ELPC Statement on Proposed Rollback of Fuel Economy Standards


March 15, 2017


Judith Nemes

David Jakubiak

Trump Administration’s Rollback of Fuel Economy Standards Is Misguided

Rolling back common sense fuel efficiency standards will cost people more at the gas pump, increase pollution, and reduce America’s technological innovation leadership and global competitiveness


Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to President Trump’s announcement that his administration will reverse the schedule in place for U.S. automakers to adopt improved fuel economy and pollution reduction standards by 2025:

“The misguided rollback of the CAFE fuel economy standards moves America in the wrong direction. The Trump rollback will force consumers to pump gas more often, result in more pollution that harms public health, and weaken American technological innovation leadership and competitiveness. The U.S. will import more foreign oil, which weakens our national security.”

“The Phase 2 CAFE fuel efficiency standards drive automakers to accelerate technological innovation and supports American manufacturing jobs. This is smart, common sense policy that has been adopted after many technical studies and input from a wide range of stakeholders. The United States should not voluntarily cede our technology innovation leadership to Asian and European automakers.”


Chicago Tribune: ELPC Helps Make Going Green Matters Fair a Big Hit

Art, Environment and a Giant Globe Draw Hundreds to 2017 Going Green Matters Fair
March 13, 2017
By Kathy Routliffe

More than a thousand people visited, volunteered, exhibited and otherwise experienced the 2017 Going Green Matters environmental fair on Sunday, undeterred by cold weather and lured by the possibility of seeing their world from the inside, a fair organizer said Monday.

Many of the 1,200 people who came through the doors of the Michigan Shores Club as participants or visitors included families with children, said Beth Drucker, president of the Go Green Wilmette environmental advocacy group.

“We had a lot of participation and it seems like we had more families come out this year,” Drucker said.

Go Green Wilmette and the Village of Wilmette presented the fair for the eleventh year.

One of the big draws was the GeoSphere, brought in by the Geographic Society of Chicago, she said. The sphere is a 20-foot-tall walk-in globe used as an educational tool by the society, “and it was really popular. There were another 15 to 22 people going in for the tour, every 15 minutes, for four solid hours,” she said.

The “Environmental Graphiti” exhibit by Chicago-based artist Alisa Singer was also popular, Drucker said. The 12-piece show combines art and environmental data to illustrate environmental issues in a new way, Go Green Wilmette vice-president Margaret Martin-Heaton said earlier this month.

“The exhibit was awesome,” Drucker said. “I wish we could have had all 50 of her pieces on display, instead of the 12 we had.”

Drucker lauded sponsors who provided donations and in-kind help to power the fair: “A critical part of what we present is that you don’t have to pay to get in. We absolutely couldn’t do it without sponsors.”

She also praised dozens of exhibitors, including students from New Trier Township High School District, Central School in Wilmette and Oakton Community College. Area businesses, organizations such as the village, Wilmette Park District, the Wilmette Public Library, and community church, garden and Boy Scout groups also set up displays at Michigan Shores, according to the Going Green Matters website.

The fair also showcased exhibits from groups such as the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy of Illinois, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, and the Illinois Environmental Council, Drucker said.

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Chicago Sun Times: ELPC’s Jessica Dexter Says Swimming in the Chicago River May Come Sooner Than Later

Swimming the Chicago River: Coming Much Sooner Rather than Later
March 10, 2017
By Dale Bowman

As Capt. Pat Harrison launched on the Sanitary and Ship Canal in September, he said, “Whenever I played by the river, my mother would say, `Whatever you do, don’t touch the water, you will get polio,’ It blows my mind to catch fish where my mother said not to touch the water.”

That’s primary contact.

Decades ago, Harrison swam off the abutment by the “Jackknife Bridge,” just downstream of the Daley Launch.

I grew up swimming creeks where Holstein cows were pooping. Who am I to wonder why people want to swim in the Chicago River?

With curiosity as much as anything on Thursday, I attended the 2017 Chicago River Summit, “Swimming the Distance: How Do We Get from Here to There?’’ put on by Friends of the Chicago River at MillerCoors on the east side of the South Branch at Jackson.

