Illinois

Crain’s Chicago Business: The secret Illiana report

The stonewalling continues on my report yesterday that the Quinn administration commissioned—but never disclosed—a report that undermined its claims that the proposed Illiana Expressway was financially viable.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation now confirms that Fitch Ratings was retained by the state to review Illiana finances last year and concluded that the plan “could not receive an investment grade rating.” The spokesman also again said that the analysis was “provided verbally” to IDOT and its financial advisers.

But that’s about all he’s saying.

Who got the verbal report? No answer.

How long was it? Were there any supporting documents? No answer.

That, says state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, is “outrageous.”

“I told IDOT I want it in writing,” Franks continued in an email. “No one would pay $112,000 for an oral report in the real world. Only in government apparently.”

Amen. But IDOT adds that it continues to review its financial options.

 

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Crain’s Chicago Business: Secret state study dinged Illiana finances

As Gov. Bruce Rauner considers whether to finally kill off the proposed Illiana expressway,this is a question he might want to get answered:

Why did ex-Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration, amid an all-out rush to stampede the controversial roadway through to final approval last year, commission a secret, $112,000 study of whether Illiana finances would be solid enough to quality for a big federal construction loan?

And why was that study, which apparently came back negative, never released—even now, with everybody in Springfield who knows passing the buck to someone else?

It’s a pretty sad story about the drive that would leave Illinois taxpayers liable for paying maybe $1 billion in subsidies.

Here’s what I’ve found out:

In late 2013, facing a bitter re-election campaign, Team Quinn went into overdrive to win approval of the Illiana, which would run between Interstate 55 in Illinois and Interstate 65 in Indiana. The road had its defenders, who argued it would provide a big boost to the booming warehouse industry in the south and southwest suburbs, but others considered it a boondoggle designed to get votes and political support.

In fall 2013, the staff of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, this region’s official gatekeeper for federal transportation cash, concluded that the road, which is supposed to be a public-private partnership, never would pay for itself. That would leave Illinois taxpayers on the hook in a major way.

But Quinn’s Department of Transportation strongly disputed that, saying in part that the project would qualify for a big, low-cost federal loan under the U.S. Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

CMAP’s board wasn’t swayed and opposed approving the road. But it was overruled by its policy committee, which greenlighted the project in October 2013.

Under CMAP rules, the project had to be approved again last year and it again was, after another big fight. The feds gave the road final environmental approval in September 2014.

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Chicago Sun-Times: Illinois congressmen call for full funding of mass transit, passenger rail

Illinois congressmen called for full funding for mass transit and passenger rail in a letter to a transportation subcommittee Monday.

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, a Democrat and the only member of the Illinois delegation on the House Appropriations Committee, led the letter to the subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development, according to a press release from his office.

“Today in Chicago, transit and rail as a whole generate an estimated $12 billion in annual economic benefits and 120,000 jobs to the region,” Quigley wrote. “Without robust federal funding of transit and passenger rail, Illinois transportation systems will be subject to deteriorating roadbeds and equipment, bad on-time performance, increased traffic congestion, and loss of ridership and American jobs.”

The Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Blue Green Alliance released a report earlier this year outlining the economic benefits of increased investment in transit and passenger rail to Illinois, as well as to the entire United States, according to Quigley’s office.

Rep. Mike Quigley Cites ELPC Report in Push for Full Rail and Transit Funding

Re-posted from http://quigley.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/quigley-leads-call-for-full-funding-of-transit-passenger-rail

Quigley Leads Call for Full Funding of Transit & Passenger Rail

Mar 23, 2015 Press Release
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05), member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD), led a bipartisan letter to the THUD Subcommittee with 10 members of the Illinois House delegation urging full funding for mass transit and passenger rail in next year’s THUD budget.

