Illinois

Great Lakes Now: ELPC’s Learner Tells US Army Corps to Stop Fiddling, Act Fast on Asian Carp Report

Pace of Asian Carp Plan “taking far too long”
Michigan Senators Critical of Timetable

by Gary Wilson

The debate about how to stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes hit another milestone last week as the Army Corps of Engineers’ extended comment period on a potential solution came to a close.

The controversy is now in its second decade.

The opportunity to comment was expanded to accommodate a previously unscheduled session in New Orleans. The extension angered Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters who say the “process is taking far too long.”

The Corps has been seeking public input on its plan, known as the Brandon Road Lock study, since September. If implemented, the plan would provide a suite of options to keep carp out of the Great Lakes.

in a letter to the Corps, Stabenow and Peters questioned why the New Orleans meeting wasn’t scheduled earlier.

The Brandon Road Lock, 50 miles from Lake Michigan, near Joliet, Illinois, is thought to be a choke point for stopping Asian carp.

But the final Army Corps report isn’t due until August of 2019, and Stabenow and Peters want that date moved up by eight months to January.

The senators expressed frustration that the Trump administration had delayed release of the report early in 2017.

Illinois Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti called for the report to be delayed in a column published in the Chicago Tribune in early 2017. Shipping interests in Illinois have lobbied against the Army Corps plan.

In their letter, Stabenow and Peters also questioned the Corps’ economic analysis of the impact of Asian carp on the Great Lakes.

“The (Army Corps) should not ignore the impact of Asian carp on several important industries – including recreation and tourism – or the economic impacts to the other Great Lakes besides Lake Erie,” the senators wrote.

Lake Erie’s fishery is the largest in the Great Lakes and thought to be the most vulnerable to an Asian carp invasion.

In a similar letter to the Army Corps, 28 members of the U.S. House from the Great Lakes region called for the original project timeline to be followed.

“Fiddling”

Input from environmental groups followed previously held positions but also sought to spotlight economic impacts.

Howard Learner said in a statement released to Great Lakes Now that the Army Corps’ proposals are a “starter.”

But Learner said they are “short of what’s needed to avoid the economic and ecological disaster if our public officials don’t prevent Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes.”

He accused the Corps of “fiddling,” which would lead to additional delays.

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Howard’s Crain’s Chicago Op-Ed: Chicago Can Lead the Climate Change Fight

December 08, 2017

OPINION

4 Ways Chicago Can Lead the Climate Change Fight

By: HOWARD A. LEARNER

President Donald Trump has walked away from climate change reality. But, fortunately for all of us, American cities like Chicago are stepping up. The recent North American Climate Summit here brought together 50-plus mayors to sign the Chicago Climate Charter, committing to take initiatives to help meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s pollution reduction goals.

As former President Barack Obama said at the event, cities, states, businesses and nonprofits have emerged as the new face of American leadership on climate change. Chicago’s climate action plan calls for reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and new clean technologies provide even more opportunities for progress.

But the hard and most important work comes next: transforming these declarations and sincere aspirations into real actions that reduce carbon pollution in ways that achieve environmental and economic development together. Sooner, not later.

At the summit, Chicago shined brightly under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s leadership. Here are four ways that Chicago can advance its leadership and transform its public commitments into meaningful and measurable climate actions that benefit all Chicagoans, join with other large cities and set a model for small and midsize cities to replicate.

First, the city of Chicago should procure 100 percent renewable energy for municipal electricity needs by 2022, not wait until 2025. The Midwest has abundant wind power, and solar energy and energy storage capacity is accelerating as prices fall while technologies improve. Chicago and other Illinois cities can work together on coordinated purchases from new Illinois clean renewable projects. Both our environment and Illinois’ 450-plus clean energy supply chain businesses should benefit.

Second, clean up municipal fleets. All new purchases should be electric vehicles except in special cases. Our nation’s transportation sector now produces more carbon pollution than the electric power sector. Cities can create demand to drive the EV market forward while reducing pollution. EVs have fewer moving parts and lower operating maintenance costs than internal combustion engine vehicles. Using wind and solar energy to power EV charging stations accelerates a cleaner transportation system. Chicago and 29 other cities are exploring joint EV procurement. Let’s clean up CTA buses and Illinois school buses, too. Chicago’s on the path—do it now.

