Illinois

Crain’s Chicago Business: Illinois Gov. Rauner Pushes Back on Army Corps’ Report to Prevent Asian Carp from Entering Great Lakes

Rauner at Center of Flap Over Asian Carp

By Greg Hinz

While battles over taxes and spending have captured most of the headlines out of Springfield lately, Gov. Bruce Rauner is at the center of another emerging fight that could have an impact on his re-election: how to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

Though some details are in flux, the fight pits Rauner against the state’s powerful green lobby, including the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.

Those environmental groups are lined up with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which last week released a much-anticipated report concluding that the best option available is a $275 million plan to install a combination of electronic and sound barriers by the Brandon Road lock and dam on the Illinois River, near Joliet and about 47 miles upstream from Lake Michigan.

“The Asian carp have no natural predators in the Great Lakes and will disrupt the $62 billion economy based on fishing, boating and recreational activities,” said ELPC’s Howard Learner. “We cannot let the Trump administration’s war on the Great Lakes involve insufficient actions to prevent the Asian carp from threatening our fresh water system.”

READ MORE

The Detroit News: ELPC’s Learner says “This isn’t the Time for Halfway Measures” to Protect the Great Lakes from Asian Carp

The Detroit News

Army Corps Unveils $275 Million Plan to Battle Asian Carp
By Melissa Nann Burke

Environmental groups and Gov. Rick Snyder demanded immediate action on Monday after the Trump administration released a long-awaited report on a $275 million plan to control the invasive Asian carp before it reaches the Great Lakes.

The report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lays out tentative measures that include installing a new electric barrier to repel or stun the destructive fish and underwater speakers generating “complex noise” to deter them from traveling beyond the lock and dam at Brandon Road near Joliet, Illinois. It came after five months of prodding from bipartisan members of the Michigan delegation and others.

The Army Corps stopped short of recommending closure of the Brandon Road lock, citing the potential economic impact on the barge and shipping industry.

Snyder said Monday that steps laid out in the report “must be taken” to stop the advancing Asian carp, calling for “immediate, decisive action.”

“It is time for all the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces — and all who care about the lakes — to come together to demand action at Brandon Road Lock and Dam, a critical pinch point for stopping invasive carp,” he said.

But construction is likely years away. The agency will collect public comments for 45 days, then begin a feasibility study, followed by reviews by federal and state agencies and a Chief of Engineers report, which is not expected until August 2019.

READ MORE

Associated Press: ELPC’s Learner says It’s “Time for Serious Preventative Actions to Keep Asian Carp Out of the Great Lakes”

Report Proposes Steps to Keep Asian Carp out of Great Lakes
By John Flesher

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A federal report released Monday proposes a $275 million array of technological and structural upgrades at a crucial site in Illinois to prevent invasive Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes and its vulnerable fish populations.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers outlined its tentative plan in a report that had been scheduled for release in February but was delayed by the Trump administration, drawing criticism from members of Congress and environmental groups.

It analyzes options for upgrading the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, a complex on the Des Plaines River southwest of Chicago that is considered a bottleneck where defenses could be strengthened to prevent carp populations in the Mississippi River watershed from migrating into Lake Michigan.

Scientists say if the large, voracious carp become established in the Great Lakes, they could devastate the region’s $7 billion fishing industry by crowding out native species.

The Army corps said the plan outlined in the 488-page document is intended to block the path of invasive species “while minimizing impacts to waterway uses and users.” Elected officials and business leaders in Illinois and Indiana have said that significant changes to the Brandon Road complex could hamper cargo shipment on the busy waterway.

Among technologies the report endorses is using sound systems to create “complex noise” underwater that would deter fish from the Brandon Road area, plus installing a new approach channel and placing an electric barrier at its downstream end that would repel fish and stun them if they get too close. Brandon Road is several miles downstream from an existing barrier network.

Other measures would include installing water jets to wash away “small and stunned fish” that might be caught up around barges, plus a new lock where floating invasive species could be flushed away.

The report says the federal government would pay 65 percent of the costs project’s costs, with the rest coming from a “non-federal sponsor.”

The corps will take public comments on the report until Sept. 21. After a feasibility study and series of federal and state reviews, a final report is scheduled for release in August 2019. Congressional approval and funding would be required to get construction underway.