I expected the pipe dream of do-gooders. It was much more. Public swimming in the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) will be here. Very soon.

“It turned from an `if’ to a `how-and-now’ conversation,’’ said Richard Wilson, city design director, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, during the closing panel.

That’s key: Swimming is here for CAWS.

The holdup isn’t water quality, but the mechanics of swimming an urban waterway and public perception.

On mechanics, Jessica Dexter, attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, began her presentation, “When I started a decade ago, giving a talk on swimming would have gotten me laughed out of the room. Swimming does not seem so far-fetched anymore.’’

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ELPC Statement on Proposed U.S. EPA Budget

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                     

February 28, 2017

Contact: Judith Nemes 

Trump’s Proposed U.S. EPA Drastic Budget Cuts Put Great Lakes, Safe Drinking Water, Public Health At Risk

Reckless Funding Cuts for Protecting Clean Water and Clean Air Will Hurt Midwest Communities


Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the White House’s proposal to slash U.S. EPA funding for vital clean water and clean air programs:

“The Trump Administration’s drastic cuts to the U.S. EPA’s budget would weaken vital protections for healthy clean air and safe drinking water that all Americans care about.  Americans rely on the U.S. EPA to help protect them from dangerous air pollution and unsafe drinking water, but President Trump’s drastic budget cuts impede necessary protections for core environmental and health values and responsibilities.”

“EPA’s clean water grants to state and local agencies help prevent water pollution problems and protect clean, safe drinking water for all.  EPA’s work to protect healthy clean air is vital to reducing asthma and respiratory problems that harm both at-risk elderly and young people.  EPA’s work to reduce mercury pollution is vital to protect children’s health and make it safe to eat the fish we catch in the Great Lakes and inland lakes and rivers.”

WBEZ’s Reveal: ELPC’s Handheld Air Monitor & Intern Eve Robinson Featured in Diesel Pollution & Schools Special Report

WBEZ 91.5 Chicago Public Radio
Reveal Show: School Haze
February 18, 2017

Across the country, thousands of public schools are within 500 feet of pollution-choked roads like highways and truck routes. On Reveal, we investigate the high levels of exhaust surrounding U.S. schools and how the bad air is affecting the millions of children who are breathing it in.



The State Journal-Register: Learner Says ELPC will Stand Up for Citizens’ Rights to Clean Air and Water

State_Journal-Register_logoEnvironmentalists Preparing to Battle Trump, GOP in Court
January 29, 2017
By Tammy Webber and John Flesher

CHICAGO – The night before Donald Trump’s inauguration, five environmental lawyers filed a federal court brief defending an Obama administration clean-water rule that the new president and his Republican allies have targeted for elimination, considering it burdensome to landowners.

The move served as a warning that environmentalists, facing a hostile administration and a Republican-dominated Congress, are prepared to battle in court against what they fear will be a wave of unfavorable policies concerning climate change, wildlife protection, federal lands and pollution.

Advocacy groups nationwide are hiring more staff lawyers. They’re coordinating with private attorneys and firms that have volunteered to help. They’re reviewing statutes, setting priorities and seeking donations.

“It’s going to be all-out war,” said Vermont Law School Professor Patrick Parenteau. “If you’re an environmentalist or conservationist, this is indeed a scary time.”

Trump’s first week in office only heightened their anxieties. He moved to resume construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines that the Obama administration had halted, while signaling intentions to abandon his predecessor’s fight against global warming, vastly expand oil and gas drilling on public lands and slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, introduced measures to overturn a new Interior Department rule barring coal mining companies from damaging streams and to remove some wolves from the endangered species list.

“They’ve wasted no time in doing bad things,” said Pat Gallagher, director of the Sierra Club’s 50-member legal team, which he said is likely to grow as environmentalists increasingly regard the courts as their best option, even though success there is far from certain.

The Department of Justice, which represents the federal government in environmental lawsuits, declined to comment, while the White House did not respond to emails seeking comment. Doug Ericksen, communications director for Trump’s transition team at EPA, said of the environmentalists that he’s “not sure what they think they’re preparing for” but suspects they are stoking fear of Trump as a fundraising tool.

“They’re more concerned about raising money than protecting the environment,” Ericksen said.