Third, use cleaner fuels for existing diesel trucks and buses. At the summit, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee touted how the city and county fleets have switched to renewable biodiesel fuel to reduce carbon pollution. Cleaner fuels warrant a serious look here. Let’s tap the expertise of Chicago’s universities, national labs and engineering firms. These are big pollution savings opportunities for Chicago and other Midwest cities.

Fourth, energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest climate change solution. The Retrofit Chicago program, which focuses on improving buildings’ efficiency, won a C40 Cities Bloomberg award at the summit. (Home court advantage acknowledged.) Let’s accelerate and max out. Why wait? The time has never been better for cities to reduce their energy bills and cut pollution through energy efficiency improvements. What’s more, efficiency creates installation jobs, produces cost savings, keeps money in our neighborhoods and avoids pollution.

What’s the time frame? Soon—climate change is taking its toll with more extreme weather events. Let’s implement these municipal declarations through rapid effective actions to reduce carbon pollution in ways that achieve environmental and economic development goals together. And let’s work together to turn words into tangible actions, accelerate measurable progress and help advance the Paris Climate Agreement goals. Chicago and partner cities can lead while Trump lags.

 Howard A. Learner is president and executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

 

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Protect Drinking Water Near Quarries Before There’s a Crisis

Sun-Times Editorial Board

Illinois does not need another case of rubble trouble.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that 80 percent of old Illinois quarries that allow the dumping of concrete and other demolition waste have higher-than-acceptable levels of toxins, according to state sampling results.
That’s a wake-up call. State authorities had better take action before we have an environmental disaster on our hands.

Spokesmen for industry argue that there is no reason for alarm because there is no sign of any health hazards — and Illinois has the strictest regulations in the nation for dumping “clean construction and demolition debris” at sites other than landfills. Road builders, construction companies and others who use the quarries say additional testing is unnecessary and too expensive.

But that overlooks a fundamental rule when it comes to the threat of environmental contamination: Always err on the side of caution. Once contaminants get into the environment, it is difficult and expensive — and sometimes impossible — to get them out. We should be bending over backward to keep our drinking water and the environment acceptably clean, not responding to a crisis.

Most waste is hauled off to landfills, which are capped with soil and designed with liners to prevent toxic material from fouling the air or leaching into groundwater. But an exception is made for construction material — lumber, bricks, broken concrete, etc. — that is considered “clean.” The exception — it can be dumped at a less sealed site — is made so that it does not fill up much-needed landfill space, and because it doesn’t generally present an environmental threat. Concrete is concrete.

But last spring, tests by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency found levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, atrazine and other heavy metals, pesticides and hazardous volatile organic compounds above permissible limits at 80 percent of the 92 Illinois quarries that accept clean construction debris. The former quarries, many of which are in Will County, often are directly above groundwater sources.

Dan Eichholz, executive director of the Illinois Association of Aggregate Producers, told the AP that the IEPA turned up no more contaminants than you’d get if you tested “clean soil from backyards all around Illinois.”

Sounds good, sure. But too often in the past authorities have ignored potential health risks until the cost of addressing them soared and people’s health was affected. Many Chicagoans still have raw memories of a pile of construction debris and tainted material that grew into “The Mountain” in West Garfield Park in the 1990s. Residents of Flint, Michigan, also learned the danger of ignoring potential health risks when lead from old pipes and fixtures contaminated their drinking water.

“This is a contaminated drinking water problem waiting to happen,” said Howard A. Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “There are sensible steps that should be taken at each of these sites.”

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed a lawsuit that now is before the Illinois Appellate Court seeking to require groundwater monitoring at quarries that accept construction debris, citing the risk of pollutants getting “directly into the water table.”

In the Legislature, a coalition of environmentalists, local officials, Madigan and others last spring blocked by one vote a law that would have eased liability and permitting requirements for quarry owners. But an environment-friendly bill filed by state Rep. Margo McDermed (R-Mokena) that would have required groundwater monitoring at the quarries never made it out of committee.

McDermed said the recent IEPA testing showed the methods used to monitor construction degree “were completely inadequate.”

It can cost five times as much to dispose of materials at a landfill as in a former quarry, which creates a big incentive to dump so-called clean construction debris in quarries. But Henry Henderson, Midwest director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, cautions that “clean” debris is an inexact label. Much of it comes from the demolition of old buildings, he said, and it can include such contaminants as metals and asbestos.

