December 01, 2010

Big Coal Looks to Lame Duck Springfield For Bailouts - Funded by Rate Hikes

With state legislators in Springfield for a lame-duck veto session, two large corporations are making a power play for longterm, sweetheart deals that would bail out two risky projects that appear to be floundering due to their staggering cost and the massive increases in pollution they would create.

The out-of-state companies are seeking billions of dollars in subsidies from Illinois businesses and residential ratepayers. Each company is lobbying the lame-duck session for its own version of special interest legislation, althought the two proposals share a common principle - forcing Illinoisans to buy their product at far higher than market prices, at the same time increasing air pollution.

The Illinois House approved both bills Tuesday, and today they move to the Illinois Senate:

SB 2485 - Tenaska's $9 Billion Rate Hike Request
· This bill would force all Illinois electricity consumers to pay at least $286 million more for electricity annually.

· A wind farm the size of the Taylorville Energy Center would create up to 7500 job years in installation and manufacturing - at substantially lower cost. Source: Wind Manufacturing Supply Chain Report (2010— ELPC)

· While Tenaska claims they will be capturing a portion of their global warming pollution, this number is not reflecting their entire carbon footprint. (A significant portion of the CO2 will not be captured, but emitted by Tenaska’s customers.)
SB3388 - Ratepayer Subsidies For Leucadia's Dirty Gas:
· Getting natural gas from coal and hazardous refinery waste is far dirtier than the natural gas we use to heat our homes.

· Gas customers should not be locked in to buying gas for 30 years from a company that has not even applied for an IEPA permit.

· Leucadia claims they will capture 85% of their global warming pollution but this is only a portion of the total CO2 they will emit. A significant portion of the CO2 will not be captured, but emitted when Leucadia’s customers burn the gas.

Let's hope the Senate doesn't railroad these bailouts through - contact your State Senator today and urge them to vote no on bailouts for Tenaska and Leucadia.

November 04, 2010

Voters Keep Illinois Moving To A Cleaner Energy Future

As the results of Tuesday's election become final, it is clear that Illinois voters are not at all angry about at least one aspect of Illinois government - the major changes we've made in our energy policies in recent years to prioritize renewable energy like wind and solar power, and to get serious about energy conservation.
Starting in 2007, Illinois enacted a series of major clean energy laws that have already created 10,000 new jobs in renewable energy, with thousands more on the way in the years ahead. Our gas and electric utilities are launching major new conservation programs to help homes and businesses cut costs and pollution by reducing energy use, and by 2025, 25% of our electricity must come from renewable sources.

Illinois voters rewarded the key leaders in making these changes with victories this week, and also elected some exciting fresh faces who prioritized clean energy in their campaigns, and who are poised to bring new energy to Springfield. There were stark differences between the candidates on energy policy, and there was great risk that the plug would be pulled on Illinois' transition to a clean energy economy. Here's a brief rundown on some of the key races with major implications for Illinois energy policy:

-Governor Pat Quinn's victory over State Senator Bill Brady is hugely important to maintaining momentum for clean energy in Illinois and in the country. Quinn has made growing Illinois' clean energy a top priority, from implementing our renewable energy standard to maximize Illinois job creation, supporting key legislative actions, budgeting capital construction dollars for energy-efficient construction, switching the state capitol complex from coal to wind power, and appointing clean energy advocate Manny Flores to the Chair the Illinois Commerce Commission. Brady, on the other hand, was one of 13 State Senators to oppose Illinois' landmark clean energy law in 2007, and also opposed energy efficient building codes for new construction and funding for high-speed rail improvements. Brady also doesn't "accept the premise" that pollution is causing climate change, and voted to bar the state from taking any action to regulate global warming pollution. Sierra Club, organized labor, and local government leaders warned before the election that Brady threatened to short-circuit our clean energy economy. Sierra Club made 42,384 mail, 13,653 email, and 7,208 volunteer phone contacts to its members to educate them about the energy issues in the race and urge them to vote.

-In the Illinois Senate, four candidates highlighted their support for clean energy policies in their television advertising and campaign messages. Three of them won, including Michael Noland (D-Elgin), lead Senate sponsor of a new state law to jumpstart the Illinois solar energy industry. Noland appears to have defeated former State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, who preceeded Noland in the Senate, in the era when subsidizing coal and nuclear power constituted Illinois' energy policy. Toi Hutchinson (D- Chicago Heights) also featured her support for renewable energy jobs in her campaign, and beat back a spirited challenge from tea party candidate Adam Baumgartner. Hutchinson is excited to get back to work on clean energy in Springfield. John Mulroe (D-Chicago) won a hotly contested race on Chicago's west side and near west suburbs, and sees new energy technologies as a key job creator for our state. Sierra Club sent full-time organizers to the Noland, Hutchinson, and Mulroe campaigns to educate Sierra Club members and swing voters about the choices for clean energy in these races. In these three battleground disricts, Sierra Club made 11,204 mail contacts, 2,940 live calls, and knocked on 1,914 doors to get these messages out. Unfortunately, Michael Bond (D-Grayslake), sponsor of Illinois' net metering law that allows homeowners and small businesses who install renewable energy systems to sell excess power back to the grid, was narrowly defeated by Lake Count Board chair Suzi Schmidt (R- Lake Villa). Schmidt did not run against clean energy policies, and in fact has, in the past, worked to protect open space in Lake County.

-In the Illinois House, suburban battleground seats were generally won by candidates who support clean energy and reduce global warming pollution. Incumbents who support clean energy like Fred Crespo (D-Streamwood), who passed legislation enabling local school district to team up to invest in wind power, Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), who passed legislation to help condo owners install solar panels, and Karen May (D-Highland Park), Chair of the House Renewable Energy Committee, all beat back spirited challenges, as did Carol Sente (D-Vernon Hills), Keith Farnham (D-Elgin), Emily McAsey (D-Lockport), Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago), and Elaine Nekritz (D-Northfield). Several fresh faces will also bring a focus on environmental protection to the Illinois House, including Ann Williams (D-Chicago), Daniel Biss (D-Skokie), Michelle Mussman (D-Hoffman Estates), and Chris Nybo (R-Elmhurst.) In these races, Sierra Club contacted 9,104 swing voters and Sierra Club members.

-Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a key player in Illinois energy policy, cruised to re-election, and she will return as a strong advocate for the environment and clean energy.

Obviously, the success of these clean energy candidates for state office stands in stark contrast to the races for federal offices in Illinois, where clearly, larger forces contributed to the defeat of incumbents Debbie Halvorson (D-Crete), Bill Foster (D-Batavia), Phil Hare (D-Rock Island), and, apparently, Melissa Bean (D-Barrington). State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who made clean energy a priority in his campaign, narrowly lost to Mark Kirk (R-Wilmette), who previously supported clean energy and climate legislation, but has most recently pledged to oppose limits on global warming pollution.

With little expected from the next Congress in the way of clean energy, states like Illinois may be nationally significant in advancing clean energy technologies and businesses. We've come a long way in recent years toward those goals, and Tuesday's election results are an indication that voters want that progress to continue.

October 29, 2010

Did Mark Kirk Really Stop BP?

Did he or didn't he?

Since 2007, Mark Kirk has made a big deal out of his opposition to BP's plans to increase the pollution from its Whiting, IN refinery as part of a plan to switch to a dirtier source of oil - Canadian tar sands.

Most recently, he touted his "stopping" and "beating" BP twice in Wednesday's debate with Alexi Giannoulias.

There's no question Congressman Kirk joined many other leaders, including Senator Durbin, Mayor Daley, Pat Quinn, then-Congressman Rahm Emmanuel, and many others who joined Sierra Club and the environmental community in protesting BPs proposal to increase pollution. To be fair, Kirk certainly didn't go soft on the rhetoric. Here he is from the House floor in 2007:
"We cannot allow new dumping by BP. Later today we will meet with the head of BP North America, and given the legislative tsunami we are preparing, we should simply be discussing BP's terms of surrender on their lake-dumping plan. BP, millions spent in the 'Beyond Petroleum' campaign, but we know it stands for 'Bad Polluter.' Hopefully, BP will back down and be a better partner in protecting Lake Michigan."
To hear Kirk tell it, you'd think he won that battle, and Lake Michigan is safe from the pollution we all protested. You'd be wrong.

Trouble is, nobody stopped BP. Indiana went right ahead and issued BP the permit for the increased pollution. All the protests, including those from Kirk, did net a verbal commitment from BP that they would "review" whether it "could" avoid more pollution; but Indiana's decision to allow the pollution was not reversed. BP was not "beat" or "stopped." They refused to relinquish the permit, and Indiana maintains that the permit, which Kirk called "their lake-dumping plan" is valid. When BP's conversion to dirty "tar sands" oil is complete in 2012, they will be within their right to dump all the pollution we all fought back in 2007.

Kirk apparently reads history a little differently. His campaign website says:
"Fact: Mark Kirk stood up to Big Oil when he stopped BP from polluting Lake Michigan."

In a press release from is Congressional office October 17, 2009,:
'Two years ago, we scored a major victory after BP agreed to back down from its plan to dump more ammonia and industrial sludge into Lake Michigan,' Congressman Mark Kirk said.
On February 2nd, his campaign put out a press release including:
"In Congress, Kirk stopped BP’s plan to pollute Lake Michigan"
In May, Mark Kirk approved this campaign commercial, entitled "Distract", that claims "Stopping British Petroleum's pollution of Lake Michigan..." as an accomplishment. Watch:

Then, June 2nd on Springfield talk radio, Kirk asserted:
"We were successful in stopping that plan because it would have been the first new dumper in the great lakes in 10 years and that’s the source of 95% of North America’s fresh water and where 30 million people pull their drinking water from."

On July 6th, Kirk said at a press conference:
"Let's be clear on what we fought and what we won on. We beat a new IDEM permit."

Q: Didn't they actually issue the permit?

"They absolutely did."

Q: Has it been cancelled?

"I don't think it has."

Q: How can you say you beat it?

"We beat it because BP then decided to build a water treatment plant, adding over $20 million in cost to their Whiting facility."
No one that I've talked to involved in the case has any idea what Kirk is referring to with that $20 million figure. In fact, there is no evidence that BP has changed their "lake dumping plan" at all.

If Kirk's recollection of the past seems off, it's even less clear where he stands on BP's Lake Michigan pollution proposal now. In fact, he seems to actually support BP's move to dirtier gas at Whiting:
"No one argues against the need to expand production capability at the Whiting facility, but there should be zero tolerance for releasing deadly poisons into our air and water.'" Crain's Chicago Business, 6/4/09
Tar sands oil is dirty from start to finish - it takes more energy to extract, uses more water and creates more pollution to refine into gasoline, and is dirtier when we burn it in our cars. That makes Kirk's support for tar sands and apparent opposition to BP's pollution irreconcilable.

It also makes this particular verbal assault on BP quite ironic:
"I think BP now stands for bad polluter...They need to be called out on their corporate hypocrisy." Daily Herald, 7/20/07
I agree with Kirk that those who talk a good game on the environment, even if the facts don't back it up, "need to be called out." It's time for Mark Kirk to stop exaggerating, and be honest with the public about the risks still facing our Great Lake, and about the incomplete nature of the "victory" he is so very proud of.

September 08, 2010

White House Appoints New Asian Carp Director

We applaud the Obama Administration for appointing John Goss as federal Asian Carp Director. To save our Great Lakes from Asian Carp and other alien invaders, we need to quickly design a permanent solution that protects our lakes, while continuing the recovery of the Chicago River system. The Great Lakes are a national treasure, and we're pleased that President Obama and his team have made their protection and restoration a top priority.

