Author: Christina Nieves

Public Interest M.B.A. Sustainable Business Fellow

The Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) seeks to hire an MBA Sustainable Business Fellow for a two-year commitment at our Chicago headquarters, beginning in summer / fall 2018.  The Sustainable Business Fellow will work with ELPC’s multidisciplinary project teams of senior attorneys, M.B.A.s, public policy specialists and scientist professionals on sustainability projects developing clean renewable energy and energy efficiency, advancing innovative transportation strategies and preserving vital natural resources.  One of ELPC’s core principles is that job creation, economic growth and environmental progress can be achieved together through smart public policies and sustainability initiatives.

ORGANIZATIONELPC is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization, and among the nation’s leaders. We develop and lead successful strategic environmental advocacy campaigns to improve environmental quality and protect our natural heritage. We are public interest environmental entrepreneurs who engage in creative business deal making with diverse interests to put into practice our belief that environmental progress and economic development can be achieved together. ELPC’s multidisciplinary staff of 45 talented public interest attorneys, M.B.A.s, policy advocates and communications specialists brings a strong and effective combination of skills to solve environmental problems and improve the quality of life in our communities. ELPC’s headquarters is in Chicago, along with nine more offices in the Midwest and Washington D.C. ELPC started in 1993 and has a $7.5 million annual budget Please visit www.ELPC.org for additional information.

RESPONSIBILITIES:  Work with ELPC’s Executive Director and Senior Program Staff on sustainability projects to advance clean energy development and climate change solutions, accelerate innovative transportation strategies, and protect the Great Lakes and other natural resources.  Economic analysis of solar energy and wind power projects.  Determine environmental, job creation, economic growth benefits from forward-looking energy, environmental and natural resources preservation policies.  Engage with multidisciplinary project teams to achieve sustainability impacts and results.

QUALIFICATIONS:  Recent M.B.A. school graduate with at least three years of prior professional experience preferably in finance, sustainability, environmental or energy sectors.  Strong academic record and excellent analytical, presentation and writing skills.  Strong background in financial and economic analysis. Smart self-starter with track record of initiative and successes.  Substantive knowledge of clean energy policy and technologies, and energy economics is valued.  An inspired commitment to sustainability principles and an ability to work productively with a team of skilled professionals.

COMPENSATION $67,500 annual salary for recent M.B.A. program graduates. Excellent benefits.

APPLICATION PROCESS:  Please send a cover letter, resume, three professional references by email to:  BusinessFellowship@ELPC.org.  ELPC is an equal opportunity employer and is continually seeking to diversify our staff.

Crain’s Chicago Business: ELPC Focus Groups Find Trump Voters in Midwest Swing States Care about Water, Energy Jobs

Trump Voters Actually Do Care About the Environment, Kind Of
April 12, 2017
By Greg Hinz

Environmental issues carry political weight even with Donald Trump voters, and even when top aides to the new president seem anything but green. But for the issue to count, it had better be something those voters can see and smell and feel.

That’s the big takeaway from a fascinating set of 12 focus groups that Chicago’s Environmental Law & Policy Center conducted in recent weeks with Trump voters in swing-state Midwest cities.

Participants from Grand Rapids, Mich.; Toledo, Ohio; and Ft. Wayne, Ind., made it quite clear they care about pollution that’s visible, especially of water used for drinking, swimming and recreation. But global warming drew a big “meh” from the focus groups, many of them industrial workers.

“Water matters, and matters a lot,” said Ann Selzer of Selzer & Co., who ran the focus groups for ELPC. “It is a concrete issue they can see in their daily lives.”

Efforts to boost renewable energy also resonate with voters, particularly if they result in job creation, Selzer says.

The key on that point is numbers—showing the jobs that have been created. “Data on installed solar capacity in Indiana was met with awe and a spark that the state is a leader in the Midwest,” Selzer wrote in a report on the sessions. “They want to feel this kind of pride, and discovering what already is happening makes them feel more favorable to the renewable energy development.”

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Sun-Times: Howard Learner Says Time is Right for Chicago Community Solar

Warming Up to Solar Energy in Chicago, Cook County
April 11, 2017
By Howard A. Learner

Community solar is ready to move forward in Chicago and Cook County.