Moreover, tainted groundwater is particularly difficult to clean up up once it has been tainted, Henderson said, pointing out that many communities outside the Chicago area rely on groundwater for drinking water.

Dumping construction debris in old quarries is not a bad idea. But an independent agency should monitor the material brought to those sites and the groundwater around them.

Preventive medicine is always best.

READ EDITORIAL

 

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Toxic Leak into Lake Michigan Should Not Have Been a Secret. ELPC’s Learner says “The EPA is supposed to play the role of watchdog.”

 

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board

Toxic Leak into Lake Michigan Should Not Have Happened

It’s a new day for the environment, and not in a hopeful sense.

A steel company’s request to Indiana authorities for “confidential treatment” when it dumped toxic metal into Lake Michigan last month is a worrisome sign that under the Trump administration we will be told less and less about threats to our environment.

Everyone, from environmental activists to ordinary Chicagoans who care about the safety of their drinking water, had better become much more vigilant.

The request came from U.S. Steel in an Oct. 31 letter to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management after chromium leaked on Oct. 25 from a company facility on the shore of Lake Michigan. Just six months earlier, a similar leak from the same plant fouled a river tributary that feeds into the lake.

The request for secrecy — to keep you in the dark — apparently worked. A Chicago Tribune review of online press releases shows that neither state officials nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed the public about the potentially hazardous leak.

The critical importance of leveling with the public in such matters also is illustrated by a new Better Government Association review and Associated Press investigate report of leaks from local nuclear power plants. The BGA and AP learned that radioactive material continues to leak from Exelon’s Illinois nuclear power plants. The leaks were properly reported, but we now are confronted by an EPA boss, Scott Pruitt, who takes a skeptical view of environment protections. We have less confidence that Pruitt’s EPA will partner with the public, and not with the despoilers of the environment, when such leaks occur.

According to the BGA report, radioactive waste continues to leak from the nuclear power plants more than a decade after chronic leaks led to a $1.2 million government settlement and the company promised to guard against future accidents. Exelon says the amounts were too little to be a health risk, but the leaks remind us our air and water can quickly become tainted to the point of hazard. We need both industry and authorities to be in the vanguard of protecting the environment.

Clearly, we all deserve to know promptly whenever there is a leak of toxic industrial substances that could endanger public health. In the case of U.S. Steel’s recent leak of chromium, the Halloween Day letter surfaced only because it was seen by law students from the University of Chicago who were tracking pollution violations. If data about the leak had been released promptly, independent scientists could have assessed it and made recommendations. That is how the public is protected.

Why didn’t U.S. Steel or the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, an agency considered lax by environmentalists, inform the public? Why didn’t U.S. Steel report the  leak to the National Response Center, which keeps local officials posted about spills and leaks? Embarrassment is not a sufficient reason for secrecy.

Howard A. Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the handling of the U.S. Steel leak is a sign that the EPA under Pruitt is signaling to companies that it is indifference to such environmental threats.

“The message coming from Pruitt is to lay off industry,” Learner said. “The EPA is supposed to play the role of watchdog, or the cop on the block, that leads people to be more careful.”

We pay for cops to deter crime in our city, and we pay federal inspectors and scientists to keep monitor spills and leaks that might endanger our health.

When it comes to our environment, the Trump administration is sending ominous signals.

READ HERE

 

Chicago Tribune: ELPC Among Groups Testing Citizen Devices to Track Chicago’s Pollution Hot Spots

Citizen devices tracking Chicago’s pollution hot spots

November 11, 2017
By Michael Hawthorne

With an array of palm-size devices strapped across her chest and connected wirelessly to her smartphone, Gail Merritt discovered the air in the South Loop might be a lot dirtier than expected.

Merritt and her group of volunteer pollution hunters had assumed the low-cost sensors they carried during daily walks would confirm their fast-growing neighborhood had relatively decent air quality, at least when compared with the gritty industrial corridors in other parts of Chicago.

Color-coded graphs that popped up on Merritt’s screen during an unseasonably warm October afternoon told a more complicated story. Something as common as a CTA bus or city garbage truck passing by caused the amount of lung-damaging particulate matter in the air to temporarily jump off the charts.

