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.