Illinois

Post-Tribune: ELPC’s Grosboll Warns INDOT Funding for Illiana Study is Bad Idea

INDOT in line to resume study on Illiana project
by Carrie Napoleon
Post-Tribune

Local officials and opponents of the Illiana toll road say they were surprised to learn the Indiana Department of Transportation plans to make court-ordered corrections to the first phase of an environmental impact study for the stalled project and foot the bill. In a court filing April 25, INDOT has agreed to fund the technical work needed to comply with the court’s order in Openlands Et al. v. U.S. Department of Transportation et al., which last year found the study was flawed despite Illinois’ inability to move forward due to lack of funding.

State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-6th, said he has been reaching out to INDOT for the past several months in an effort to get an official statement on where Indiana stands on the highway project — whether it go forward, wait until Illinois has funding or scrap the effort – but has gotten no response.

“We know Illinois is on hold. I don’t understand why Indiana is not coming out with a statement on this for Indiana residents,” Neimeyer said. “I’m frustrated I haven’t got the answers back.”

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ELPC Statement on Dynegy Coal Plant Closures

For Immediate Release
May 3, 2016
Contact:
David Jakubiak

Environmental Law & Policy Center Statement On
Dynegy Coal Retirements in Central, Southern Illinois

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

“Dynegy’s management made a business decision to shut down old coal plants that are not economically competitive in the power market. Dynegy appears to now be asking Illinois legislators to force consumers to pay higher utility bills to subsidize Dynegy’s old, uncompetitive power plants. That’s just not fair. Illinois legislators should advance policies to support investment in the new clean energy technologies that keep electricity costs affordable while creating new jobs and spurring economic growth.

“Illinois has a surplus of old nuclear and coal plant supply while demand is declining due to smart energy efficiency that saves money for businesses at home. Natural gas and new wind power are outcompeting the old coal and nuclear plants, and they are saving consumers’ money. Illinois policymakers should not force consumers to pay higher utility rates to subsidize old plants they’ve already paid for.”

Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Learner Warns Investment in Illiana Tollway is Waste of Limited Transpo Dollars

Indiana Tries to Keep Illiana Toll Road Alive 
By Susan DeMar Lafferty

While Illinois’ position on the proposed Illiana toll road does not appear to have changed, the Indiana Department of Transportation will fund a new environmental impact study to keep the controversial project alive.

According to a court brief filed this week, INDOT has agreed to “fund the technical work needed” to comply with a court order.

The $1.3 billion, 47-mile highway was intended to connect Interstate 55 near Wilmington with Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind., as a truckers’ alternative to Interstate 80. The Environmental Law & Policy Center, Openlands, the Midewin Heritage Association and the Sierra Club challenged the government’s approval of the Illiana in federal and state courts last year.

The Illiana was shelved indefinitely by Gov. Bruce Rauner in January 2015 due to the state’s budget crisis.

Many thought the project was dead when a federal judge ruled in June that the Federal Highway Administration’s Record of Decision approving the project was “arbitrary and capricious,” invalid and in violation of U.S. environmental law.

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Howard Learner Talks Mine Cleanup Self-Bonding on EETV

Howard Learner joined Monica Trauzzi of EETV to talk about how the recent bankruptcy of Peabody Energy may  impact the cleanup of mines the company the company has self-bonded in Illinois and Indiana. Watch the interview.

Crain’s Chicago Business: ELPC’s Learner Warns Latest Illiana Funding is a Bad Move

Illinois, Indiana join in funding move to keep Illiana alive

by Greg Hinz

In the latest sign that the proposed Illiana Expressway still has a heartbeat, Illinois and Indiana appear to have reached a deal under which the latter will provide the cash needed for a key revamped environmental review of the controversial toll road.

In a document filed in U.S. District Court here today, the Indiana Department of Transportation said it has “agreed to fund the technical work needed to comply” with changes in the Environmental Impact Statement ordered by the court. That means that the Illinois Department of Transportation, whose funding has been limited by this state’s continuing budget stalemate, will not have to come up with money despite what the filing describes as “funding issues presented by IDOT.”