Jim Burling, litigation director for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit property rights group that sues regulators on behalf of businesses and landowners, also contended environmental groups were exaggerating the Trump administration’s threat for political and financial gain.

The government bureaucracy is entrenched, Burling said, and, “who happens to occupy the White House hasn’t made that much difference.”

Environmentalists say their fears are justified by the new administration’s antagonism toward government’s role in keeping air and water clean and the planet from overheating.

Donations began increasing after Trump’s election, “even before the fundraising letters were sent” asking for support to fight the administration’s actions, said David Goldston, government affairs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Earthjustice, which has represented the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in its fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, has about 100 staff attorneys and plans to bring more aboard, said Tim Preso, who manages the group’s Northern Rockies office.

The Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center is adding four attorneys to its pre-election staff of 18 and is coordinating with more than a dozen outside attorneys who would file citizen suits against polluters for free if agencies fail to enforce existing rules, said Executive Director Howard Learner.

“We cannot fully substitute and replace the EPA doing its job,” Learner said. “But on the other hand, we’re not going to default to zero if the EPA steps backward when it comes to clean air and clean water enforcement.”

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Chicago Tonight: ELPC & Allies Reach Settlement with MWRD to Reduce Algae Pollution in Chicago River

Chicago TonightMWRD Deal Aims to Reduce Algae Pollution in Chicago River
January 25, 2017
By Alex Ruppenthal

The decades long fight to clean up the Chicago River took a step forward last week with the resolution of two lawsuits targeting phosphorous discharge that has polluted waters from Chicago to the Gulf of Mexico.

On Jan. 19, members of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago’s Board of Commissioners voted to increase pollution controls and monitoring at its largest wastewater plants by 2030. The plan is part of an agreement between MWRD and several environmental organizations that resolves litigation over pollution at three of MWRD’s Chicago-area sewage plants.

“Our local waters have been a poster child for the national problem of phosphorus pollution, but now we have a chance to be a model for the solution,” said Ann Alexander, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of six plaintiff organizations in the lawsuits.

“If you can fix this in a waterway with a reputation like the Chicago River, it means you can clean up any river.”

In exchange for a dismissal of one lawsuit, MWRD also agreed to pay more than $1.7 million in attorneys’ fees.

“I want to commend our staff and our outside counsel for bringing this forward,” said MWRD Commissioner Debra Shore at the board’s Jan. 19 meeting. “I want to thank the conservation community for their assertive advocacy, for their really pushing the district to get to this point where I think we will benefit the Chicago area waterways. We’ve come a long way with disinfection and with bringing the reservoirs online so that water quality is better, but this will bring us even further. So it’s a big day.”

Despite investments in clean water infrastructure, the Chicago River system has remained polluted by excess amounts of phosphorous and other nutrients from wastewater plants.

Phosphorous discharges at the plants cause overgrowth of algae, producing toxins that can be dangerous to people and animals, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pollution from the plants wind up in Chicago’s waters and in downstream waters, like the Des Plaines River, Illinois River and, eventually, the Gulf of Mexico, according to the website of Prairie Rivers Network, one the plaintiff groups.

In response to two pending lawsuits – one in U.S. District Court and one before the Illinois Pollution Control Board – MWRD agreed to work with environmental groups to reduce phosphorous discharge from its plants.

MWRD will upgrade pollution controls and conduct water quality monitoring. It also agreed to hire scientists and engineers to study the Chicago River system and present a plan to eliminate harmful algal and plant issues.

The study will also determine the feasibility of MWRD reducing its phosphorous discharge limit by 10 times, a move that would fall in line with more stringent limits in other parts of the U.S.

“Our members love to paddle on our local waterways, but the disgusting, smelly algae that blooms every summer can really get in the way of their enjoyment,” said Kim Knowles, staff attorney with Prairie Rivers Network, in a press release. “We’re glad to finally be headed toward a long-term solution.”

Other plaintiff organizations were the Sierra Club, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Gulf Restoration Network and Friends of the Chicago River. One suit alleged that MWRD had violated provisions of the Clean Water Act; the other suit appealed permits issued to MWRD by the Illinois EPA in 2013.