“The Army Corps report makes clear that it’s time for serious preventative actions to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. “The ecological and economic costs of further delays are not sensible or acceptable.”

READ MORE

Toledo Blade: Report Proposes Plan to Deter Asian Carp From Entering Great Lakes

Report Proposes Plan to Deter Asian Carp From Entering Great Lakes
by Tom Henry

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is recommending the electrical barrier near Chicago that has been used to deter Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan be augmented with complex noise, water jets, an engineered channel, and other structural improvements such as a flushing lock, and a mooring area.

The Corps is not recommending a complete separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds, as many Great Lakes scientists and policy-makers, such as Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) have urged for years to provide optimal protection for the region’s $7 billion fishery. The issue has long pitted the Chicago-area shipping industry and Lake Erie sportsmen. The shipping industry wants the status quo while Lake Erie – which spawns more fish than the rest of the Great Lakes combined – could have the most to lose if Asian carp are able to colonize the lake system, regardless of the entry point.

The long-awaited, 488-page Corps report went online Monday at http://bit.ly/2vIibCN. Miss Kaptur pushed for its release after the Great Lakes congressional delegation learned the study was completed in early 2017 but that the Trump administration was keeping it from being made public.

Six alternatives were considered.

The Corps would pay for 65 percent of the estimated $275 million of work outlined, or $179 million. The other $96 million would be paid by non-federal sources. The focus area for the work is the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Ill.

In its report, the Corps called its plan the “Technology Alternative – Complex Noise with Electric Barrier” plan.

That option is recommended “because it meets the project objective by reducing the risk of Mississippi River basin [aquatic invasive species] establishment in the Great Lakes basin to the maximum extent possible, and it provides for continued navigation,” the Corps said in its report, adding that the plan “will be most effective if the electric dispersal barrier operates continuously at optimal parameters to deter fish.”

The Corps is taking comments on its recommendation until Sept. 21. It is making plans for two public meetings.

On June 22, a silver Asian carp – the type so sensitive to boat motor vibrations they flop out of water – was found nine miles from Lake Michigan near the T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam, upstream from a series of electrical barriers designed to keep it out.

Howard Learner, Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center director, said the report “makes clear it’s time for serious preventative actions to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.”

READ MORE

Press Release: Smart Thermostat program Features Record Rebate to Help Consumers Cut Cooling Costs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 25, 2017

Contact: David Jakubiak

CONSUMER ALERT: YOU COULD BE WASTING MONEY COOLING AN EMPTY HOME
SMART THERMOSTAT PROGRAM FEATURES RECORD REBATE TO HELP CONSUMERS CUT COOLING COSTS BY 10-20%

CHICAGO (July 25, 2017) – Amid the hottest time of the year, consumer advocates joined with Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) and the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) Tuesday to make Chicago-area consumers aware that cooling an empty home, while they are away at work or on vacation, can cause summer energy bills to soar.

Smart thermostats provide the easy solution to high seasonal bills, and this summer, northern Illinois consumers can take advantage of unprecedented rebates as part of one of the largest thermostat rebate programs in the country.

The “One Million Smart Thermostats” initiative, launched in October 2015, is a partnership between the utilities and the advocacy groups Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and Citizens Utility Board (CUB). Under this initiative, smart thermostats are eligible for up to $150 in rebates offered by ComEd and other Illinois gas utilities for customers with WiFi, central air and a furnace. The rebates can help cut the cost of some of these smart devices by more than 50 percent and give more control to northern Illinois consumers to save money by reducing wasteful energy use.

The goal of the program this year is to double the adoption to 100,000 smart thermostats in households across Illinois. To help create awareness and boost adoption, ComEd has launched an educational campaign and a new instant discount option for customers.

“ComEd’s smart thermostat rebate initiative is one of the largest and most active programs in the nation, reducing up-front costs for our customers on a product that gives them more control and even greater savings over time.  With just a few taps on a smart thermostat app, customers can manage their household temperature while away from home avoiding unnecessary energy use and costs,” said ComEd President & CEO Anne Pramaggiore.

Smart thermostats are WiFi-enabled devices that allow residents to easily control the heating and air conditioning settings through their smartphones, tablets, and computers.  The technology is smart because it learns or adapts to user behavior over time and can generate energy savings with very little effort. Residents remain comfortable when home and save money on heating and cooling energy costs while away at work or on vacation.