The filing indicates that repairs on the rejected EIS could be completed by the end of July.

Judge Jorge Alonso had ruled last summer that the environmental statement by IDOT and InDOT was “arbitrary and capricious,” failing to consider among other things a “no build” alternative to pouring dozens of miles of concrete through wildlife and plant havens between I-55 and I-65.

No exact figures have been disclosed, but it is believed that redoing the EIS is costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The boondoggle Illiana Tollway seems to be the fiscal folly project that Gov. Rauner and his IDOT just can’t give up,” said Environmental Law & Policy Center attorney Howard Learner, who represents Openlands, the Midewin Heritage Association and other plaintiffs in the case. “Illinois has vital high-priority transportation projects that should not be diluted by pouring more public money into the Illiana Tollway.”

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Huffington Post: ELPC’s Learner Discusses Making A Greener Chicago

By Howard Learner

Chicago is becoming a “greener city,” but let’s recognize some key challenges and the need for solutions moving forward. Environmental progress is being achieved together with job creation and economic development. The old myth about jobs versus the environment is simply that: old and false. This Earth Day, we should be proud of what Chicago has accomplished and candid about some important environmental challenges still requiring solutions.

Wind Power: Illinois has leaped from no wind power in 2003 to more than 3,842 megawatts today. A decade ago, who thought that Illinois would become No. 5 in the nation for wind power capacity and that Chicago would now have 11 major wind power corporate headquarters?

Next Steps: Illinois policymakers should say “no” to Exelon’s opposition and finally modernize the Illinois Renewable Energy Standard, which helps drive wind power development. Let’s make it work well and advance Illinois’ national leadership in the restructured electricity market.

Solar Energy can be our next boom. The city and county are advancing policies to streamline solar energy installations by speeding up permitting and standardizing grid connections. Solar panel efficiencies are steadily improving — think about other rapid technological advances in smart phones, digital cameras and computer speeds — and becoming economically competitive. Solar energy is truly a disruptive technology, especially combined with battery technology improvements. It can succeed by installations on residential rooftops and commercial buildings’ spacious flat roofs, and can transform underutilized industrial brownfields into “solar brightfields” in Chicago.

Next Steps: Let’s seize the opportunities to accelerate solar energy by better using Chicago’s many flat rooftops on commercial, industrial and multifamily residential buildings for solar photovoltaic panel installations producing clean electricity? First, the Illinois Commerce Commission should remove regulatory barriers that protect monopoly utilities from competition. Second, the Commission and state legislators should adopt policies that better enable community solar projects for local businesses and neighborhood residents to join together in sharing clean energy resources. Third, if Argonne National Labs’ engineers and scientists achieve their goal of batteries that are five times more efficient at one-fifth the cost, that’s a game changer.

Energy Efficiency saves businesses and residential consumers money on their utility bills, avoids pollution, creates jobs and keeps money in Chicago’s economy. There’s a quiet revolution occurring with more energy efficient lighting, appliances, cooling and heating equipment, pumps and motors, and other technologies. Commonwealth Edison reports that electricity sales declined (-1.5 percent) in 2015 in Northern Illinois while the Chicago regional economy grew 2.5 – 3.0 percent. Chicago’s economy is growing, more efficiently.

Next Steps: Let’s make sure that homes in all Chicago neighborhoods gain energy efficiency benefits through job-creating retrofits that can reduce electricity and natural gas bills. Electricity waste costs businesses and people money and drains dollars out of the Chicago economy for the part of the utility bills spent on out-of-town uranium, coal and gas fuels. Let’s save money, boost our economy, create more installation jobs and reduce pollution. That’s a winner.

Public Transit: Chicagoans are driving less with fewer cars, but Chicago can’t be a greener “city that works” unless CTA is modernized. Chicago is looking to both innovative financing and new transportation approaches, including Bus Rapid Transit and Divvy bikes, in addition to upgrading the aging Red Line and other transit lines.