Just as concerning were spikes of pollution that turned up when the group reviewed data from a different air monitor stationed for three weeks in Dearborn Park, a quiet, tree-lined square framed by high-rise condominiums.

The volunteers now are eagerly awaiting a review of their handiwork by scientists who oversaw air monitoring in the South Loop and three other Chicago neighborhoods during the past six months. Funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the project is part of a broader nationwide effort to use rapidly developing technology to give people easy-to-access information about pollution they breathe during their daily routines.

“We came into this thinking we would be a control group they could use to compare to other neighborhoods with environmental justice issues,” said Merritt, a management consultant who leads the Alliance for a Greener South Loop. “Given all of the vehicle and train traffic around us, it looks like we have our own pollution problems.”

Breathing even small amounts of particulate matter, commonly known as soot, can inflame the lungs and trigger asthma attacks. Long-term exposure can cause heart disease, increase the risk of developing cancer and shave years off a person’s life.

Unlike the thick clouds of pollution that choked cities during the past century, the soot particles that concern public health researchers today are so small that thousands could fit on the period at the end of this sentence.

Since the amount of vehicle exhaust and factory pollution can vary widely within neighborhoods and at different times of day, the new wave of portable and stationary sensors can find pockets of dirty air that go unnoticed by authorities.

Intrigued by the potential of using personal technology to track the invisible-but-deadly pollution, the EPA began awarding scientific grants during the Obama administration to determine if relatively inexpensive sensors developed by tech startups and hobbyists could supplement a network of official monitors.

Regulators already measure soot at 17 sites in the Chicago area, and other monitors collect snapshots of data on smog, heavy metals and volatile chemicals to assess air quality across the entire region. But the bulky, expensive equipment isn’t mobile and the testing is designed to give a glimpse of the entire region, not identify hot spots. The closest soot monitor to the South Loop is more than 5 miles away.

Nobody thinks the new technology is reliable enough yet to be used in court or a regulatory proceeding. Rather, researchers and career staff at the EPA see it as a tool for citizens to conduct their own experiments and draw attention to pollution problems that otherwise might not be addressed, especially as President Donald Trump pushes to dramatically cut funding for federal and state environmental programs.

In addition to Merritt’s group, activists from Altgeld Gardens, Little Village and the East Side neighborhood are testing the reliability and ease of use of a half-dozen sensors, including devices small enough to fit on the straps of a backpack, one that looks like a throwback from the original “Star Trek” television series and another the size of a 16-inch softball.

Meanwhile, Serap Erdal, a University of Illinois at Chicago researcher who advises the groups, is testing all the devices next to an EPA monitor in Northbrook to determine how close the readings are to the regulatory gold standard.

Before fanning out again to see if the low-cost devices can endure a Chicago winter, some of the volunteers gathered last month at the nonprofit Delta Institute to share what worked and what went wrong during their summer and fall testing runs.

They reported the instructions and software for some of the devices were too confusing. One had a sensitive power button that would cause users to inadvertently turn off the devices. Another was knocked offline by a spider web.

“Doing good, low-cost sensor work is deceptively challenging,” said Scott Fruin, a University of Southern California researcher who studies air pollution but isn’t involved in the Chicago project. “Many of the sensors are not up to the task.”

Some of the volunteers chafed at filling out paperwork vital to helping their scientific advisers determine if spikes of pollution detected during their testing runs are meaningful or were merely the result of a sensor malfunction. Yet organizers said people of all ages are excited to keep going, driven by the idea they could someday figure out themselves if their suspicions about neighborhood air quality are valid.

Community leaders say the technology also gives them new opportunities to expand their networks and engage with neighbors reluctant to get involved.

“It really seems like we’re entering a new renaissance in the environmental movement,” said Sammy Corona, a volunteer with the Southeast Environmental Task Force who excitedly told the Delta Institute group about a recent conference that highlighted an elaborate network of air monitors in Southern California.

“When I got back,” Corona said, “I realized we are still in the Dark Ages in Chicago.”

The neighborhood experiments are just one example of how the nation’s third-largest city is catching up.

Researchers at the Urban Center for Computation and Data, an initiative by the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, have developed equipment that is being posted on light poles around the city to provide granular details about air quality, traffic, sound volume and temperature.