“Smart thermostats do the work for you – they adjust the temperature automatically when you’re not home,” said Rob Kelter, senior attorney for ELPC. “We want even more customers to take advantage of the great technological innovation of smart thermostats and keep more money in their pockets.”

CUB Executive Director David Kolata said smart thermostats can help consumers cut their cooling costs by an estimated 10 to 20 percent. “Smart thermostats prove just how easy and effective energy efficiency can be,” Kolata said. “The savings from these easy-to-use devices could be substantial—potentially cutting northern Illinois electric bills by millions of dollars. We urge ComEd customers to take advantage of the unprecedented discounts – available online and in stores- to buy a smart thermostat this summer.”

“The best way for consumers to control their electric bills, and help the environment, is to reduce consumption,” said Brien J. Sheahan, Chairman of the ICC. “Smart thermostats give consumers greater control of, and visibility into, their energy use which promotes conservation and helps save money.”

To make it easier for customers to redeem rebates, ComEd launched a new website, ComEdMarketplace.com, where customers can shop for smart thermostats and other top-rated energy products and take advantage of online instant rebates that reduce purchase costs.

ComEd officials said the smart thermostat program is part of one of the nation’s best-performing energy efficiency programs, saving consumers some $2.5 billion. The ComEd Energy Efficiency Program is about to get even better, thanks to the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), a bipartisan bill that passed the Illinois General Assembly late in 2016 and was signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

In June, ComEd filed with the ICC a new Energy Efficiency Program, under FEJA. The law will double customer savings and reduce electricity use in Illinois by 21 percent by 2030.

 

 

###

About ComEd

Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd) is a unit of Chicago-based Exelon Corporation (NYSE: EXC), the nation’s leading competitive energy provider, with approximately 10 million customers. ComEd provides service to approximately 3.9 million customers across northern Illinois, or 70 percent of the state’s population. For more information visit ComEd.com, and connect with the company on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

About ELPC

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization. We develop and lead successful strategic advocacy campaigns to improve environmental quality and protect our natural resources. 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. 

About Citizen’s Utility Board

Created by the Illinois Legislature, CUB opened its doors in 1984 to represent the interests of residential and small-business utility customers. Since then, the nonprofit utility watchdog group has saved consumers more than $20 billion by helping to block rate hikes and secure refunds. For more details, call CUB’s Consumer Hotline, 1-800-669-5556, or visit CUB’s award-winning website, www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org

About ecobee

ecobee Inc. introduced the world’s first smart wi-fi smart thermostat to help millions of customers save money, conserve energy and seamlessly bring home automation into their lives. The company’s first flagship consumer device – ecobee3 – introduced pioneering room sensor technology to deliver comfort in the rooms that matter most, leading it to become a top-selling smart thermostat on the market and achieve a No. 1 ranking on Navigant’s Smart Thermostat Leaderboard. Learn more about ecobee and its smart home technologies at www.ecobee.com.

About Nest

Nest’s mission is to create a home that’s thoughtful – one that takes care of the people inside it and the world around it. The company focuses on simple, beautiful and delightful hardware, software and services. The Nest Learning Thermostat™ and Nest Energy Services keep you comfortable and address home energy consumption. The Nest Protect™ smoke and carbon monoxide alarm helps keep you safe and Nest Safety Rewards lets you save money through participating home insurance providers, while Nest Cam™ keeps an eye on what matters most inside and outside your home. For more information, visit www.nest.com.

Christian Science Monitor: Battle Over the Clean Water Rule; What’s at Stake?

Christian Science Monitor

Battle over the Clean Water Rule: What’s at stake?

By Amanda Paulson

Just who gets to regulate America’s many seasonal streams and wetlands?

That’s a question that has long been contentious.

At the end of June, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt formally proposed revoking the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, also known as the “Waters of the US” rule, or WOTUS.

Mr. Pruitt was acting on an executive order signed by President Trump back in February. And depending on whom you talk to, the move to repeal the rule is either an environmental disaster that opens up America’s waterways to pollution and development and puts Americans’ drinking water at risk, or a common-sense action that gets rid of a rule particularly despised by many farmers, ranchers, and developers and returns regulatory authority to states.

Q: What is the rule?