John Goss' experience in wildlife and environmental protection here in our region will enable him to get off to a fast start, and there is no time to lose. We know that Asian Carp are near Lake Michigan, and we need immediate action to keep them out, while simultaneously working to identify permanent solutions that stop the movement of invasive species between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.

A permanent solution that protects the Great Lakes and improves our economy in the Chicago region will take work and input from a wide range of government agencies and community voices. With John Goss on board as a full-time Asian Carp Director for the federal government, we can all move forward quickly to studying, planning, and implementing those solutions. There's no time to waste.

Council on Environmental Quality Appoints John Goss as Asian Carp Director

WASHINGTON – Continuing the Obama Administration’s proactive response to the threat that Asian carp poses to the Great Lakes, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) today announced the appointment of John Goss as the Asian Carp Director. In his role, John will serve as the principal advisor to CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley on Asian carp issues, and oversee the coordination of Federal, state, and local efforts to keep Asian carp from establishing in the Great Lakes ecosystems.

Goss joins CEQ from the Indiana Wildlife Federation, the Indiana State affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation, where he served for four years as the Executive Director. In his role at the Wildlife Federation, he worked with conservation, business and industry groups to support the Great Lakes Compact. Goss previously served as Director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and as Vice Chair of the Great Lakes Commission.

“With a strong background focused on natural resources, John will be an excellent addition to our team as we continue to combat the spread of Asian carp,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. “He will help to ensure coordination among government agencies and the most effective response across all levels of government to this threat.”

Goss will chair the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (RCC), which is a team of Federal, state and local agencies working together to prevent Asian carp from establishing populations in the Great Lakes. The Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework, released in February, 2010 and updated in May, 2010, unifies Federal, state and local action in an unparalleled effort to combat invasive species.

Prior to his position at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Goss was Director of Tourism for the State of Indiana and chaired the Great Lakes International Marketing Initiative for the Great Lakes Governors Association. Goss served as Chief of Staff for Lt. Governor Frank O’Bannon, District Director for Congressman Frank McCloskey and Deputy Mayor for the City of Bloomington, Indiana. Goss received his Masters of Public Affairs and his B.A. in Economics from Indiana University.

September 02, 2010

A Brighter Future for Illinois

Here's a new short clip about Illinois' newest clean energy law:

August 31, 2010

A Slice of Eden on the South Side

What a great day today for Eden Place - an amazing story on Chicago's south side about turning a very dangerous eyesore into a haven for nature in the heart of a community where many kids wouldn't otherwise have the chance to experience the great outdoors.

A high-level Obama Administration team has been in Chicago this week listening and learning from our region's conservation experiences as they develop the President's America's Great Outdoors initiative. Hundreds of people, many of them young people, have attended listening sessions and breakout groups as we convey what we've learned and accomplished trying to protect and restore the great outdoors in the heart of our metropolis. (There are easy ways to participate at the initiative's website.)

The team also actually got outside to see a few sites, and today there was a great event and tour at Eden Place. A decade ago, Eden Place was an illegal waste dump, filled with 200 tons of drums, concrete, tires, lead - a two-tory dangerous mess in a residential neighborhood.

Michael Howard wanted to do something about lead contamination in the neighborhood, so he organized the community to clean up the dump. But he didn't stop there - Eden Place is now a real oasis, where kids can experience woods, prairie, wetland, grow and eat food, see how chickens are raised, and much more, all within a stone's throw of the Dan Ryan expressway. Sierra Club's Building Bridges to the Outdoors program partnered with Eden Place to mentor young environmentalists with leadership skills.

Today, leaders from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Depts of Interior, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and the EPA were all on hand to tour Eden Place. They got to see that America's Great Outdoors includes small but wonderful sites where people are connecting with the land in ways and places that are suprising and wonderful. What a great story, and a great day for Michael Howard and his team. We, and our kids, need a lot more Michael Howards, and a lot more Eden Places, all over Chicago and America.

P.S. - Saturdays are a great day to check out Eden Place - they have a farmer's market running Saturdays through September 25th, 8am to 3pm.

August 16, 2010

Let The Sun Shine on Illinois

Great news today as Gov. Quinn enacts two new laws aimed at jumpstarting Illinois' solar energy industry. Sierra Club made these two bills, which are projected to create 5,000 new jobs, a top priority this year.

Illinois? Solar? You might be surprised, but Illinois gets as much available sunlight as Miami. Solar is getting much cheaper, and there are signs that it can be a growing industry in Illinois. Chicago has a new solar power plant on the south side, and a Chinese company, Wangxiang, is making solar panels in Rockford. Dozens of contractors are now seeking homeowners looking to go solar on their roofs.

This very young industry got a very big boost with Quinn's action today. The two bills signed into law make two simple, but critical changes:

-Illinois utilities must start buying some of the electricity we use in our homes from solar energy; and
-Condo & townhome associations can no longer bar solar installation on rooftops without legitimate safety concerns

Here's how these two changes promise to spur this industry of the future. First, anyone interested in developing a solar power plant in Illinois now knows that ComEd and Ameren must buy some of their power from plants like that. In this recession, those are the kind of market opportunities that leverage capital investment in our communities and our workers.

Second, homeowners who wanted to hire local contractors to install solar, but who couldn't due to outdated rooftop nuisance rules, can now hire those skilled workers to help them save money and cut pollution.

This is a very timely win - for Illinois, which needs all the job creation we can get. For America, wondering "what next" after the Senate's inaction on a clean energy climate bill, we are so proud to offer the country example of basic, yet bold changes we can make to choose a clean energy future.