After working out glitches with the electronics and redesigning protective enclosures for the devices, dubbed the Array of Things, the scientists are planning to have 500 monitors up and running by the end of next year.

Charlie Catlett, a data scientist who directs the project, said the goal is to provide researchers and the public with new kinds of data that can be used to improve quality of life. The latest version of the monitors is designed to make it easier to add new technology as the field improves and expands.

Catlett’s project echoes a long-running study by the New York City Department of Health. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration relied on borough-by-borough maps of data from pole-mounted sensors in an effort to stop landlords from using sooty fuel oil to heat apartment buildings and switch to cleaner-burning natural gas.

In 2010, the Tribune used a handheld sensor to test air quality on Metra commuter trains and inside stations that more than a quarter of a million people pass through every weekday. The newspaper found spikes of noxious diesel soot inside passenger cars after the doors closed on outbound trains and locomotive exhaust was sucked into ventilation systems.

Metra responded by installing more effective filters that improved air quality inside the cars. But commuters still routinely complain about hazy clouds of diesel pollution inside Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center.

Another early adopter of personal air testing devices is the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based nonprofit that loaned Walkman-size sensors to students, neighborhood groups and others between May and October to measure soot in 35 of the city’s 77 community areas.

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Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Don’t send more air pollution to Chicago

EDITORIAL: Don’t send more air pollution to Chicago
October 18, 2017
Sun-times Editorial Board

Last year, Illinois enacted a farsighted law designed to provide cleaner air, more jobs and lower energy bills. Now, a company that owns coal-fired power plants in Illinois is pushing to weaken clear-air rules in a way that would undermine those goals. The Illinois Pollution Control Board should take a deep breath and refuse to go along.

Weaker regulations, in this case, would be a big step backward. The state’s air, including in Chicago, would get dirtier and the transition away from coal would be detoured.

Last year, stakeholders ranging from environmentalists to utilities laboriously hammered out an agreement that resulted in the Illinois Future Jobs Act, a law designed to improve residents’ health and make Illinois a leader in renewable energy — all while reining in utility bills.

Since then, however, two utilities have engaged in what amount to counterattacks.

First, the Downstate utility Ameren, which supplies gas and electricity to central and southern Illinois, persuaded the Illinois Commerce Commission to let it lower its energy efficiency goals.

Now Dynegy, which owns eight coal-fired power plants in central and southern Illinois, wants the Illinois Pollution Control Board to scrap the limits on the rate of pollution each of its plants can emit. Dynegy, which also is reportedly seeking rate increases in the Legislature, proposes instead that existing annual caps apply to its plants as a group, which would allow it to give its dirtier plants more leeway to belch out soot and other pollutants that cause smog and acid rain.

The proposal comes as Dynegy faces a deadline that Ameren, which previously owned the plants, agreed to in 2006 to reduce air pollution.

In a classic example of the problems with revolving-door government, Dynegy has worked with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency — a former lobbyist for a trade association that represents Dynegy — to draw up the plan. According to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, the revised pollution cap would provide a financial incentive for Dynegy to actually increase pollution if it chose.

For a hearing on Thursday, Dynegy is on the agenda with a request for the Illinois Pollution Control Board to rush through the decision-making process. But there is no need to rush. This is a matter that demands full input and careful consideration. Illinois does not face any shortage of power generation capacity.

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Public Radio College of DuPage: ELPC Leads Plan to Revitalize Chicago Pedway

On a rainy or snowy day, getting from one place to another can be a challenge no matter where you live. In Chicago there is a way to get where you’re going and get out of the elements without getting into your car, hailing a cab, or booking an Uber. First Light host Brian O’Keefe took a walk in the Pedway with Environmental Law and Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner.

LISTEN HERE: https://www.wdcbfirstlight.org/news/2017/10/15/elpc-leads-plan-to-revitalize-chicago-pedway

Chicago Tribune: Pollution could increase as Rauner EPA moves to rescue coal plants

By Michael Hawthorne

September 27, 2017

In a move that could lead to dirtier air in Chicago and other downwind communities as far away as New York, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration is pushing to overhaul stringent limits on lung-damaging pollution from some of the last coal-fired power plants in Illinois.