The term “Waters of the United States” comes from the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act. The 2015 Clean Water Rule was designed to provide long-sought guidance on just which “navigable waters” fall under federal jurisdiction and are covered by the protections in that act.

Some waters, including permanent rivers and streams, clearly meet the definition. But many wetlands, seasonal streams, and ditches don’t necessarily qualify: They’re not connected to US waterways much of the time, even though they may ultimately feed into them.

In a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling to determine the jurisdiction, Rapanos v. United States, the court was split. Four conservative justices, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, offered a constrained definition that includes only “relatively permanent bodies of water.” Justice Anthony Kennedy concurred, but added that it should also include wetlands and intermittent streams that have a “significant nexus” to those waters – an opinion that has largely governed decisions since.

The Clean Water Rule carried over existing exemptions for things like agriculture and ranching. It has never taken effect, as lawsuits from states (including one involving Mr. Pruitt when he was Oklahoma attorney general) are working their way through the courts.

Q: What change is the EPA proposing?

The rule the EPA has put forward – currently in the 30-day comment period – would mean going back to the standards used 10 years ago. Since the Clean Water Rule is currently under a stay, it wouldn’t actually change practice on the ground.

There’s also some question about whether the repeal is fully legal – and it’s likely to be challenged in court. The EPA “can’t declare that within 30 days it’s going to stop following the law and ignore the standards that have been adopted” through long-standing administrative procedure, says Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which supports the Clean Water Rule.

READ MORE

WBEZ Worldview: ELPC’s Learner Discusses Volvo’s Plans to Shift to All-Electric and Hybrid Cars

Worldview
Big Promises From Volvo And India On Electric Cars

Volvo announced last week that all of its new cars would be either hybrid or electric by 2020. Volvo is owned by Geely, one of China’s biggest automakers, and the poor air quality in China has led some to believe that the move is also motivated by stricter Asian emissions regulations. Earlier this year, India’s Prime Minister announced a measure to ban the sale of internal combustion engines in the country by 2030 to address pollution. Neither India nor China have the supply of electric cars needed to reduce air pollution.

To discuss, Worldview is joined by Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, and Carlo Segre, Duchossois Leadership Professor of Physics at IIT and CTO of Influit Energy, a startup that researches liquid battery refueling for electric cars.

LISTEN HERE

Crain’s Chicago Business: ELPC’s Learner Says North Lake Shore Drive Design Should Have More Transit, Less Road

Wow! Here’s What North Lake Shore Drive Could Look Like
By Greg Hinz

After a couple of years of quiet work, city and state transportation planners are moving into a more public phase of how to rebuild North Lake Shore Drive, and though some fairly exotic concepts have been eliminated—such as bus tunnels under the lake and a light-rail line in the median strip—what’s left is eye-catching.

You might even say that Daniel Burnham-style big dreaming is back. (Any actual construction is still at least several years away, but there sure is a lot to talk about.)

The centerpiece of an “initial range of alternatives” that will be laid out in a hearing at DePaul University this afternoon are plans to expand and rebuild the Oak Street Beach area into a major new park.

Using lakefill, the beach would be reconfigured and moved hundreds of feet to the northeast. To the west of the beach would be an expansive new park running more than a mile past North Avenue, bisected by the new drive. Two versions of the plan feature a formal pedestrian promenade from the nearby Streeterville neighborhood to the beach, or a combined entrance for those on foot and on bicycles. Under either scenario, the current at-grade Chicago Avenue entrance to the drive would be replaced with an overpass, eliminating a stoplight that slows traffic.

The proposals—developed by the state and city departments of transportation, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—eliminate as unrealistic the possibility of constructing a light-rail line alongside or in the center of the highway, or building express tunnels and/or causeways under the lakeshore or in Lincoln Park. Also eliminated is doing nothing except for routine maintenance. Officials say that’s inadequate for a roadway that’s now more than 80 years old and suffers on average three car crashes a day.

Remaining on the table are either expanding or shrinking the drive, likely with some lanes set aside for buses or other high-occupancy vehicles.

There’s a lot there, so best to look at the pictures yourself to get an idea. (You can zoom in on some of the larger renderings of the Oak Street Beach proposal here and here.)

If you want to talk to the officials involved and express an opinion, the full concept plan will be reviewed in a meeting at DePaul University’s Student Center, 2250 N. Sheffield, from 3 to 7 p.m. this evening. Or comments can be posted here.