July 13, 2010

Illinois Carp Fishing Plan Might Take a Bite Out of Carp

Governor Quinn today announced a new plan to address the spreading Asian Carp problem - catch some of the fish and send them back to China.

It turns out that the Chinese, who savor the carp as a delicacy, think Illinois-grown Asian Carp are mighty tasty, and are willing to buy whatever we can catch and send back to China.

Catching the fish alone isn't going to solve the problem, but it could be a part of the solution. Biologists believe that one force behind the carp's northward push toward Lake Michigan may be the population pressure in the Illinois river system. Since asian carp now make up most of the life in the Illinois River (by weight), they may be driving themselves northward in search of food.

So, even if there is little chance of fishing them entirely out of the Illinois River, it may well be possible to make a dent in their population, and in the migration pressure. It also could be another reason to keep cleaning up the Illinois River, if the world's most populous country is developing a taste for fish harvested from it.

We still need to move quickly toward a permanent solution, but we applaud the Governor for a creative approach that should help address the problem, while creating new jobs in the once prolific Illinois river fishing industry.

June 23, 2010

Asian Carp Found in Lake Calumet

Alarming news today that yesterday crews hunting for Asian Carp found a Bighead Asian Carp was found in Lake Calumet - on the Lake Michigan side of the O'Brien lock.

The government agencies issued this press release today:

The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (RCC) announced today that one Bighead Asian carp has been found in Lake Calumet along the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS). This is the first physical specimen that has been found in the CAWS above the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Electric Barrier System.

RCC agencies will enact immediate measures to remove any additional Asian carp found during sampling efforts, including but not limited to electrofishing and netting.

“We set out earlier this year on a fact finding mission and we have found what we were looking for,” said John Rogner, Assistant Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). “This is important evidence and the more information we have about where Asian carp are, the better chance we have of keeping them out of the Great Lakes.”

The Bighead carp was found in Lake Calumet which sits between T. J. O’Brien Lock and Dam and Lake Michigan. The find was made in the northwest corner of the lake near Harborside Golf Course, approximately six miles downstream of Lake Michigan by a commercial fisherman contracted by the Illinois DNR during routine sampling efforts in the area. The fish was measured to be 34.6 inches long and weighed 19.6 pounds.

This capture represents the first Asian carp discovered above the electric barrier system and just the second in the Chicago Area Waterway System.

The first Asian carp was found on December 3 in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC) below the electric barrier system and just above the Lockport Lock and Dam.

Intensive sampling operations on the CAWS by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first began on February 17 in an attempt to locate either Silver or Bighead Asian carp above the Electric Fish Barrier System.

Previous sampling actions throughout the last four months above the barrier did not produce any Silver or Bighead carp.

Additional sampling actions on Lake Calumet above T.J O’Brien Lock and Dam will include IDNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fishery biologists supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and commercial fishermen. Commercial fishing nets and electrofishing gear will continue to be used in Lake Calumet and additional resources will be deployed to begin sampling up the Calumet River leading to Lake Michigan. Electrofishing and sampling efforts in Lake Calumet and the Calumet River will continue throughout the next several weeks.

During these activities every effort will be made to minimize the impact to waterway users and provide as much advanced notice of any possible waterway restrictions.

“This issue is an extremely high priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and we will continue to work directly with our partners and stakeholders to implement the Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework using all available tools and techniques,” said Mike Weimer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Regional Director of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Program. “We remain firmly committed to achieving our collective goal of preventing Asian carp from becoming established in Great Lakes waters.”

The sampling effort is an important and continued effort in the Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework, which includes both short and long term actions to stop the migration of Asian carp into the Great Lakes.

Sampling and monitoring will also continue at five fixed sampling stations throughout the Chicago Area Waterway System as detailed in the RCC’s Sampling and Monitoring plan to search for Asian carp. Commercial fishing operations will also continue to remove Silver or Bighead carp in downstate waters where the fish are known to be present.

“The Army Corps of Engineers will continue to operate the locks and dams in the Chicago Area Waterway System for Congressionally authorized purposes of navigation, water diversion, and flood control. We will continue to support fish suppression activities by modifying existing structures such as locks as requested by other agencies to support this common goal,” said Colonel Vincent Quarles, Command of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District. “At this time there is no intention to close the locks."

Short and long term control efforts as part of the Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework include:

• Operations to reduce propagule pressure on barriers
• Increased fish collection effort and population suppression
• Evaluation of modified and structures operations in support of fish suppression activities
• Emergency measures to prevent bypass of fish between (1) Des Plaines River and CSSC and (2) I&M Canal and CSSC during flood events
• Increased biological control efforts
• Barrier operations

To view the entire control framework and to receive the latest updates on sampling efforts in the CAWS, log on to

This underscores the urgency of measures to stop the carp from entering the Lake, and of beginning as soon as possible with an analysis and plan for separating the Lake Michigan and Mississippi/Illinois River watersheds. That's the only way to permanently stop the Asian Carp, and other alien invaders, from getting into our Great Lakes. The sooner we are able to break the artificial connection between these two waterways, the sooner we will be able to stop killing off fish in the Chicago River system.

May 27, 2010

Solar Jumpstart Package Goes to Gov

Good news from Springfield this week! Two key components of the RENEW (Rebuild our Economy with New Energy Work) package passed the Illinois House and are on their way to Gov. Quinn.

Good work by our legislative champions, including Sens. Don Harmon and Mike Noland, and Reps. Will Burns, Sara Feigenholtz, along with a lot of helpers (including former Rep. Deborah Graham) in getting this done amidst a chaotic session.

This sends a strong signal that renewables are ready here in the heartland!

From a press release:

Last night, the Illinois General Assembly passed two bills that will create more than 5,000 new jobs and bring more than 3 million kilowatt hours of solar electricity to Illinois consumers by 2014.