Next Steps: Let’s face it — no good public transit, no green city. Chicago’s public transit system must become faster and provide improved, more efficient passenger services. CTA is working on it. Mayor Emanuel, Senators Durbin and Kirk, and Congressmen Lipinski and Quigley are working hard to gain more federal funds for CTA modernization. That’s a priority and necessity.

Higher-Speed Rail: Chicago is the natural hub of the growing Midwest higher-speed rail network connecting Chicago and Milwaukee, Detroit and St. Louis, and the mid-sized cities in-between. Modern higher-speed passenger rail development will improve mobility, reduce pollution, create jobs and spur regional economic growth.

Next Steps: Modernize Union Station so it works well for intercity passenger rail, is attractive to new visitors and can be a multimodal hub connecting with CTA while anchoring West Loop commercial development. Let’s accelerate high-speed rail development here.

Great Lakes: The Great Lakes ecosystem is the Chicago region’s global gem, vital source of drinking water supply and place of recreational joy. The Obama Administration’s investment of about $2 billion in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is paying off. Water quality should improve as investments are made in upgrading treatment facilities, building green infrastructure, and restoring wetlands and habitat.

Next Steps: Water efficiency is more than 20 years behind energy efficiency. We can’t afford to waste fresh water that the rest of the world craves and values highly. Let’s make Chicago a water efficiency leader among the Great Lakes cities. Let’s also figure out savvy ways of using lower-cost greywater for industrial processes and save fresh water for drinking supply.

Chicago River: It’s our namesake river and should be a gem increasing recreational enjoyment and property values for all. There’s progress as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) finally begins to disinfect its wastewater. The Chicago River, however, is still not “fishable and swimmable,” and there’s more cleanup to be done.

Next Steps: The new Chicago Riverwalk and river-focused development on both the north and south sides highlights and builds support for the importance of cleaning up the river as a safe place for recreational use and community enjoyment. MWRD should continue to step up its pollution reduction actions and equipment investments that pay off in clean water benefits for all.

Clean air, clean water, cleaner energy and fewer toxics are important values shared by all Chicagoans. This Earth Day, let’s be proud of our progress, and let’s seize opportunities to advance a cleaner, greener and safer community that works for all.

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Learner Op-Ed in Crain’s Chicago Business: Nine Smart Ideas for Making Chicago Greener

As published in the Crain’s Chicago Business on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

Chicago is becoming a “greener city,” but let’s be candid about some key challenges and the need for solutions moving forward. Environmental progress is being achieved together with job creation and economic development. The old myth about jobs versus the environment is simply that: old and false.

Wind Power: Illinois has leaped from no wind power in 2003 to more than 3,842 megawatts today. A decade ago, who thought that Illinois would become #5 in the nation for wind power capacity and that Chicago would be now be home to 11 major wind power corporate headquarters?

Next: Illinois policymakers should say “no” to Exelon’s opposition and finally modernize the Illinois Renewable Energy Standard, which helps drive wind power development. Let’s make it work well and advance Illinois’ national leadership in the restructured electricity market.

Solar Energy: Our next boom. The City and County are advancing policies to streamline solar energy installations by speeding up permitting and standardizing grid connections. Solar energy is truly an improving disruptive technology, especially combined with battery technology improvements.

Next: How we can accelerate solar energy by better using Chicago’s many flat rooftops?  First, remove regulatory barriers that protect monopoly utilities from competition. Second, the Illinois Commerce Commission and Springfield legislators should adopt policies that better enable community solar projects for local businesses and neighborhood residents. Third, support Argonne National Labs’ goal of making batteries that are five times more efficient at one-fifth the cost. That’s a game changer.

Energy Efficiency:  There’s a quiet revolution occurring with more energy efficient lighting, appliances, cooling and heating equipment, pumps and motors, and other technologies.  Commonwealth Edison reports that electricity sales declined (-1.5%) in 2015 in Northern Illinois while the Chicago regional economy grew about 3.0%. Our economy is growing—efficiently.