Officials hope to settle on a final concept by 2020. Then they can try to figure out how to pay for it. No cost estimates are available at the moment, nor are details on how difficult legally it will be to build landfill into Lake Michigan.

The city also released renderings of other, generally smaller changes to parts of the lakefront, including possible changes around LaSalle Drive, Lake Shore Drive at Fullerton Avenue, the bike path near Belmont Harbor and other areas around the drive. You can see before-and-after renderings of those proposals below.

Update, 2:30 p.m.—Some reaction is coming in to the idea floated by the transit planners, most of it positive.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, said in an email that, aesthetically, “The conceptual plan is beautiful. The proposed open space and new pedestrian and bike paths would be a major enhancement to our lakefront . . . this is an incredibly rare opportunity for any city—to be able to build a massive swath of new parks and beachfront while also improving a long-neglected arterial highway.”

Reilly also praised the plan’s proposal to somewhat straighten out the “Oak Street Curve” that slows traffic and causes some accidents, but underlined the obvious question: How much will it cost, and where will the money come from? “Pardon the pun, but the project budget really is where the rubber meets the road for this proposal.”

Also laudatory is the Metropolitan Planning Council.

“The proposed alternatives for Lake Shore Drive show that the city is thinking big,” Audrey Wennink, the group’s transportation director, said in a statement. “Lake Michigan is our city’s crown jewel, and this project will transform how people relate to the waterfront on the North Side. Therefore, it is critical that the plan chosen prioritize connections between neighborhoods and the lakefront, increase green space and improve transit, biking and walking.”

Somewhat more guarded was Environmental Law & Policy Center chief Howard Learner.

Adding more parkland is a no-brainer for the crowded North Side, he said. But Learner would like to see more transit and less road in the design. “The goal here should be a parkway through the park, not a highway next to the lake.”

READ MORE

Crain’s Chicago Business: House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

By Greg Hinz

With a big assist from a bipartisan pair of lawmakers from Ohio, it looks like plans by the Trump administration to slash funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are on the way to being derailed.

As previously reported, Trump proposed cutting the program—which pays for everything from sewage treatment plants in Milwaukee and water-permeable concrete in Uptown to electronic barriers to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan—a whopping 97 percent. Trump aides said that and other kinds of spending have to go to make room for tax cuts to stimulate the economy.

​ But yesterday, GOP Rep. David Joyce and Democratic colleague Marie Kaptur, both from the Toledo area, convinced the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies to include the normal $300 million in the pending fiscal 2018 federal budget.

The action is only “a first step,” said Howard Learner, head of the Environmental Law & Policy Center here. But the full appropriations committee likely will go along with the subcommittee, and traditionally so does the full House. It’s worth noting that House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin comes from a lakefront district.

READ MORE

 

PRESS RELEASE: ELPC Commends U.S. House Committee’s Action to Fully Fund Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                          Contact: Judith Nemes                                                                                                                                                       ELPC Commends U.S. House Committee’s Action to Fully Fund Great Lakes Restoration Initiative 

 STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the U.S. House Appropriations Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee acting to fully fund the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the FY 2018 Environmental Protection Agency’s budget:

“This is a big first step forward for protecting the Great Lakes and achieving full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee rejected President Trump’s zeroing out FY 2018 budget funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  With bipartisan support, the Committee restored the full $300 million of funding for the sensible and successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

“Since GLRI was launched in 2010, it has provided vital funding to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world. GLRI projects also protect safe clean drinking water for 42 million people and support a $62 billion economy based on fishing, boating, and recreational activities.  That’s great value for all of us who live, work and play in and around the Great Lakes.

“Members of Congress across the Midwest heard loud and clear from their constituents that the Trump Administration’s completely eliminating GLRI funding in the FY 2018 is a bad idea.  We especially thank Representatives David Joyce (R-OH) and Marci Kaptur (D-OH) for their leadership in supporting the $300 million of appropriations for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative programs.

“Unfortunately, the House Subcommittee also carries out the Trump Administration’s harsh EPA budget cuts that will compromise the EPA’s ability to advance healthier clean air and protect safe, clean drinking water protections that are vitally important to our health.   The American people deserve better protection than that for our core clean air and clean water values.”

###

 

 

ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now