"By removing barriers to solar power developers, these measures will create approximately 5,000 new jobs between now and 2015," said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), a chief sponsor of HB 6202 in the Illinois Senate. "The cost of solar power has dropped dramatically, and by investing in solar energy now Illinois will be well-positioned to attract solar manufacturing and installation jobs and businesses."

"This puts Illinois in a strong position to attract good, clean energy jobs in the growing solar energy industry," said State Representative Will Burns (D-Chicago), who sponsored HB 6202 in the Illinois House. "Solar power offers potential jobs in communities that need them most, and cleaner air for all of us to breathe."

“We’ve been talking about a clean energy future for a long time, now that future is here,” said Barry Matchett, Policy Advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “More than ever, we need to put people to work and create clean, safe sources of energy and that’s what these bills do.”

The Solar Ramp Up bill (HB 6202) sets annual targets for the amount of solar power used in Illinois between 2012 and 2015, these targets give industry a green light to invest in solar power and create new jobs, revenue and clean energy here in Illinois.

"Soon some of the electricity powering our homes will be coming from solar energy, in addition to the wind power we have started using in recent years," said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter. "We have created thousands of new wind power jobs with those purchases, and now stand to gain up to 5,000 new jobs by growing the solar industry - all while making deep cuts in air pollution."

Illinois passed a landmark renewable energy standard in 2007 that requires 25% of Illinois’ electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2025. The law requires that at least 6% of the state’s renewable energy come from solar power by 2015, but it didn’t provide a path for Illinois utilities to meet that goal. SB 6202 establishes those targets and sets Illinois on the path to becoming the leading Midwestern state for solar energy. Because of SB 6202 more than 5,000 solar panel installation, manufacturing and maintenance jobs will be created and significant pollution will be avoided.

SB 6202 is the result of an agreement between advocates like the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Sierra Club and the state’s utilities and retail electric suppliers to create a logical schedule to phase in the solar component of renewable energy.
Other supporters of the bill include the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the City of Chicago, the AFL-CIO, Citizens Utility Board, Illinois Competitive Energy Association, Illinois Environmental Council and the Illinois Respiratory Health Association

Also late Wednesday night, the General Assembly passed HB 5429, the Homeowners’ Solar Rights Act. The legislation clarifies the rights of homeowners living in homeowner or condominium associations to put solar panels on the property and outlines a process for that to occur.

"This legislation removes barriers for many homeowners who want to put solar panels on their roofs, but have been prevented from doing so by outdated restrictions," said State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D- Chicago), who sponsored HB 5429, the Homeowners' Solar Rights Act, in the Illinois House. "Now Illinois homeowners who want to cut pollution and their utility bills by installing solar panels will be free to do so."

May 24, 2010

A Sunnier Future For Illinois?

As the Illinois House returns to focus on the state's budget crisis, they have a chance to take final action on two bills that will create good jobs and jumpstart the Illinois solar energy industry.

House Bills 6202 and 5429 don't cost the state anything, but will create good, high-paying jobs while helping businesses and homeowners cut energy costs. Both are key components of the RENEW package to encourage the use and development of clean energy sources.

HB 6202 moves up the date that Illinois utilities must start buying solar energy from 2016 to 2011. Particularly in this recession, this is critical to securing financing and a market for utility-scale solar plants, like the one Exelon has build on Chicago's south side.

HB 5429 estabilishes the rights of multi-unit homeowners to participate in clean energy generation. Currently, condo and homeowner's association rules, in many cases designed for satellite dishes, prohibit rooftop solar installation. These solar bans have blocked many homeowners from deploying solar, and been a barrier to growth for solar contractors.

Both of these bills have cleared the Illinois Senate, and the House is ready to take them up this week. Please take action now to urge your State Representative to send these two key components of the RENEW package to Gov Quinn.

Hopefully, before the Illinois House adjourns to enjoy the summer sun, they will take final action on two bills that will create good jobs and jumpstart the Illinois solar energy industry.

Tell your State Representative to vote YES on House Bills 6202 and 5429 - they doesn't cost the state anything, will create good, high-paying jobs while helping businesses and homeowners cut energy costs.

May 20, 2010

The Carp Hunt Continues

A new phase in the hunt for the Asian Carp begins today, as state and federal agencies begin an operation on a 2-mile stretch of the Cal-Sag Channel, on the inland side of the O'Brien Lock and Dam. This particular stretch has been a hotspot for Asian Carp DNA, and is thought to be good habitat for the invader.

This week's operation is improved based on the lessons learned from December's poisoning. In that operation, we don't know if/how many Asian Carp were killed and sank to the bottom. This time, they are netting the bottom first, so all fish should be recovered. They will also will all be sorted and counted, which should tell us if there are Asian Carp there, but also tell us a lot about the state of the waterway's recovery. The more different kinds of native fish they find, the healthier the water is.

Before poisoning the water (with a plant-based toxin that will then be neutralized to avoid downstream impacts), they will electro-shock it, which only stuns fish. Native species will be collected, kept alive, and returned to the water after the operation is complete.

We're very encouraged to see the Obama and Quinn Administrations mobilize like never before to try to protect our Great Lakes from Asian carp. The immediate actions to find and kill Asian carp near Lake Michigan appear to be necessary. It is also a reminder, however, of the urgent need to begin planning for a permanent solution - undoing the artificial connection of the Great Lakes and the Illinois/Mississippi watersheds. That will take time and very careful planning, and we need to begin now so this period of occasional poisonings and other short-term measures is as short as possible.

May 05, 2010

The Revenge of the Polluter Bailout

The General Assembly is really bending over backward in an attempt to bail out a chronic polluter by making you buy the electricity they generate burning tires that could be recycled.

IEPA has notified the Ford Heights tire incinerator of numerous violations of clean air laws. Now some state legislators want to reward their chronic violations with financial support - from you.

