Illinois

The Daily Yonder: ELPC’s Olsen Hopes Paris Accord Pullout Doesn’t Hamper Successful Rural Clean Energy Projects

The Daily Yonder

USDA Climate Change Approach Faces Diminished Role, Worrying Many AG Leaders 

 June 6, 2017

By Bryce Oates

As the President withdraws from the Paris Climate Accords and outlines budget priorities, critics worry about a directional shift with USDA Climate Change.

President Trump announced that the U. S. would “pull out” of the Paris Climate Accords last week, signaling a clear direction for his Administration’s approach to the challenge of a changing, more energy-charged climate.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue applauded the move, stating, “President Trump promised that he would put America first and he has rightly determined that the Paris accord was not in the best interests of the United States. In addition to costing our economy trillions of dollars and millions of jobs, the accord also represented a willful and voluntary ceding of our national sovereignty. The agreement would have had negligible impact on world temperatures, especially since other countries and major world economies were not being held to the same stringent standards as the United States.”

The news does not please some members of the agricultural community, who believe that USDA should be a partner and supporter of efforts to assist farmers in addressing climate change.

“The withdrawal continues a troubling trend,” said Andrew Bahrenburg, National Policy Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition. “The young farmers we represent, to see their President speak about climate change this way, to walk away from progress we’re making on climate resiliency, progress farmers are making to cut emissions and develop on-the-ground solutions, it’s demoralizing. It’s just incredibly discouraging.”

NYFC’s members have already moved on in the discussion about climate change as a reality according to Bahrenburg. They see the evidence every day, with hotter summers, warmer winters, more intense droughts, more intense floods. Their project, Conservation Generation, seeks to assist farmers in the arid West with tools and resources to remain viable in a water-constrained environment.

“While we remain committed to working with Secretary Perdue, he has defended proposed cuts to key conservation programs, cuts to scientific research, a 30% reduction to the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program,” said Bahrenburg. He said that a group of young farmers are traveling to Washington, DC, this week to discuss their opinion with policymakers.

“All of these actions, the budget proposal, walking away from the global community, leaving the Paris Accords, taken together form a real indication of where USDA is headed,” said Tom Driscoll, Director of Conservation Policy for the National Farmers Union. “It’s a scary proposition.”

Driscoll said that many NFU members utilize the climate research and data presented by the Climate Hubs, originating in the Obama Administration. And NFU member families often participate in USDA’s REAP Program, both as farmers and workers for solar companies utilizing REAP (Renewable Energy for America Program) grants. REAP funding, which support renewable energy projects in rural communities, was singled out to be eliminated in the Trump Agriculture budget.

“This is a very, very sensitive time for farmers. There’s a credit crisis upon us. Prices and farm income are low. Choking off programs that deliver cost savings for farmers, that help them to become clean energy producers, undermining the information and tools that help farmers stay in business, it’s just irresponsible for them to behave this way.”

“The Administration’s proposal to eliminate farm bill funding for REAP is not only short-sighted from a climate change adaptation and mitigation perspective, it is also completely counter to their budget narrative,” said Greg Fogel, Policy Director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, in an email to Daily Yonder.

“We’ve heard a lot about agriculture needing to ‘do more with less,” and that is exactly what REAP does. This program puts farmers in the driver’s seat by giving them more control over their energy usage and costs, and helping them to reduce both. In a time when the agricultural economy is in downturn, that kind of independence and control is more important than ever,” said Fogel.

Others have also applauded previous USDA actions related to climate change and energy programs. “We have a program here that helps establish energy projects in rural Wisconsin dairies, for poultry farms of the Southeast, for cattle producers all over America. REAP serves every state, every agricultural sector, and has strong bipartisan support. We hope it continues,” said Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate for the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Olsen said that he sees rural projects and programs working to create jobs and cut carbon emissions across the board, particularly due to USDA participation and focus. “Programs that cut energy costs for farmers, that increase local energy production through solar and wind, that increase economic investment and activity, that increase jobs in rural America, what’s not to like about that,” asked Olsen, questioning the Trump Administration’s budget priorities.

When presented with these questions about the Trump USDA’s approach to climate change, a USDA spokesperson told the Daily Yonder through email:

“The President has proposed his budget, and now the appropriators in Congress will make their mark on it. We cannot know what form the final budget will take, and so it is premature to comment on the specific impacts it may have on any USDA program. Secretary Perdue has communicated to all USDA staff that there is no sense in sugar coating the budget, but he will be as transparent as possible throughout the budget process.”