Proposed amendments to state rules would scrap limits on the rate of pollution from a fleet of eight coal plants in central and southern Illinois owned by Dynegy Inc. Instead, the state would impose annual caps on tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emitted by the fleet — a subtle but significant change that could stall or reverse efforts to reduce Dynegy’s contributions to smog, soot and acid rain.

Drafted with extensive input from the company’s Chicago-based attorneys, the proposed pollution caps are significantly higher than what Dynegy’s fleet emitted during each of the past two years, according to a Tribune analysis of federal pollution data.

Alec Messina, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, said the goal is to keep the financially struggling coal plants open by giving Houston-based Dynegy more flexibility to operate individual generating units, several of which are not equipped with modern pollution controls. Before joining the Rauner administration, Messina worked as a lobbyist for a trade group that represents the company’s interests in Illinois.

State standards would still be tougher than federal requirements, Messina said, and company spokeswoman Meredith Moore noted emissions could still increase if the state’s rate-based limits were kept in place.

But if a state rule-making panel approves the proposed changes, expected to be formally introduced this month, the new limit on sulfur dioxide would be nearly double what Dynegy’s existing fleet emitted last year and higher than every year since 2012, according to the Tribune’s analysis. The cap on nitrogen oxide emissions would be 79 percent higher than what came out of the smokestacks in 2016.

In an Aug. 25 letter to the state EPA, Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office questioned why the new regulations are necessary unless Dynegy plans to operate its dirtier coal plants more frequently and its cleaner plants less often.

The proposed pollution caps are set so high that the state would end up encouraging Dynegy to pollute more, Madigan’s office said.

“We want to make sure the public is getting the full benefit of the pollution standards the company agreed to meet,” James Gignac, Madigan’s environmental counsel, said in an interview. Changing the standard now could roll back years of progress, he said.

Dynegy also secured a provision that would keep the pollution caps fixed at the same amounts — 55,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 25,000 tons of nitrogen oxide annually — even if it decided to shut down individual generating units or scuttle entire plants.

An EPA draft would have automatically tightened limits on Dynegy’s fleet to reflect plant closures, according to emails obtained by the nonprofit Environmental Law and Policy Center and shared with the Tribune. Chicago attorney Renee Cipriano, a former Illinois EPA director who represents Dynegy and other companies she once regulated, lined out or replaced language in the state’s draft, the emails show.

“We are making those types of tweaks to the rule language, so hopefully they address your issues,” Dana Vetterhoffer, an EPA attorney, responded in a May 31 email to Cipriano. “OK great,” Cipriano wrote back four minutes later.

Howard Learner, the environmental group’s president, said the changes would allow Dynegy to avoid installing pollution controls at its dirtiest plants and turn off the equipment at others.

“The company’s strategy is to run these plants on the cheap for as long as possible, like an old Chevy beater,” Learner said. “If the Rauner administration goes ahead with this, they’re effectively passing on the health costs of Dynegy’s pollution to the rest of Illinois and beyond.”

Moore, the Dynegy spokeswoman, said in an email to the Tribune that swapping the state’s current system for caps on the fleet’s emissions “would mean real environmental benefits.”

The EPA director echoed the company’s comments. “For the first time there is a cap on this fleet. That’s a big deal,” said Messina, who took over the state agency last year after serving as a top aide in Rauner’s office. He previously was a lobbyist for the Illinois Environmental Regulatory Group, an association that represents industries subject to state pollution regulations.

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Indianapolis Star: ELPC Pushing Indiana Agency to Allocate Portion of $41M VW Settlement Funds to Electric School Buses

IDEM’s unusual comment process for spending $41 million Volkswagen settlement
September 25, 2017
By Emily Hopkins

Indiana is poised to receive $41 million, its share of a $2.7 billion settlement federal regulators reached with Volkswagen after it was learned the German automaker cheated emissions tests for over half a decade.

But just how the state plans to spend that money is a mystery thanks to what some contend is a process that thus far has been neither transparent nor open to public input.

In at least 38 states, residents can find information about the settlement on their government’s website. In some cases, they may even be able to submit their own suggestions into whether the funds should be used for electric transit, hybrid vehicles, or any of the 10 ways the Environmental Protection Agency has identified to fight pollution.

But Hoosiers who want a say in how Indiana spends its share of the pot might want to try to snag a meeting with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Commissioner Bruno Pigott.