When Chicagoans drive toward Des Moines, Indianapolis and Springfield, they see local wind turbines helping to power our transition to a clean energy future. Here in Cook County, our best renewable energy growth opportunity is installing modern solar energy panels on residential and commercial building rooftops and on underutilized “brownfield” industrial sites.

Solar energy development is being driven by smart policies, technological improvements, and civic and political leadership. The Illinois Legislature passed a modernized Renewable Portfolio Standard, which, if implemented well, can jump-start solar energy installations and financing. It’s especially important for Illinois to move quickly to leverage the federal Investment Tax Credit for solar energy that is available over the next four years.

There have been huge technological innovations in almost all solar energy equipment. Solar panel costs have dropped from $4 per watt to less than 40 cents per watt over the past 10 years, and solar inverter efficiency has improved to close to 99 percent.

Since 2015, Cook County has partnered with the city of Chicago, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Elevate Energy, Commonwealth Edison and West Monroe Partners to advance development of new community solar projects. In 2011 the City of Chicago solar formed an energy partnership with the Illinois Institute of Technology, Environmental Law & Policy Center and West Monroe Partners. Both SunShot initiatives, supported by U.S. Department of Energy grants, accelerate solar energy projects, streamline processes and remove barriers.

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Wisconsin Public Radio: Wisconsin Activists at ELPC Water Conference Discuss Strategies To Fight CAFO-related Pollution

Anti-CAFO Citizen Groups Hope Unity Leads To Success
April 3, 2017
By Chuck Quirmbach

Some small citizen groups in Wisconsin are teaming up in hopes of stopping local proposals for more large-scale farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

Criste Greening and some neighbors have spent about five years battling a proposed CAFO near their homes outside Wisconsin Rapids. The battle hasn’t been easy, Greening said.

“And because as citizens we have issues and concerns about agriculture, I was termed ‘the radical environmentalist,” Greening said.

Greening told an Environmental Law and Policy Center conference in Madison last week that there’s nothing radical about her, saying she’s as a special education teacher who wants clean water for her three children.

She said small groups like hers are hoping to boost their clout against CAFOs by banding together and calling themselves the Citizens Water Coalition of Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, farmers have organizations such as the Dairy Business Association, which says it tries to ensure dairy farms of all sizes have the support they need to thrive in the state’s economy, communities and food chain.

There are 269 permitted CAFOs in Wisconsin, 252 of those belong to dairy operations according to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources statistics.

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Curbed: ELPC’s Andy Olsen Emphasizes the Importance of Solar Energy for Rural America’s Development

The Rural Renewable Power Renaissance
Solar and wind have made great strides across the country. Will Trump’s budget halt progress toward a greener heartland?
April 4, 2017
By Patrick Sisson

Abita Springs, Louisiana, a bedroom community of 2,365 about an hour north of New Orleans, is the picture of a small Southern town. The fifth-largest city in St. Tammany Parish, it’s best known for the local microbrewery Abita Brewing Company. Late last month, it also made news as the latest municipality in the country to commit to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

“I hope we’re setting an example for other small communities across the country,” says Mayor Greg Lemons, who made it a point to lead by example and add solar panels to his boat on Lake Pontchartrain. “I want people to say, ‘Look at Abita Springs, a small town with a $3 million budget. They’re doing something.’”

So far, the Abita Springs effort is in its preliminary stage. The town is already replacing regular bulbs with LED lights, but is also examining how to add solar panels to all municipal buildings and, eventually, include electric vehicle charging stations. It’s just a plan and a promise, but the gesture is also a symbol of the growth of renewable energy in the U.S., especially in rural areas of the country.

”I’m a Republican, but I’m not a Republican that says ‘business at any cost,’” says Lemons. “We need to be concerned about our environment and invest in our environment.”

Increasingly, Lemons isn’t a outlier. As the new administration begins to enact its energy policy, including support for the coal industry, the conventional wisdom says that support for fossil fuels is a play by Trump to appeal to his base of rural voters. But like any cross-section of the country, rural America isn’t easily stereotyped. Renewable power has made significant strides across this part of the country as wind and solar take root in farm country, as well as more sparsely populated parts of the United States.

