Illinois

Read Howard’s Speech from #Rally4ThePlanet

On April 21, 2017, ELPC hosted an Earth Day Rally in Chicago with partners included elected officials and friends from across the environmental and public health advocacy sector.

Here is Howard’s speech from that event:

CHICAGO EARTH DAY RALLY – APRIL 21, 2017

Good afternoon!  This Earth Day, let’s commit to work together to make Chicago the cleanest and greenest city in the country.

Everyone in Chicago, and across our nation, has the right to breathe clean air.  All people have the right to have safe clean water to drink.  All people have the human right to live in a healthy community without toxic threats.

Safe clean drinking water.  Healthy clean air.  Healthy communities without toxic threats.  These are not just Democratic values or just Republican values.  They are not just the value of city dwellers or rural folks.  These are core environmental values shared by all Americans.  Not just on this Earth Day, but on every day of the year.

President Trump and his EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt don’t seem to share these values.  Their shortsighted actions are harmful to achieving safe clean drinking water, healthy clean air, healthy communities and accelerating clean renewable energy.

We need to fight back – and win!  Not “fight the good fight.”  We will play to win – and we will work together to win the fights.

We won the fight by working together to force Midwest Generation to shut down the old, highly polluting Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Pilsen and Little Village.  Chicago’s air became cleaner and healthier for us all.

We won the fight by working together to force the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to finally disinfect and keep some of the bad bacteria out of the Chicago River.  We gained a safer, cleaner river with better recreation for us all.

We won the fight by working together to pass the Illinois clean energy legislation to accelerate solar energy, advance more wind power and achieve more energy efficiency.   We can make Chicago a leading clean energy community in ways that reduce pollution, create jobs, grow the economy and help to solve our climate change problems.

We will win the fight against the Trump Administration’s misguided plans to cut the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding from $300 million annually to $0.

We will win the fight against the Trump Administration’s reported misguided plans to close down the EPA Region 5 Office in Chicago that oversees the Great Lakes, the largest fresh water body in the world, and move the EPA staff to Lenexa, Kansas.  What are they thinking?

Do they really think that when BP, Enbridge or U.S. Steel spill oil or toxic chemicals in Lake Michigan and nearby rivers that EPA’s emergency response team can get there more quickly from Lenexa, Kansas than from Chicago?

We will continue working together to reduce pollution and clean up and restore the Great Lakes to be a great place to fish, swim and enjoy the outdoors…and to provide safe, clean drinking water supplies for all Chicagoans.  We will keep doing so

We will continue working together to achieve better public transit that is affordable and accessible to all.  And to achieve a more livable, walkable and bikeable city that is healthier and less dependent on cars.  And to develop a modern intercity higher-speed rail that improves mobility, reduces pollution, creates jobs and pulls together our regional economy.

Chicago can and should become a cleaner and greener city, and a safer and healthier city that makes all of us proud.

Joining us on Earth Day today are some of the people and organizations, political and environmental leaders, and community activists that make things happen.  These are dedicated and effective people who work every day for Chicago to become a clean water, clean air and clean energy leader.

Thank you all working to make Chicago a healthier place to live, work and enjoy.  Thank you for now for what you will keep doing every day, not just on Earth Day, to build a cleaner and greener and a better Chicago for everyone.

Think Progress: ELPC’s Learner Calls Possible Shutdown of EPA Region 5 Office in Chicago “Tone Deaf and Foolish”

ThinkProgress
Chicago Staff Want a Meeting with EPA Head After Leaked Report Targets Their Office for Closure
by Mark Hand

Environmental Protection Agency employees in Chicago are asking Administrator Scott Pruitt to take the time to meet with them on Wednesday after he visits a nearby Superfund site across the border in northwest Indiana where the federal agency is working to address widespread lead contamination.
The employees want to discuss rumors that the Trump administration plans to close the Chicago Region 5 office. Reports surfaced last weekend that the Region 5 office would be one of two EPA regional offices closed to meet the administration’s budget-cutting goals for the agency.
Pruitt reportedly is expected to attend a Chicago Cubs baseball game rather than meet with employees from the office, which could be consolidated with the agency’s Region 7 office in Kansas. The identity of the other regional office targeted for closure has not been released or leaked.

If Pruitt opts to skip the baseball game, the union that represents the 1,000 employees in the EPA’s Region 5 office, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, would want to discuss what it describes as “devastating cuts he and the Trump administration have proposed.”

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Learner Says Volkswagen Settlement Funds Will Help Transition to Cleaner Transportation, Reduce Impact of Climate Change

Advocates Hoped for More Volkswagen Funds for EVs to be Directed to Midwest

By
Andy Balaskovitz and Kari Lydersen

Advocates pushing to expand electric vehicle adoption across the Midwest are “a little disappointed” in the selection of U.S. cities to receive funding for EV infrastructure under last year’s Volkswagen settlement.