Next:  Let’s make sure that homes in all Chicago neighborhoods gain energy efficiency benefits through job-creating retrofits that can reduce electricity and natural gas bills.

Public Transit: Chicago can’t be a greener “city that works” unless the CTA is modernized.

Next: Let’s face it—no good public transit, no green city. Chicago’s public transit system must become faster and provide improved, more efficient passenger services. CTA is working on it. Mayor Emanuel, Senators Durbin and Kirk, and Congressmen Lipinski and Quigley are trying to gain more federal funds for CTA modernization. That’s a priority and necessity.

Higher-Speed Rail: Chicago is the natural hub of the growing Midwest higher-speed rail network connecting Chicago and Milwaukee, Detroit and St. Louis, and the mid-sized cities in-between.

Next: Modernize Union Station so it works well for intercity passenger rail, is attractive to new visitors and can be a multimodal hub connecting with CTA while anchoring West Loop commercial development.

Great Lakes: The Great Lakes ecosystem is the Chicago region’s global gem, vital source of drinking water supply and place of recreational joy.  The Obama Administration’s investment of about $2 billion in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is paying off.  Water quality should improve as investments are made in upgrading treatment facilities, building green infrastructure, and restoring wetlands and habitat.

Next: Water efficiency is more than 20 years behind energy efficiency. We can’t afford to waste fresh water that the rest of the world craves and values highly.  Let’s figure out savvy ways of using lower-cost greywater for industrial processes and save fresh water for drinking. Let’s make Chicago a water efficiency leader among the Great Lakes cities.

Chicago River: Our namesake river should be a gem that increases recreational enjoyment and property values for all. There’s progress as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District finally begins to disinfect wastewater.  The Chicago River, however, is still not “fishable and swimmable.”

Next: The new Riverwalk and river-focused development is helping build support for the importance of cleaning up the river. MWRD should continue to step up its pollution reduction actions and equipment investments that pay off in clean water benefits.

Clean air, clean water, cleaner energy and fewer toxics are important values shared by all Chicagoans. This Earth Day, let’s be proud of our progress, and let’s seize opportunities to advance a cleaner, greener and safer community that works for all.

Howard A. Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Midwest’s leading environmental and economic development advocacy organization.

 

Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Learner Raises Concerns over Proposed Great Lakes Basin Railroad

By Susan DeMar Lafferty, Chicago Tribune

Even though a proposed new rail line would not run through Will County, it is close enough that some county officials are keeping an eye on developments related to it.

The privately funded Great Lakes Basin Transportation, Inc., (GLBT) plans to provide an $8 billion, 278-mile rail line to circumvent Chicago’s hub from Janesville, Wisconsin, south to Rockford, into Grundy County, Kankakee County, and into Lake, Porter and LaPorte Counties in Indiana.

In recent weeks, the federal Surface Transportation Board has conducted public meetings throughout the region, seeking input and drawing lots of opposition from area farmers. Next, the STB is expected to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a two- to three-year process, and then decide if it will approve or deny the project, or change the route.

The route is currently just south of the Will-Kankakee County Line Road, so the slightest shift to the north, would place it within Will County.

Originally, the rail line was proposed to follow the same right of way as the Illiana toll road through southern Will County, but that project has been shelved. The proposed route is designed to bypass populated areas, allow for future growth, support agricultural and industry around the route, avoid attracting more residences or businesses that would limit expansion or be exposed in case of an incident, keep traffic moving through overpasses/underpasses, and to build the railroad as a quiet zone, according to the Great Lakes Basin website. A map is available at www.greatlakesbasin.net.

“The unknown is a concern. This is all subject to change (pending the EIS). It will be interesting to see where it goes. This might not be the final route,” said Bruce Gould, director of Will County’s Division of Transportation.

He is especially concerned about a proposed rail yard which could extend eight miles east and west along the two-lane rural County Line Road, abutting Will County.

“Depending on what happens there, it could have a major impact,” said Gould, who attended one of the first public meetings in Manteno recently and plans to stay on top of the project.

