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.