In the letter to THUD Subcommittee Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25) and Ranking Member David Price (NC-04), Rep. Quigley wrote: “Today in Chicago, transit and rail as a whole generate an estimated $12 billion in annual economic benefits and 120,000 jobs to the region.” He continued, “Without robust federal funding of transit and passenger rail, Illinois transportation systems will be subject to deteriorating roadbeds and equipment, bad on-time performance, increased traffic congestion, and loss of ridership and American jobs. I urge my colleagues on the THUD Subcommittee to fully fund the Amtrak and Intercity Rail Capital Assistance Programs in FY2016, improving access to public transit and passenger rail not only in Illinois but in communities throughout the nation.”

Rep. Quigley was joined by Reps. Bustos, Davis, Dold, Duckworth, Foster, Gutierrez, Kelly, Lipinski, Rush, and Schakowsky.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Blue Green Alliance released a report earlier this year, Passenger Rail & Transit Rail Manufacturing in the U.S., outlining the economic benefits of increased investment in transit and passenger rail to Illinois, as well as the entire United States.

“Investing in modern passenger rail improves mobility, creates Midwest manufacturing jobs, reduces pollution and pulls together the regional economy,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “We commend this bipartisan group of Illinois legislators for their commitment in working to advance better passenger rail in the nation’s transportation crossroads. ELPC’s recent Passenger Rail & Transit Rail Manufacturing in the U.S. report shows the strong economic value for all.”

As Illinois’ only member on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Quigley has pushed for a long-term surface transportation bill and prioritized Chicago-area infrastructure investments as a member of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD). Most recently, Rep. Quigley lead the effort to reauthorize the Railroad Safety Technology Grants Program, which provides critical funding for train control technologies and other new rail safety items. He fought for increased funding for the TIGER grant program to benefit both highways and pedestrian projects. Rep. Quigley helped secure $35 million in Core Capacity grants to benefit CTA and set aside $60 million in the FY14 omnibus available for Metra to implement safety improvements.

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Chicago Tribune: ComEd’s plan to boost smart grid would hit customers’ wallets, critics say

Commonwealth Edison on Thursday unveiled a plan that it billed as an expansion of ongoing efforts to overhaul the power grid and invest in renewable energy but that critics said would result in customers paying more to the electricity giant.

The proposal joins at least two other high-profile energy bills lawmakers are weighing this spring. One focuses on increasing use of wind, water and solar power, while another backed by ComEd parent company Exelon would charge customers more to prop up what the corporation says are three struggling nuclear plants.

According to ComEd, the latest measure is an attempt to build on the so-called “smart grid” legislators approved in 2011 to pump billions of dollars into an overhaul of the state’s aging electricity system. A key provision would change how residential customers are charged for service. Instead of billing them for how much electricity they use, ComEd would charge customers based on a time frame when usage was highest.

ComEd was vague about the expected impact on residential customers’ power bills. ComEd Senior Vice President Thomas O’Neill said the company was still evaluating its plan.

Opponents decried the move as an effort by the utility to set into law a major change in rate structures. They argue ComEd is trying to protect its bottom line by billing at peak usage times because households are increasingly becoming more energy-efficient.

Now, consumers can cut their energy bills by switching to more efficient light bulbs or buying more efficient appliances. Those investments pay off over time when consumers use less energy and bills decrease.

With a “demand-based” rate structure, as ComEd calls it, a smaller portion of the consumer’s bill would be affected by daily energy usage, creating less incentive for investments in energy efficiency, critics said.

“They’re putting this forward because they perceive a risk on their part of not recovering their revenues because people are investing more in energy efficiency,” said Rebecca Stanfield, deputy director of Midwest policy for the National Resources Defense Council, which backs the competing clean energy legislation.

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Crain’s Chicago Business: ComEd adds heat to already-boiling Illinois energy politics

As energy politics heat up in Illinois, Commonwealth Edison is throwing some more logs on the fire.

The utility is backing legislation being introduced today in Springfield that effectively is a response to the clean-jobs bill backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a coalition of environmental, consumer and labor groups, along with renewable power developers and energy-efficiency firms.

ComEd’s 11th-hour bill, coming as the spring session is well underway, also could be intended to build more support for a bill pushed by ComEd parent Exelon to raise electricity rates throughout much of the state in order to increase revenue at Exelon’s six Illinois nuclear plants.