It’s not just that renewable power is providing more jobs than the coal industry—roughly 300,000 U.S. workers are employed by wind and solar, compared to the 65,971 who work in coal mining—it’s also having an outsized impact on rural communities. The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Campaign, which features municipalities that have, like Abita Springs, committed to a renewable energy future, includes rural towns such as Greensburg, Kansas.

According to Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, significant advances have been made in rural wind and solar power in the last decade, and the growth of these energy sources is helping rural America.

“There is a lot of talk about the gulf between urban and rural Americans,” he says. “There’s a lot less of a gulf than we think. There are a lot of rural people interested in seeing these renewable energy programs work, who are very passionate about natural resource conservation.”

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch: ELPC’s Howard Learner Talks Peabody’s End to Self-Bonding

Peabody Emerges From Bankruptcy; Stock Trading Resumes Tuesday
April 4, 2017
By Bryce Gray

With $5 billion less in debt and a new stock set to begin trading, Peabody Energy emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy Monday, 10 days shy of one year after starting the reorganization process.

The shares will be listed under the ticker BTU — a reference to the British thermal unit, used to measure the potency of energy sources.

“We believe that ‘The New BTU’ is well positioned to create substantial value for shareholders and other stakeholders over time,” Peabody President and CEO Glenn Kellow said in a statement. “Peabody is the only global pure-play coal investment, and we have the scale, quality of assets and people, and diversity of geography and products to be highly competitive.”

When it filed for Chapter 11 last April, St. Louis-based Peabody was one of many bankruptcies in the coal industry. Competition from cheap natural gas had driven down coal prices, but Peabody officials insisted that a badly timed $5.2 billion acquisition of Australian mines in 2011 was a primary reason the company had to file Chapter 11.

“Investors had said to us, we didn’t have an operating problem but a debt problem,” said Vic Svec, a Peabody spokesman.

Now, company executives say the geographic reach of the company’s assets positions it to serve both the U.S. and burgeoning Asian economies.

“Coal remains an essential part of the energy mix, and Peabody is the largest U.S. coal producer while our Australian platform has access to the higher-growth Asia-Pacific region,” Kellow said.

Peabody did face some sticking points in its reorganization process.

Environmental groups voiced concerns about the company’s practice of self-bonding instead of posting a cash bond to cover future cleanup costs. Those groups were appeased when Peabody agreed to replace $1.2 billion in self-bonds with surety bonds.

“This is bringing self-bonding to an end for the world’s largest coal company,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “That sends a message across the industry.”

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Wisconsin Public Radio: USDA Researcher Speaks at ELPC Water Conference & Warns Wisconsin Well Owners About Contamination

USDA Researcher Warning Kewaunee County Well Owners About Contamination
April 3, 2017
By Chuck Quirmbach

A scientist who’s looked into widespread well contamination in Kewaunee County says he’s now urging owners of tainted wells to find another water source.

U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist Mark Borchardt recently published findings that indicate cow manure is the leading cause of groundwater pollution in Kewaunee County. But he found that human waste from sanitary systems is spoiling drinking water there, too.

Borchardt told attendees at Environmental Law and Policy Center conference in Madison last week that he’s been making phone calls to the owners of the contaminated wells.

“These folks, I’ve spent my evenings fairly stressed out calling them, saying, ‘you can’t drink your water.’ To find salmonella in a private well, in someone’s home, really shuts things down.” Borchardt said.

He said his staff are out doing more water testing in Kewaunee County. So far, 26 wells they’ve tested are contaminated with cattle manure, 18 with human waste and three with both.

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Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s MeLena Hessel Explains Community Solar

Want Solar Panels, but Can’t Afford Them? Cook County’s Working to Set Up Co-ops
April 3, 2017
By Cheryl V. Jackson

Solar panels are cheaper than ever, but many renters, condo-owners and low-income families aren’t able to take advantage of the flaming ball of energy in the sky.

