognizes the tremendous employment potential of smart energy solutions. Hunters and anglers are teaming with birders and hikers to demand effective protection of Illinois' outdoors. Faith congregations recognize solving the climate crisis as a moral imperative. Mayors and other local government officials, from Waukegan to Chicago to Rock Island to Carbondale, have made commitments to reduce greenhouse gases locally and are poised to help craft state solutions.

Many members of Illinois' political establishment have, in the past, snickered at Quinn. Constantly picking the people over the powerful has not exactly been the golden rule of Illinois politics. But now, change is not just in vogue, it is in demand. The people of Illinois demand clean government, and they are beyond hungry for leadership they can trust to deliver a smart energy future, and to be a good steward of our air, water, and natural resources. Pat Quinn has what it takes to be that leader, but he will need help. The General Assembly must also embrace change, and each of us must hold all of our elected officials to a new, higher standard. Let's change Illinois from the capitol of "pay to play" to a laboratory of fresh, new ideas that will revitalize our economy, give us a all a cleaner, healthier place to live, and give America real examples of the change we need.

January 26, 2009

Obama Clean Car Push Clears Way for Illinois Clean Car Act

President Obama's action today to direct USEPA to consider allowing stricter state automobile emissions standards is the change we need to save money at the gas pump, retool our auto industry to make better, more efficient cars, and cut air pollution.

Last year the Illinois General Assembly debated the Illinois Clean Car Act, sponsored by State Rep. Karen May (D-Highland Park) and State Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan), but opposition to stronger state standards from the Bush Administration was a roadblock to the gas savings and cleaner air the Act would bring to Illinois.

President Obama made clear today that his administration will work with states like Illinois that want cleaner cars, not against them. The General Assembly should seize this opportunity to join the growing number of clean car states, and embrace President Obama's vision of cleaner cars the help us end our dependence on foreign oil.

You can read the President's remarks here.