Chicago was among 11 major U.S. metropolitan areas — and the only one in the Midwest — selected to receive money under a federal consent decree as a result of Volkswagen’s cheating on emissions tests and deceiving consumers about its diesel engines. The plan will be overseen by Electrify America, a Volkswagen subsidiary established to oversee the $1.2 billion that will be spent over the next 10 years on zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and education.

While they applauded Chicago’s selection, clean energy groups are underscoring the importance of the Midwest in a national transition to electric vehicles, and the importance of collaboration between utilities and other investors in this transition.

The $1.2 billion will be spent in $300 million increments over four 30-month cycles, and it’s possible more Midwest cities will receive attention in the coming years.

Major highway corridors in the region — including interstates 80, 75, 94 and 90 — were also selected to receive EV charging stations under the first funding cycle, though details about where those will be located are not yet available.

“We made the case that a number of cities in the Midwest — the Detroit area, Columbus (Ohio), Minneapolis/St. Paul and arguably some others — have been doing significant work around promoting electric vehicles and would have been other good places for Volkswagen to invest,” said Charles Griffith of the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Ecology Center.

‘More than just Chicago’

The Ecology Center and other nonprofits recently formed Charge Up Midwest to promote and seek funding for EV adoption in the region. One of Charge Up Midwest’s first projects was obtaining funding from the Volkswagen settlement.

“We would have liked to see more than just Chicago selected as one of the communities,” Griffith said.

Other critics have said the settlement agreement gives Volkswagen a leg-up in the electric vehicle market and that the company will be able to control where infrastructure is located to improve its bottom line.

The other cities selected in this first cycle — New York City, Washington D.C., Portland, Oregon, Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, Miami and Raleigh, North Carolina — were chosen largely based on anticipated EV demand.

Michigan and the Detroit region in particular seemed like a good candidate based on the number of EV registrations there and of major U.S. automakers’ interest in breaking into the sector, Griffith said. The state of Michigan also made a separate pitch to Volkswagen for EV funding.

Also, Columbus — which was selected last year for a $50 million Smart City grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation — has been making strides in the clean transportation sector, he said.

“There’s no explanation (in the announcement) about why that wasn’t convincing enough,” Griffith said of the two cities.

According to the plan, Chicago was chosen because of its existing leadership on EVs, including a $14 million city EV program and the electrification of city buses, and because of its relatively dense population, commuting patterns and consumer interest in EVs. The city was chosen despite past troubles with its EV program, including the indictment for fraud of the owners of the provider the city hired, 350green.

“Electrify America notes that it was not able to select every metropolitan area that submitted a strong proposal, but it intends to expand its Community Charging investments into metro areas with supportive government policies and strong utility integration in future investment cycles,” the announcement says.

A new front

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, described electric vehicles and transportation more generally as the most important new front in the battle against climate change, since so many coal plants including two in Chicago have shut down in recent years.

“Because of the transition of the electricity sector with coal plants shutting down and more wind power, solar power and energy efficiency coming into the market as well as lower-priced natural gas, transportation is now the largest sector in terms of carbon pollution in the U.S.,” Learner said.

“It’s time for those of us who are interested in accelerating carbon pollution reduction to focus more attention and get more serious about the opportunities for progress in the transportation sector,” he added. “The advent of hybrid vehicles and electric cars is potentially as transformative to the transportation sector as wireless technologies have been to telecommunications and as solar and wind plus storage have been to the electricity sector.”

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WGN TV: ELPC’s Rob Kelter Says Volkswagen Settlement Fund Award is Good for Chicago & the Environment


VW Settlement to Benefit Chicago Electric Car Drivers
By Sarah Jindra
April 14, 2017

CHICAGO — The Chicago area is set to benefit from a costly Volkswagen mess-up.

The city is going to see new charging stations for electric vehicles along as part of a legal settlement.

Last year, the courts ordered Volkswagen to invest 2 billion dollars in zero emissions vehicle infrastructure and education over the next 10 years after it was caught cheating emissions tests.

Today it announced its plan to build more than 300 charging stations in 11 cities across the country including Chicago.

It will also fund 240 charging stations along highways across the country and work to educate the public about zero emissions vehicles.

The average charging station will be able to charge five vehicles at once. Volkswagen hopes to have more than 450 stations operational by mid-2019.

It is not yet known where exactly in the city the charging stations will be located. They hope to have that determined later this year. ​

WATCH HERE

 

Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Rob Kelter Applauds Volkswagen Naming Chicago Among Cities Awarded Zero Emission Vehicle Investment Funds

Chicago Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Boosted by VW Settlement
By Robert Duffer

April 14, 2017

A surge in electric vehicle charging is coming to Chicago thanks to the record settlement in the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal.