First, they tried to classify tire incinerators as "renewable" energy, so they utilities buying the power they generate could count it against the clean energy they have to buy every year.

See how your legislators voted here. Look at the May 4th vote for your Senator - thank them if they voted No.

That didn't pass the laugh test with most legislators. So, backers of the polluter made up a new definition - "reusable energy" - for tire incineration. What's in a name? Well, SB 380 would give "reusable energy" sources access to renewable energy grants that you pay for on your monthly electric bill. They also would get to sell their power to you, through your utility.

That scheme passed the Illinois House - barely - with 61 votes. Last night, it failed in the Illinois Senate, by a wide margin, but that hasn't stopped them from trying again. The same proposal is on the Senate's agenda again for action tonight or tomorrow.

I know bad ideas never die, but surely Springfield has better things to do with their time than bailing out those who routinely break our clean air laws. Let's hope the Senate rejects them again. This is getting to be like a bad horror movie.

See how your legislators voted here.

April 29, 2010

Cool Joliet?

What's the first word you think of to describe Joliet?

Was it cool? If not, it may be soon, if the wonderful women at the heart of the Cool Joliet coalition have anything to say about it. And believe me, they do!

Last week I was in Joliet for a wonderful ceremony to celebrate Joliet's signing of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement, making them the 50h "Cool City" in Illinois. The event was a great rally celebrating what Joliet has committed to do to make a dent in global warming pollution. Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, State Sens. Linda Holmes (who authored the Illinois Cool Cities Act) and A.J. Wilhelmi, Joliet & Will County officials all pledged their support.

This is all the work of a remarkable coalition of volunteers who call themselves "Cool Joliet". They have a great work ethic, and a wonderful vision for their city as a clean, prosperous hub of innovation thanks to aggressive greening measures.

Can Joliet, a city that has been hurt more than most by the decline in manufacturing and the current recession, some day soon be a green city of the future? Having met the amazing women of Cool Joliet, and hearing the support local leaders are giving their vision, I wouldn't doubt it for a second.

Cool Joliet?

What's the first word you think of to describe Joliet?

Was it cool? If not, it may be soon, if the wonderful women at the heart of the Cool Joliet coalition have anything to say about it. And believe me, they do!

Last week I was in Joliet for a wonderful ceremony to celebrate Joliet's signing of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement, making them the 50h "Cool City" in Illinois. The event was a great rally celebrating what Joliet has committed to do to make a dent in global warming pollution. Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, State Sens. Linda Holmes (who authored the Illinois Cool Cities Act) and A.J. Wilhelmi, Joliet & Will County officials all pledged their support.

This is all the work of a remarkable coalition of volunteers who call themselves "Cool Joliet". They have a great work ethic, and a wonderful vision for their city as a clean, prosperous hub of innovation thanks to aggressive greening measures.

Can Joliet, a city that has been hurt more than most by the decline in manufacturing and the current recession, some day soon be a green city of the future? Having met the amazing women of Cool Joliet, and hearing the support local leaders are giving their vision, I wouldn't doubt it for a second.

April 26, 2010

Asian Carp: Supreme Court Denies Michigan Suit - Can We Focus on Real Solutions Now?

Hopefully now that the U.S. Supreme Court has denied the State of Michigan's attempt to force the closure of Chicago's Lake Michigan locks, everyone can focus on long term solutions.

I certainly sympathize with those who want all reasonable options on the table to keep the carp out of the Great Lakes, but I also doubt that closing them would actually work. And, I know that the Michigan case and the fight about lock closure has been a big red herring, distracting us from planning for the only long-term solution to the problem of invasive alien species moving between Lake Michigan and the Illinois/Mississippi River system - restoring the natural divisions between these two great aquatic systems.

By re-separating these watersheds (they were artificially connected a century ago to send Chicago's sewage towards Joliet, Peoria, and points south) far inland, we would close the alien species superhighway that exists now between the two. There would no longer be any threat of closing the Lake Michigan locks, in fact, we could probably remove them for good. Recreational access to Lake Michigan wouldn't be threatened, it would be made easier.

Separating the watersheds isn't easy or cheap, but it will work, and there might be tremendous secondary benefits for our region. If it's done as part of an overall upgrade to our freight transportation network, it bolsters Chicago's position in the global economy. It would bring substantial infrastructure investment to our region, creating a large number of high wage jobs.

It's an option that has to be on the table, and a serious study initiated as soon as possible. Until we implement such a solution, we have little choice but to take steps to find and eradicate the carp near Lake Michigan. Those may be our main options now, but the faster we take a hard look at hydrologic separation, the more likely we are to keep Asian Carp and other alien species out of the Great Lakes, and allow the Chicago River system to continue its recovery.

Learn more about hyrdologic separation here.

April 22, 2010

Is It Earth Day in Springfield?

I'm generally very upbeat on Earth Day. To me it's a day to celebrate - the Earth, how cool it is, what each of us can do to protect it, and how much progress we've made since the first Earth Day 40 years ago.

However, I've been spending time in Springfield lately.

Granted, they have a lot on their plate, but the recent sessions that have delivered big, landmark clean energy policy changes have not exactly been calm and orderly. For 2010, environmental advocates, very mindful of the budget crisis and the economy, put forth a package of proposals that would create good jobs, protect public health, and not cost the state a dollar.

With the legislative session potentially winding towards a mid-May adjournment, there's been a lot more thinking than acting going when it comes to creating new jobs and protecting our health:

-The Illinois RENEW package would create at least 28,000 jobs by 2015 by jumpstarting the Illinois solar energy industry and maintaining the growth in the wind industry. So far, there hasn't even been a substantial committee hearing on much of the package. Today, Earth Day, the Senate Energy Committee was set to shelve legislation merely to study creating jobs in installing renewables on large rooftops. (On the bright side, a proposal to help homeowners and businesses finance the cost of clean energy projects has cleared the Senate and awaits action in the House.)

