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!