Chicago ranks third (behind New York City and Washington, D.C.) in an 11-city pool that will split $1.2 billion of VW money over the next 10 years. The funds will be used to install electric vehicle charging infrastructure and educate the public on the benefits of electric vehicles.

“The VW investment award to Chicago is terrific news for a city that has taken many steps towards clean transportation,” Robert Kelter, senior attorney at the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in a statement. “The VW funds will accelerate the shift away from traditional gasoline vehicles to a new generation of electric vehicles that will mean lower costs, cleaner air and less dependence on foreign oil — a real step towards keeping Chicago at the forefront of great American cities.”

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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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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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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s New Solar Energy Co-op Website Tells Success Stories to Inspire Others

New Website Highlights Solar Advancements Made by Rural Co-ops
March 31, 2017
By Karen Uhlenhuth

Electric cooperatives that have taken the plunge into solar energy are the stars of a new website aimed at persuading more co-ops to add solar energy to their mix.

RuralSolarStories.org, produced by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC),  features the tales of three rural electric cooperatives across the Midwest that have responded to customer interest by investing in solar generation. More stories are on the way.

The website’s mission “is to help raise the voices of solar champions within the co-op community,” said Andy Olsen, a senior policy advocate for the ELPC. “The co-op community is unique. There’s such a culture of cooperation and learning among peers, we wanted to make sure solar leaders had a venue to be heard.”

Olsen believes there are several compelling reasons to shine the spotlight on rural co-ops that are in the solar-energy vanguard.

“Co-ops have an outsized influence on energy policy,” he said. “We’ve experienced that at the state and federal levels. We talk to members of Congress about energy policy and they want to go back and talk to the co-ops.

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(IL) Journal State-Register: ELPC’s Andy Olsen says solar energy, wind power are economically competitive to coal

No Quick Fixes for Struggling Illinois Coal Industry
March 28, 2017
By Tim Landis

City Water, Light and Power of Springfield is one of only three power plants in Illinois that still burn Illinois coal.

Even if an executive order signed Tuesday by President Donald Trump withstands anticipated legal challenges, little is expected to change in the short term for an industry that has watched production and jobs steadily decline as a result of stricter clean-air rules, fuel switching by utilities and competition from cheaper natural gas. Illinois coal production fell for the second year in a row in 2016, to 43.3 million tons.

Industry employment in Illinois last year of 3,600 was the lowest since 2010 and far below the 10,000 employed the year the federal Clean Air Act took effect in 1990. Arch Coal Co. and Peabody Energy Corp., both based in St. Louis, filed for bankruptcy in 2016. Arch, owner of the Viper Mine near Elkhart, completed bankruptcy reorganization in October.

“We very much welcome this, but it’s not going to bring coal back to where it was,” Illinois Coal Association president Phil Gonet said Tuesday. “At least it stops the bleeding.”

Gonet said Obama-era climate rules have been the biggest factor in the decline of Illinois coal, though natural gas competition has hurt, too.

“Most of it has been power plants shutting down, but the price of natural gas has had an effect,” said Gonet. “We can compete with natural gas, if we’re given a level playing field.”

More Coal, Fewer Miners

Even if coal sales improve, mining techniques require ever fewer miners for increased production. The 3,600 miners required to produce 43.3 million tons of Illinois coal in 2016 was approximately the same number required to produce 33.4 million tons in 2010, according to coal association figures.

Federal statistics indicate that U.S. production of 739 million tons last year was the lowest in four decades. Employment fell by 60,000 from 2011 to 2016, to approximately 77,000.

The Illinois Sierra Club pointed out Tuesday that the president’s action was taken on the same day the Solar Foundation released an annual employment census showing the solar industry employs more state workers than coal. The 3,700 solar jobs in Illinois last year was up 7 percent from 2015, according to the report.

“Illinois is on course to become the national leader in wind power, solar energy and conservation programs, and we should not let President Trump’s crusade against science, and our legal and moral obligation to act on climate change, determine our future,” Jack Darin, director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement. “States that continue with efforts to limit carbon pollution will now be more likely to attract the jobs, economic investment and cleaner air offered by the steadily growing clean energy economy.”

CWLP, the Prairie State Energy Campus in southwest Illinois and a Southern Illinois Power Cooperative plant near Marion are the only remaining in-state customers for Illinois coal.

Many Alternatives

Traditionally coal-reliant rural electric cooperatives expect nationwide solar-energy capacity at the end of 2017 to be five times the capacity of 2012, according to a report released earlier this month by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. A group of Midwest cooperatives recently launched ruralsolarstories.org to highlight the shift toward renewable power.

“The marketplace has changed to the point that there are many alternatives in natural gas, solar, wind and energy efficiency, which are economically competitive,” said Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a renewable-energy advocacy group based in Chicago.

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