-A proposal to protect babies by taking toxic bisphenol A out of baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant formula containers still awaits a vote in the State Senate.

While the environmental agenda awaits, polluters are largely having their way with the process. For example, a proposal to hamstring Illinois EPA's ability to issue protective pollution permits (that IEPA says will cost taxpayers an extra $1.4M per year) sailed through the Senate, as did a bill to lift the decades-old moratorium on new nuclear power plants.

All is not lost - the agenda is still alive, and this week negotiations over the clean energy package gathered steam. However, if this General Assembly is going to make Illinois cleaner and more prosperous, there's a lot left to do in the weeks ahead.

I, for one, would be happy to have another Earth Day after the session ends to celebrate the enactment of these environment and energy proposals.

April 21, 2010

Susan Hedman Named EPA Region V Administrator

Great news from USEPA today!

Susan Hedman is great choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts here in the Midwest. I have known and worked with Susan for many years, and she is smart, a very hard worker, and firmly committed to serving the public interest. She brings decades of experience in environmental protection around the Great Lakes region, the country, and indeed the planet. Her appointment is another strong sign that professionalism and integrity are important goals for Administrator Lisa Jackson in leading USEPA.

Susan has been a strong advocate for cleaner air and water during her public service as Environmental Counsel and Senior Assistant Attorney General to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. She has been at the center of the landmark clean energy policy changes made in Illinois in recent years that have created thousands of good paying jobs across our state, and will create thousands more in the years to come. She has fought for better air pollution controls to protect people with asthma and respiratory disease, and to clean up pollution in Illinois' rivers and drinking water. Illinois is a cleaner, and greener place because of her work here.

The environmental challenges and opportunities facing this region are great. Susan Hedman's experience, skill, and dedication make her the ideal choice for such an important job. Her appointment is great news for all of us who love the Great Lakes, who want to protect our children from pollution, and who are ready to create good jobs in a new, clean energy economy. I know she will always put the people's interest in a healthy environment first.

April 15, 2010

Julie Hamos - A Real Leader Moves On

This was State Rep. Julie Hamos' last week in the Illinois House. As she prepares to take on a tough assignment as Gov. Quinn's pick to head the Illinois Dept. of Health and Family Services, I'm thinking a lot of the many important battles she led or helped lead during her decade in the Illinois House.

It's an impressive list. Clearly, Illinois is a healthier, greener, more prosperous place for her efforts. Just as clear is the big vacancy in the Illinois House environmental leadership corps.

Here are a few of Julie's accomplishments:

Better Building Codes To Save Energy & Cut Costs

Julie was the chief sponsor of legislation passed in 2009 that will require all new construction in Illinois to be built to state-of-the-art standards for energy efficiency, which will reduce pollution and save homeowners money on utility bills.

Restoring State Funding For Open Space Protection
When George Ryan raided state funds dedicated to acquiring parks and open space for future generations, Julie Hamos led the fight to restore full funding for our parks. Later, Hamos helped fight off further attempts by Rod Blagojevich to raid park funds.

Promoting Local, Organic Agriculture
Julie Hamos passed legislation establishing the Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force to promote sustainable food systems.

Saving Illinois Public Transportation
Julie Hamos led the fight to prevent drastic cuts in Metra, Pace, and CTA service by devoting new state funds to mass transit, and fought to shift state dollars away from new roads that would further suburban sprawl toward our mass transit systems.

Julie has also been a major force behind legislation to promote renewable energy, bring cleaner cars to Illinois, protect Illinois' remaining wetlands, and protect Lake Michigan from invasive alien species. She was working to protect the Great Lakes from invaders long before most of us had even heard of Asian Carp.

In 2009, Hamos was honored with the Environmental Leadership Award by the Illinois Environment Council for her efforts in creating energy efficiency building standards legislation.

Julie has a great mind for strategy, and isn't shy about taking on tough fights. I know I'm a better advocate for having worked with her, and I'm glad she will be helping Gov. Quinn in such a tough time at such an important agency.

I've met Robyn Gabel, Hamos' successor in the General Assembly, and I think she'll bring her own style of leadership to these issues, after two decades of fighting for children's health. She'll be a strong, fresh voice, and Springfield can sure use that.

But we'll still miss Julie. We wish her well in her new post.

March 24, 2010

Chicago #5 in Green Buildings; Saves $50M/Year

A new national study by USEPA finds that the Chicago region ranks 5th in the country in terms of number of buildings that earned an "Energy Star" rating for their energy efficiency.

As of 2009, the Chicago area had 134 energy efficient buildings which save $50.2 million each year in energy costs, and eliminate the pollution associated with powering, heating, and cooling 44,500 homes.

Chicago moved up one spot from the previous year's rankings. Los Angeles, Washington DC, San Francisco, and Denver are the top four.

March 17, 2010

IL Senate Approves Nuclear Rate Hike Option

This week the Illinois Senate approved legislation to lift the moratorium on new nuclear power plant construction in Illinois. The bill now moves on to the Illinois House.

Nuclear power remains the most expensive and dangerous way to boil water ever invented. The exorbitant costs (investors want no part of it unless us taxpayers are on the hook for the construction, operation, and cleanup costs), and dangerous waste problem have meant little to no interest in building new nuclear in Illinois for many years.

Current Illinois law recognizes one of the very real problems with nuclear power - the lack of any permanent disposal site for the waste. As a result, we have high-level nuclear waste sitting at reactors around Illinois, with nowhere to send it. Under current law, there is a moratorium on new reactors until there's somewhere to put the waste.

That makes a lot of sense. Not only would it be unwise to create and pile on even more high-level nuclear waste in these communities, but new nuclear construction would saddle Illinois ratepayers with certain rate hikes. It would also threaten Illinois' growing renewable energy sector, which is one area of Illinois' economy that is strong and growing.