“While other states have chosen to accept public comment in a web-based manner, Indiana has chosen to reach out to stakeholders in a more personal way with one-on-one meetings with interested parties and presenting on meeting agendas of interested parties,” IDEM’s Deputy Director of Communications Tara Wolf told IndyStar via email. “[Pigott] has been meeting one-on-one with many interested stakeholders since he came into office in January.”

If that seems like Hoosier Hospitality to some, others see it as a series of closed-door talks outside of the public’s view.

To be clear, there is no requirement for states to solicit public comment before the legal process to get the funds has begun. And Wolf assured that the time will come when Hoosiers can comment on a draft plan.

Still, some are concerned that Indiana is behind several states who have chosen to be proactive. Some states solicited public feedback as early as last fall, and a handful of states have already published drafts of their proposals online. Minnesota, for example, has received hundreds of comments and responses to an online survey and held more than a half dozen public meetings to discuss how the funds should be spent.
“We just thought it was the right thing to do,” said Rocky Sisk, State Program Administrator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. He said that many people have different perspectives on the issue, but that the meetings have been instrumental in shaping their plans.

“Those are the things we feel very confident about doing now that we’ve had public input,” Sisk said.

Before states submit their plans, they’ll have to take part in a legally technical process determined by the settlement. First, states will have to announce which agencies will manage the funds in their respective states. Many states have already done this, often choosing one of their environmental departments.

Indiana has not formally announced which agencies will handle the funds. According to those familiar with the issue, it could be a group of three to five agencies, and the general assumption is that IDEM will take the lead. IDEM’s Wolf said that the Indiana agency handling the funds will be announced once the “trust effective date” is finalized, which will set deadlines for states to have their plans drafted. It’s at that point that the state will ramp up its public outreach.

“A draft Beneficiary Mitigation Plan for public comment will be posted on our website and the public will have ample time to submit comments,” Wolf said. IDEM would not disclose which groups or individuals the agency had met with, but Wolf said that it “has spoken to any group or individual who has requested information.”

The money being paid to states by Volkswagen is one of a series of criminal and civil penalties levied against the automaker. The company was found to be in violation of the Clean Air Act when it came to light that Volkswagen had cheated on emissions testing of some of its diesel vehicles. About half a million cars in the U.S. were allowed to emit pollutants “at levels up to 40 times the standard” set by the EPA. Nitrogen oxides, or NOx gases, are a byproduct of burning diesel fuel and have the potential to cause asthma and other respiratory health issues. The mitigation trust fund is meant to address those NOx emissions.

At least one organization is not waiting on IDEM to start promoting its plan. This summer, the Environmental Law and Policy Center conducted an electric bus tour across four states where they hope settlement money could be used to replace diesel school buses with electric ones.

“Children are especially vulnerable [to diesel fumes] because their lungs are not yet developed, and the particles make their way through the nose, into the blood stream and cause all sorts of problem,” said Susan Mudd, Senior Policy Advocate at ELPC, noting that more than half of public school children in Indiana are transported by bus.

Mudd has been impressed with efforts by other states in the region. She remarked on the several public meetings held in Minnesota, and the “priority county” map produced by Ohio’s EPA.

“Indiana has not stepped forward yet,” Mudd said, “but we’re hopeful.”

Kellie Walsh, executive director of the Greater Indiana Clean Cities Coalition, said that when the mitigation trust fund was announced, her phone was ringing off the hook.

“Folks were like, ‘When is money going to be on the street?'” said Walsh. “Sorry guys, that’s not how this works.”

 

To read the full article, please click here

Press Release: ELPC Commends Full Funding for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SEPTEMBER 14, 2017

ELPC Commends Full Funding for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative 

House Rejects Trump Administration’s Zeroing Out FY 2018 Budget for this Successful Program 

 

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

 

CHICAGO – Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the U.S. House of Representatives’ approval of full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) as part of the fiscal year 2018 budget:

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center commends the bipartisan legislators who worked together to reject the Trump Administration’s cuts and provide full funding of $300 million for the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” Learner said. “This program has supported more than 3,000 sensible projects to protect and restore the Great Lakes since 2011. That’s great value for all of us who live, work and play in the Great Lakes. We urge the U.S. Senate to include full funding as it considers the budget.”

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