A Cook County project is working to change that, helping set up new solar energy co-ops that would let people who can’t install their own solar panels tap into a shared pool of power.

The Department of Environmental Control and partner groups are laying the groundwork for solar panels at 15 pilot sites across the county, including determining how to outfit property with panels for community-shared solar power, assess subscriber interest and market to users.

Community solar allows power from a single solar array to be shared by numerous households and businesses in a community. Through the systems, individuals would be able to “rent” panels and get reduced electric bills.

It’s part of the Cook County Solar Market Pathways project, funded by a 2014 $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The grant won’t pay for the actual installation of solar panels, but it will provide reports and analysis that’ll pave the way.

The project also looks at the community solar marketplace in the county, identifies suitable available sites and demand, and analyzes the economics of different ownership models.

The county hopes the pilot sites — a mix of sizes and uses across the county, including schools, business and vacant land — can serve as models for groups associated with similar buildings or property.

Aiding residents and organizations in accessing solar energy is important to the county’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, said Deborah Stone, Cook County’s chief sustainability officer and director of the Department of Environmental Control.

“We’re making really good progress at our own buildings, but there’s 1.9 million buildings in Cook County. There’s over 5 million residents. We’re not going to make an impact unless we help the community,” she said.

About 75 percent of households can’t install solar on their roofs because they rent, don’t get enough sun, have structural issues or can’t afford the upfront installation costs, according to Elevate Energy, one of the county’s partners in the program.

About 42 percent of Cook County households live in rental units, and another 16 percent live in condos, Stone said.

“And because we have such income disparities in Cook County, we have a large portion of residents who wouldn’t have enough savings or upfront cash to invest in solar, we’re not going to make headway on our sustainability goals unless we can make solar accessible to everybody,” she said.

The solar market in Illinois is growing after the passage last fall of an energy bill that calls for creation of community solar programs. The law provides credits on electric bills to subscribers who buy or lease solar panels in such programs, said MeLena Hessel, policy advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which pushed for the legislation and is also a partner in the Cook County project.

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Bloomberg BNA: ELPC’s Kearney Says States Should Learn from Peabody Coal Bankruptcy that Self-bonding is Bad Idea

No Collateral Needed for Cleanup in Some States Despite Mine Bankruptcies
March 30, 2017
By Tipp Baltz, Stephen Joyce and Stephen Lee

Several states are still willing to let mines operate without putting up collateral for land cleanup even though three of the country’s biggest coal companies only recently emerged from bankruptcy.

Their plans could get a boost from the Trump administration, which has repeatedly shown a willingness to appease the ailing coal sector. And financial analysts predict that at least one major company will return to the controversial practice of self-bonding within 18 months.

Self-bonding is a financial mechanism that lets coal companies mine without setting aside money to reclaim the land once they’re finished mining. Instead, the companies are allowed to move forward by demonstrating that they have enough money in their own coffers to pay for reclamation.

But that approach has broken down, as three of the sector’s biggest players—Alpha Natural Resources Holdings Inc., Arch Coal Inc. and Peabody Energy Corp.—have filed for bankruptcy. Each of the companies agreed to cut back its use of self-bonding in its bankruptcy agreement.

“Hopefully, what states are learning from Peabody and from the earlier coal company bankruptcies involving self-funding is that it’s not wise to allow self-funding for reclamation obligations,” Margrethe Kearney, staff attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Grand Rapids, Mich., told Bloomberg BNA. “It’s an inherently volatile market. Things change more quickly than can be responded to by state regulators.”

Yet across the nation, state regulators said they don’t intend to rule out self-bonding, even though federal law allows them to.

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WGN Radio’s The Download: ELPC’s Learner Talks to Justin Kaufmann About the Impact of Trump’s Rollbacks of Clean Power Plan & Fuel Efficiency Standards

Why Does President Trump Want to Loosen Fuel Economy Standards?
March 30, 2017
With Justin Kaufmann

Howard Learner, President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, joins Justin to discuss President Trump rolling back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards, President Trump signing an executive order killing of Obama’s Clean Power Plan and what that means for the economy, technology and climate change.

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