I can understand the temptation of all the construction jobs created by building a new nuclear power plant, but they're really just a pipe dream. No one is going to build a new reactor in Illinois unless ratepayers are saddled with the costs, and if they started today most of the jobs would be many years away, and short-term in nature.

A far better option for creating jobs now, with no risk, would be the RENEW package of clean energy proposals to jumpstart the Illinois solar energy industry and continue the growth of our wind industry. Those energy projects are much cheaper, will create jobs much faster, and of course leave us with cleaner communities to live in rather than bigger piles of dangerous wastes around our state.

If you agree we should be prioritizing clean energy jobs now, tell your State Representative to focus on better, faster, cheaper renewables.

March 13, 2010

Putting The Environment on Springfield's Agenda

Thanks to all who came up, down, and over for 2010 Environmental Lobby Day last Wednesday. We had a great time, had good meetings with 77 legislators, and added 22 new co-sponsors on our priority bills.

If you missed it, here are some of the highlights. Join us next year!

February 18, 2010

AG Cracks Down on Polluting Coal Mine

A McDonough County coal mine faces an enforcement action from Attorney General Lisa Madigan & her team after over 300 violations of Illinois clean water laws.

Company records show the Industry Mine repeatedly dumped contaminants into Grindstone Creek (left).

According to the Peoria Journal-Star:

In March 31, 2007, the mine was allowed to discharge a daily maximum of up to 7.0 milligrams per liter of iron, but actually discharged 47.9 milligrams per liter, according to the complaint.

The alleged violations stretch back to 2004 and are as recent as December 2009.

"Some of these (violations) are just outrageous," said Joyce Blumenshine, who is a member of the Heart of Illinois Group Sierra Club, which, along with the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Prairie Rivers Network, filed paperwork in December to sue the mine.

The strip mine is located southwest of Macomb, and has over 300 water permit violations polluting area streams since 2004. The mine discharges into Grindstone Creek, a beautiful Illinois stream with a historic heron rookery and a maternity roost tree of federally endangered Indiana Bats.

The Springfield Coal Company, which owns the Industry Mine, is now seeking permission to open a new mine near Canton Lake (below), source of drinking water for Canton. Canton residents are worried that the violations at the McDonough County mine bode ill for their beloved Canton Lake, and their water supply.

It's great to see the Attorney General stepping in to enforce the law here. There is a lot of talk these days about how to deal with all of their air pollution from burning coal. These violations are a reminder that we also need to do a better job protecting our water supply and farmland from the impacts of coal mining.

January 22, 2010

Latest MWRD Excuse For Not Making the Chicago River Safe: Global Warming

Today's Tribune article demonstrates the lengths the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District will go to keep open the giant loophole that allows them to deny Chicagoans the same protection the give suburban residents - killing dangerous pathogens in their effluent before they dump it in the Chicago River system.

MWRD disinfects the treated water they discharge to the DuPage River system, but is spending taxpayer dollars fighting the State of Illinois' attempts to make them clean up their act. The City of Chicago, the Illinois Attorney General, and a coalition of environmental, health, and recreation advocates also support cleanup.

The Tribune has the latest in MWRD's campaign to maintain the status quo:
Engineers with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago recently completed an in-house study of its carbon footprint at the request of the elected board of commissioners. Going beyond the assignment, they also decided to look at how the footprint would change if it had to kill bacteria in sewage before pouring it into the Chicago River.

Starting to disinfect the wastewater — a change the 120-year-old agency has long opposed — would bolster the district's greenhouse gas emissions and thereby cause more bad than good, they concluded.

"With additional treatment, you have to weigh how much water quality is actually being accomplished with more harm to the environment in another way," said Louis Kollias, the director of the district's Monitoring and Research Department. "You're going to have to have it one way or the other. You can't have both."
Obviously reducing your carbon footprint is a good idea, for lots of reasons. Other local governments are doing that by buying renewable energy instead of dirty power, That's how the State of Illinois, the cities of Chicago and Springfield, and many others are doing.

I know of no efforts by MWRD to buy wind or solar power instead of coal. Instead, they plan for second-class sewage treatment? Are they looking at turning off disinfection in the suburbs, to save on energy costs?

This would all be funny if it weren't putting people at risk. And it is hardly a joke that MWRD is wasting our property tax dollars on lawyers and PR schemes like this, all supposedly in the name of cost effectiveness.

Consider it the latest reason to make smart choices when you vote for MWRD Commissioner February 2nd. Sierra Club's recommendations are here.

January 06, 2010

Manny Flores: A Clean Energy Champion for the ICC

This week Gov. Quinn nominated Chicago Ald. Manny Flores to be the new Chair of the Illinois Commerce Commission. If confirmed by the Illinois Senate, this is great news for everyone who stands to gain (and that means all of us) by moving to a new energy economy in Illinois.

Flores has been an environmental champion on the Chicago City Council, working to create green jobs in the city, promote clean energy, and remove toxic chemicals from consumer products. The Illinois Commerce Commission has not historically been considered a major environmental policymaking authority, but they are now squarely in the middle of major decisions about our energy future, including questions such as:

-Will we meet our target of 25% renewable energy by 2025? Can we exceed it, or reach it faster?
-Will we maximize efforts to cut utility bills by saving energy?
-Will we create the maximum number of new Illinois jobs in the process?

All this makes it perfect timing to have a clean energy leader take the helm at the ICC.

Here's an excerpt from a conversation I had with Flores about clean energy in November - when he attended a USEPA hearing on regulating global warming pollution. He talks about the imperative of moving now to participate in the new economy, and of a recent trip to South Korea, which is heading that way.

Hopefully the Illinois Senate, which itself has done a great deal in recent years to move Illinois to a clean energy future, will quickly confirm Flores.