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End of Illinois Legislative Session Review

ELPC and our partners had an excellent Illinois spring 2017 legislative session achieving solid victories for the environment and natural resources protection.  We were able to pass pro-environment legislation, particularly focused on advancing renewable energy and energy conservation, and we joined with other advocates to stop bad legislation threatening electric vehicles and water quality protections.  The memo from ELPC’s Illlinois governmental affairs team led Al Grosboll and Dave McEllis, explains progress on five sets of issues:

  1. Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, including passing the PACE energy efficiency legislation.
  2. Electronic Waste Recycling.
  3. Electric Vehicles.
  4. Clean Water – Great Lakes Restoration Funding and Stopping the Will County Quarry Bill.
  5. Overall Conservation – Natural Areas Stewardship Act – SB 1029.

READ THE MEMO

Chicago Tribune: ELPC Asks Surface Transportation Board to Extend Comment Period on Proposed Freight Line

Rail Company, UPS on Different Sides of Proposed Freight Line Debate
By Amy Lavalley

Reiterating a point they made a year ago, representatives from Norfolk Southern Railway Company said in a recent letter to the federal board that will determine the fate of a proposed freight train line that they would not use the line if it comes to fruition.

Another nationally based business, meanwhile, is supporting the plan.

Last May, Norfolk Southern notified the Surface Transportation Board, which will determine whether Great Lakes Basin Transportation can proceed with a 261-mile freight train line from Milton, Wis., into LaPorte County that would cut through southern Lake and Porter counties, that they were “not inclined” to think the proposed line would work well with their system or that they would use the route.

That filing came two months after officials at Union Pacific, another Class 1 railroad and intended user of the freight train line, publicly stated that they were not interested in the proposal.

The new letter from Norfolk Southern, filed May 19, notes that the railroad wants to participate in the proceedings as a party of record, and states that the railroad does not object to the request to extend the comment deadline.

“The requested extensions would promote greater public participation in this proceeding, preserving the integrity of the STB’s decision making process,” wrote an attorney for Norfolk Southern.

Great Lakes filed its formal application with the federal transportation board on May 1. Officials there have said the proposed freight train line would serve as a bypass for the six Class 1 railroads that go through Chicago and alleviate congested rail yards there. None of the railroads have publicly committed to the project so far.

The package delivery service UPS, meanwhile, sent a letter to the transportation board supporting the proposed freight train line. The letter, dated April 28, went online earlier this month.

Officials with the delivery service said the proposal was of “keen interest,” because UPS uses truck-rail transportation to serve its customers throughout the United States.

“Although in its infancy, any effort to build new rail capacity and bypass the notorious Chicago rail bottleneck would have a material positive impact on the fluidity and velocity of the freight rail network, and a direct benefit to UPS and our customers,” the letter states.

Opponents of the freight train line have said they were concerned about safety, drainage woes, the loss of farmland and other worries along the route.

The federal board set a June 5 deadline for public comments on the Great Lakes application, though Thomas McFarland, a Chicago attorney representing opposition groups in all three states along the proposed freight line’s path, has asked for an extension of that deadline.

The transportation board has not yet made a decision on that extension, nor has the board made a decision on a request by Great Lakes for a protective order to maintain the confidentiality of its investors and other related information, which was filed with its application.

Also weighing in as a party of record and asking for the extension on the comment period is the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which filed a May 18 letter with the transportation board. The center challenged the proposed Illiana toll road in court on behalf of three area environmental groups.

“ELPC advocates for smart and sustainable land use and transportation planning and continues to have serious concerns about the proposal,” officials there wrote. “ELPC has members whose financial, recreational, and aesthetic interests may be harmed if GLBT’s application is granted.”

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Press Release: Innovative Clean Energy Financing Bill Heads for IL Governor

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 18, 2017

Contact: David Jakubiak

Illinois Closer to Innovative Clean Energy Financing Opportunity
General Assembly Sends PACE Financing Bill to Governor Rauner

SPRINGFIELD, IL – An innovative financing opportunity offered to businesses and property owners in 19 states may finally come to Illinois through legislation headed to Governor Rauner’s desk, after being passed by the State Senate 53-0 on Wednesday.

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing allows counties or municipal governments to establish programs that provide financing for the upfront costs of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The costs are then repaid through an assessment on the property tax bill for the property where the improvement has been made.

In Illinois PACE would function as a so-called “double opt-in” program. First a municipality or county would need to create a local PACE program; then property owners would need to opt-in to the programs.

“Illinois is deploying an innovative clean energy financing opportunity for commercial, industrial and multifamily building owners that will save consumers’ money, decrease energy use and reduce pollution,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

The PACE measure enjoyed broad bipartisan support. On April 28th, PACE passed in the Illinois House where it was championed by Representative Lou Lang. Senator Karen McConnaughay led the effort to pass HB 2831 in the Illinois Senate. If signed by Governor Rauner, the bill will make Illinois the 20th state to offer PACE financing. Nationwide PACE financing has led to more than $3 billion in clean energy investments.

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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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