Environmentalists and others have positioned the clean-jobs bill, which would boost state goals for renewable energy and more efficient use of electricity and create what its proponents say would be tens of thousands of new jobs, as an alternative to Exelon’s bill. Somewhat surprisingly, given that Exelon is one of Illinois’ most politically potent corporations, the clean-jobs coalition has won more support thus far in terms of co-sponsors than Exelon. Exelon’s bill would funnel most of the $300 million in additional ratepayer payments to Exelon’s plants, preserving the jobs that already exist there.

Exelon has threatened to shutter as many as three of its six Illinois power stations if it can’t get state financial help.

ComEd’s bill, to be introduced by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, and Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, is designed to foster growth in clean energy like solar power for households and micro-grids providing greater reliability and resiliency to sensitive facilities like the Federal Aviation Administration’s air-traffic control center in Aurora.

ComEd also proposes a $100 million program to build 5,000 Chicago-area charging stations to increase demand for electric vehicles.

BOTTOM-LINE BOOST

The bill would increase ComEd’s bottom line in the future as decreased customer demand for power hits its revenue by permitting the utility to profit on its state-authorized energy efficiency program. Currently, ComEd only charges ratepayers to reimburse it for its costs in running the program.

But the trade-off, ComEd says, is that it would achieve the 2 percent reduction in power usage called for in an earlier state law by more efficiently controlling voltage on ComEd’s power lines, so that less excess electricity is lost before reaching customers’ homes and businesses.

In addition, the bill would overhaul how ComEd’s power-delivery rates are set. Currently, customers pay delivery rates mainly based on how much power they consume in a month. Beginning in 2018, they would pay based on how much electricity they consume during the highest-demand days of the year. Some customers would benefit and some would pay more under the new system. ComEd hasn’t yet determined how it would affect individual types of households.

But it would help ComEd by making its cash flow more predictable, executives said.

It also might help customers take better advantage of the smart meters ComEd is installing in their homes. Those meters, which give the utility remote access to customers’ actual usage on a real-time basis, have the potential to foster new efficiency programs in ways where households can see savings from changes in usage.

The bill, ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore told reporters, “is designed to deliver the next wave of value from that (smart grid) system.”

And all of this comes at no additional cost on a net basis to customers over the 10 years the new program would be in place, ComEd said. The utility says it would see a negligible $20 million in additional revenue over that 10-year period if the bill becomes law.

CRITICS WEIGH IN

One environmental group immediately blasted ComEd’s proposal as a pale imitation of the clean-jobs bill.

“Unfortunately, Exelon’s and ComEd’s legislative proposals would raise utility bills for most consumers, create barriers to competition and constrain energy efficiency and diverse solar energy development for the future,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, in a statement. “ComEd’s legislative proposal forecloses flexibility that Illinois needs to transition to a cleaner energy future and locks out competitors.”

Other members of the clean-jobs coalition were more open to some of ComEd’s ideas.

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Statement: Latest Proposal Undercuts Competitive Markets, Leaves State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Broken

Illinois Clean Jobs Bill Remains Sole Option to Drive Wind Power and Solar Energy, Stimulate Needed Job Growth

 

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER
Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

“Illinois consumers are poised to gain the job creation, environmental quality and economic benefits of competing new clean energy technologies and suppliers.

“Unfortunately, Exelon’s and ComEd’s legislative proposals would raise utility bills for most consumers, create barriers to competition, and constrain energy efficiency and diverse solar energy development for the future. ComEd’s legislative proposal forecloses flexibility that Illinois needs to transition to a cleaner energy future and locks out competitors.”

“The Illinois Clean Jobs Bill brings Illinois into a more positive energy future.  Illinois policymakers should move forward promoting new innovative technologies, instead of Exelon’s and ComEd’s old monopoly approach that raises consumer’s electricity bills and imposes regulatory barriers that create more problems than positive solutions.”