“This settlement signals a positive change toward improving the way permits are written to protect Illinois waters,” said Jessica Dexter, staff Attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, in a press release. “We expect other dischargers to follow suit and be part of the long-term solution to rid algae overgrowth from our waterways.”

Read the article here

Chicago Tribune: Innovative Ideas for Chicago’s Pedway Emerge from ELPC-sponsored Workshops

Chicago Tribune
January 21, 2017

… Ideas Floated for Pedway

By Blair Kamin

Live performances in the mothballed CTA superstation below Block 37. Temporary food carts. Art displays. Shafts of natural light. Touches of greenery. Visible security patrols.

Those were among ideas that nearly 100 people recently floated at three workshops aimed at making downtown Chicago’s confusing and visually dreary network of underground tunnels and corridors easier to navigate and more attractive.

The network, called the pedway, connects more than 50 buildings and is used by thousands of people on weekdays, particularly during extreme and inclement weather. No one thinks it’s perfect, the workshops revealed, but the sessions also aired different, though not necessarily irreconcilable, goals on how to make the pedway better.

“Maybe there’s a tension between form and function,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, the nonprofit that sponsored the workshops. “There are some who are saying, ‘It needs to be made cleaner, better lit, better maintained, just an easier way to get around.’ There are others who say, ‘This can be made more exciting.'”

Individual building owners — including the city, state and county — operate sections of the pedway, which has grown piecemeal since its first sections opened in 1951. Yet inconsistencies in everything from operating hours to temperature levels frustrate users of the system. City transportation officials are backing efforts to upgrade the network, starting with a key stretch beneath Randolph Street that was the focus of the workshops.

The top priorities that emerged from the sessions, Learner said, are better signs and maps that will improve navigation, common hours and operating policies that will unify the pedway, and new activities that will make the network exciting, engaging, even hip, like underground networks in Montreal and Atlanta.

To do all that, the nonprofit will need to build a constituency of public officials and private businesses that will support the effort — and, in all likelihood, pay for it.

The next step calls for a team of design consultants to lead open workshops Monday through Friday at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. The team is composed of Billings Jackson Design of Chicago, which specializes in “wayfinding” systems; British engineers BuroHappold; and New York’s Davis Brody Bond architects.

“Part of what they’re going to do is put a lot of stuff upon the wall and they’ll incorporate the conceptual (ideas) that people have raised” at the workshops, Learner said. Key players, from officials in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office to executives at Macy’s State Street store, which has a connection to the pedway, will be invited in to comment. So will members of the public.


EnergyWire: ELPC’s Learner Expresses Commitment to Advance Clean Energy Standards

EnergyWireIn Midwest, a Vow to Continue Clean Energy Push Under Trump
January 23, 2017
By Jeffrey Tomich

Across the Midwest, clean energy advocates will go to work today like they would on any other Monday.

They’ll engage with legislators, regulators and utilities on policies to advance wind, solar and energy efficiency and curtail emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants that affect the environment and public health.

Moving forward, of course, there is one obvious change. While green groups generally had backing from the White House over the last eight years, they now face a brisk headwind with Friday’s inauguration of President Trump.

Within minutes of taking the oath of office, the incoming administration scrubbed references to climate change from the White House web site and posted an energy policy summary that outlined plans to eliminate “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.”

Clean energy advocates across the Midwest said the reversal in policy at the executive branch cannot overcome trends that are increasingly steering utilities away from coal and to cleaner sources of energy.

Solar panels are a fraction of their cost only a few years ago. Utilities and corporations are continuing to add thousands of megawatts of new wind generation across the Midwest. Energy demand is declining, or at least flat-lining even as local economies grow. And emissions are falling and aging coal plants are retiring.

“There’s a market transformation that’s going on that’s being driven by smart policies combined with technological improvements,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Midwest environmental advocacy group.

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WGN Radio: Learner Talks Environmental Policy Under Trump Administration

wgnradiowlogo-wideWhat Can We Expect from President Donald Trump’s Environmental Policy?
January 19, 2017
With Justin Kaufmann

Howard Learner, President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center joins Justin to talk about Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Rick Perry, Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Energy and what we can expect from President Trump’s environmental policy moving forward.

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