If it becomes a freight yard terminal, he said he would be “considerably concerned” about what would be going in and out of the terminal.

Gould also questioned the need for this new route, noting that when the Canadian National Railroad took over the old EJ&E tracks, it was intended to be an alternate, faster route, circumventing Chicago. The CN lines have added freight trains through Joliet, New Lenox, Mokena, Frankfort, Matteson, Richton Park, Park Forest and Chicago Heights, and has been fined numerous times for blocking crossings.

Will County Board member Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, also attended the Manteno meeting because, she said, “People were asking me about it and I didn’t know anything,” she said.

Some voiced concerns that the current route skirts Kankakee State Park, and if there is a legitimate impact to the park, it could be re-routed into Will County, she said.

The Manteno meeting, like many others held along the corridor, was packed with farmers opposed to the project. Opposition groups have been created, including Block GLB Railroad, and Residents Against the Invasion of Land by Eminent Domain – RAILED.

Ogalla said she has heard the same arguments and concerns from Will County farmers when they felt threatened by the South Suburban Airport in Peotone and the Illiana toll road across southern Will County, two major infrastructure projects which are at a standstill due to a lack of state funding.

Financial feasibility is an issue, said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Great Lakes founder Frank Patton of Crete is “putting the cart before the horse,” by going to the STB before getting railroad companies on board, Learner said.

“This is just like the Peotone airport. You can’t build an airport without airlines, and you can’t build a railroad without interest from rail companies,” he said, adding that several rail companies have already said they were not interested.

“It is not yet clear if there is really money behind this. That’s to be determined,” he said. “We have seen this again and again. Whether it was Peotone airport or the Illiana, they say it is only private dollars but they keep trying to get taxpayer support.”

There are other projects of much higher importance that need to be done first, Learner said.

Will County officials cannot let this project distract them from taking care of roads today, said county board member Bob Howard, D-Beecher, who called the Great Lakes Basin Railroad a “red herring.”

“This is just a group of investors taking the temperature of what is marketable,” he said.

“We have a lot of traffic issues that have to be addressed now. This is what we have to work on now. We have to get back to the basics,” Howard said. “If they apply for federal funds, they will be taking money away from us, and competing with us for federal dollars to improve our roads.”

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Vox: Why Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, just went bankrupt

The US coal industry is imploding. And here’s the biggest casualty yet: Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in St. Louis on Wednesday.

It’s hard to overstate what a seismic shift this is. Peabody has been a giant in the mining industry seemingly forever, after starting out in Chicago in 1880 with just a wagon and two mules. Two decades ago, coal provided fully half of America’s electricity, much of it dug up by Peabody. At its peak in 2008, the company had a market cap of $20 billion, supplying coal to 26 countries worldwide.

But then came the fall. The rise of fracking and cheap shale gas in the United States, coupled with stricter environmental regulations, has helped push hundreds of coal-fired power plants out of business in recent years. US coal production has nosedived from 1.17 billion metric tons in 2008 to just 752.5 million in 2016. Coal consumption in China, another crucial market, has also cooled off of late.

Between 2012 and 2015, Peabody laid off more than 20 percent of its global workforceand started closing some of its US mines. Today, the company is saddled with $10.1 billion in debt and its future looks much bleaker than it once did. Hence the bankruptcy filing.

Continue reading on Vox

Press Release: ELPC Statement on Peabody Bankruptcy Filing

Contact:

David Jakubiak, Media Relations

Environmental Law & Policy Center Statement On
Peabody Energy Bankruptcy Filing

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

“Peabody Energy is in bankruptcy because senior corporate management made poor business decisions. Peabody bet on rapidly expanding coal markets as natural gas prices hit historic lows, energy efficiency slashed demand and China’s robust growth slowed.
“The Environmental Law & Policy Center will move to engage in federal bankruptcy court proceedings to make sure Peabody Energy’s coal mine reclamation and clean-up responsibilities in Illinois and across the Midwest are accomplished to the maximum extent possible, and that coal miners and communities are treated fairly.”

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