Press Release: Illinois Medical District Commission Adopts Clean Construction Standards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 18, 2015

Illinois Medical District Commission Adopts Clean Construction Standards Measure to Protect Public Health, Advance Cleaner Air

CHICAGO – The Illinois Medical District Commission (IMDC) has adopted a resolution directing the Commission to take steps towards reducing harmful diesel emissions from construction equipment involved in major building projects facility within the district’s boundaries.

“This is an important step forward for clean air and public health in Chicago. As a leader in patient care, we understand that cutting pollution near the nation’s largest urban medical district will protect our employees, our patients and all of the families living near our community,” said Jennifer Woodard, President of the Illinois Medical District Commission. “The air we breathe is a key to our health.”

Soot laden diesel engine exhaust includes more than 40 air toxics and poses three times the lung cancer risks of all other EPA-regulated air toxics combined. According to a Clean Air Task Force risk analysis, this exhaust contains tiny particles, known as fine particulate matter, that contribute to 21,000 premature deaths each year across the nation.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than 20 percent of Chicago middle school and nearly 22 percent of high school students have been diagnosed with asthma. This measure is aimed at helping improve air quality by reducing diesel pollution exposure. Modern pollution controls on newer diesel engines can also be added to older engines, which reduce the fine particulate and other dangerous emissions by more than 90 percent.

“The Illinois Medical District’s cleaner construction for cleaner air commitment helps improve public health in ways that make good sense,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Diesel and other particulate pollution exacerbate harmful asthma rates across Chicago. By taking steps to reduce the diesel pollution that comes from construction, the Illinois Medical District Campus is advancing state of the art medical facilities, while improving air quality that helps public health in the Chicago community. This is an important step in the right direction that can be replicated in other construction projects across Chicago.”

The Illinois Medical District (IMD) is the largest urban medical district in the country, with the most diverse patient population. The IMD receives more than 50,000 daily visitors, nearly 30,000 employees and is home to more than 2,200 hospital beds.

“Diesel pollution triggers asthma attacks, is linked to lung cancer deaths, and drives up health care costs families shouldn’t have to endure. Yet affordable solutions can nearly eliminate this pollution problem. Today’s announcement shows that with innovative health industry partnerships, we can cut pollution and improve public health across our city,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association.

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Champaign News-Gazette Editorial: Pull plug on the Illiana

Illinois’ habit of playing with fire involving its finances has to end.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has put a hold on many state spending programs because of the lack of funds. But there’s one project that he ought to kill outright — the proposed Illiana Expressway in Will County.

Most people have never heard of the Illiana, and that’s too bad. The more people who know about it, the more people there would be who would oppose it.

The Illiana is a proposed 47-mile toll road that would, according to current plans, run east from Interstate 55 near Wilmington, cross I-57 near Peotone into Indiana and connect with I-65 near Lowell. It would cost an estimated $1.3 billion and take up to four years to complete.

Illiana proponents say it would ease traffic congestion 15 miles north, at the intersection of I-80 and I-57. Theoretically, motorists would use the Illiana if they had an alternative option.

There are multiple problems with the Illiana, the most serious of which is that Illinois has severe financial problems that will only be exacerbated if this project goes forward.

Illinois already has an infrastructure inventory that it can’t maintain. A series of high-ranking state officials are seeking a gas-tax increase to meet that demand. To divert tax dollars to the building of a new road — even a toll road — would leave fewer resources to address current demands.

The Illiana has come close to passing the General Assembly in the past. For reasons known only to him, former Gov. Pat Quinn supported its construction, perhaps to win votes and financial backing from the labor union members drooling over the prospects of all the construction jobs it would create. In addition to organized labor, Joliet business interests want the cash injection into the local economy.

Gov. Rauner has been lukewarm to the idea while not ruling it out. It appeared to some that he signaled opposition when he appointed Randy Blankenhorn as the new secretary of the Transportation Department.

Blankenhorn, whose nomination has not yet been confirmed, was the head of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning when the agency’s professional staff estimated building the Illiana could cost taxpayers “from $440 million to potentially over $1 billion.”

The cost issue is directly related to the real issue — demand.

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