Illinois

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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PV Magazine: ELPC Working to Bring Community Solar to Illinois

Community solar, PACE policies moving forward in Illinois
By Mark Burger

August 28, 2017

Community solar in Illinois has made another step forward in the long slog to implementation with the filing by ComEd of a tariff with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) on August 15 requesting that the requisite riders for community solar be added to existing net metering and related riders.

The rider in the tariff, POGCS, will include provisions for both the provider, or developer, of community solar projects and the beneficiaries, or subscribers, without which projects cannot go forward until both conditions are satisfied. This is the latest action in a process that began with enactment of the Future Energy Jobs Act on December 7, 2016, which took effect on June 1, 2017.

ComEd has requested approval from the ICC by September 29, and for the tariff to take effect on October 9th.  Several intervenors have filed in this tariff so far including the Illinois Power Agency, Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Illinois Competitive Energy Association.

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Daily Southtown: ELPC Explains Why Will Co. Farmers See Sun as New Cash Crop

Solar farms are cropping up in Will County
By Susan DeMar Lafferty

September 5, 2017

As harvest season approaches, some Will County farmers may already be considering alternatives to the future of their corn and soybean fields. They are learning that the sun they now rely on to produce vegetables, could be harnessed into a new cash crop.

Empowered by Illinois’ new Future Energy Jobs Act, solar companies have approached area farmers in recent weeks about converting a portion of their property into solar farms.

Cypress Creek Renewables, which currently operates solar farms in eight states, has an agreement with a landowner in Crete Township to convert 45 acres on Goodenow Road into a five MegaWatt solar farm, enough to power 800 homes, said Scott Novack, Cypress’ senior developer. They are looking for more sites.

Frankfort officials have just begun to discuss a concept for a 32-acre community solar farm that could generate enough energy to power 1,200 homes, according to developer Josh Barrett, of Solarshift LLC, Homer Glen.

“This is totally new to us,” said Mark Schneidewind, manager of the Will County Farm Bureau. About 100 farmers recently received letters from a few different companies and about a dozen have retained a lawyer to negotiate the finer details, he said.

With offers of $800 per acre, compared to $160 to $180 for a really good crop yield, some older farmers are considering this as a steady cash flow as they head into retirement, Schneidewind said.

Others are concerned about leasing their farms for 20 to 30 years, and want to know if it would restrict their ability to use their land, or interfere with drain tiles, he said.

He said he does not see this as the future of farming, because the ground in Will County is “prime farmland,” but he acknowledged that this gives people an alternative.

Novack said Cypress needs at least 20 acres in close proximity to power lines or substations, and are “actively working on” five to 10 projects in Will County. Realistically, he said he expects they will move forward with one or two.

It will be at least 2019 before a facility is operating. According to CCR’s website, the entire process, from signing the lease to completing construction, takes 18 to 24 months.

Cypress invited area landowners to a recent community meeting, but drew only one, along with two county board members — Judy Ogalla and Laurie Summers, he said.

The farm bureau has held two seminars, in each of the last two Aprils, attracting about 100 people each, to provide information and answer questions.

Schneidewind also has been at the table with Will County’s Land Use Department to discuss how best to regulate this burgeoning business.

The county currently is “not very restrictive,” but does require a special use permit for solar projects — which adds an extra layer of scrutiny, said Samantha Bluemer, of the Land Use Department. As officials update the zoning codes, they want to ensure these are “safe developments” and protect the landowner, she said.

Will County recently won an award for being “solar smart” for simplifying its zoning ordinances and making “alternative energy” an option on its building permit application. It also has enhanced training for permitting and inspection staff and increased public resources regarding solar energy systems and consumer protections, in order to promote positive, sustainable growth.

As they review zoning codes, they are looking at decommissioning the land, mitigating the agricultural land, requiring bonds, letters of credit, and fire training, Bluemer said.

While officials in Frankfort are “excited” about having a solar energy field and contributing to renewable energy, development director Jeff Cook said they want to make sure the site will be properly maintained over the years. A special use permit will be required.

“Renewable energy is a hot topic, a timely subject, but we don’t know all the ins and outs,” Cook said, adding that they are looking at Barrett’s proposal from a land use perspective, and while the location “makes sense,” the plan needs “more details.”

Barrett has proposed a community solar farm on 32 acres on the southwest corner of Pfeiffer Road and Sauk Trail, where it could easily connect to a nearby ComEd substation.

Unlike the larger scale utility farms, Barrett said he would sell solar panels to residents, who would then receive credit on their electric bill for producing their own power.

Given that the majority of rooftops on homes are not conducive to solar panels, community solar farms allow residents to buy into renewable energy at half the cost, with optimal production, he said.

He is now working out zoning issues with the village, which currently requires a special use permit, he said. He hopes to conduct pre-sales at the beginning of 2018, open to Frankfort residents first, then others. If there is not enough interest, the project would not go forward, Barrett said.

Knowing that Frankfort is concerned about aesthetics, he plans not only landscaped berms to seclude the site, but will incorporate native plants and pollinators to promote water filtration and create wildlife habitats.

The panels are designed to last 25 years, and if approved, this site would be developed in three phases, each to produce two megawatts (MW) of power — enough to power 1,200 homes, Barrett said.

“It doesn’t produce any negative effects, just clean energy,” he said.

Brad Klein, senior attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, agreed.

The state law sets benchmarks for creating 4,300 megawatts of new solar and wind power —enough electricity to power millions of homes — to be built in Illinois by 2030.

That goal, along with incentives and tax credits, has led to a lot of interest statewide, Klein said.

The Illinois Power Agency is now working to implement that law, and drafting regulations, but development is happening before the details have been finalized, he said.

Still, Klein said he sees only benefits, and the ELPC has been a key proponent of renewable energy.

“We are really interested in finding the best ways to make sure solar processes are integrated well into the landscape,” he said.

Among the “best ways” are creating pollinator habitats under the panels, which may make the land more productive, and making sure the land is restored to its original condition if no longer used for solar farming, he said.

These farms also are expected to generate more revenue for local schools and communities since solar companies would pay property taxes on land they lease — likely at a higher rate than agricultural land, Klein said.

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ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner Named to Crain’s “Who’s Who in Chicago Business”

Among the trailblazers profiled in Crain’s Chicago Business’ annual “Who’s Who in Chicago Business” is ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner.

“Who’s Who” comprises a comprehensive directory of 600+ Chicago leaders, offering information about each person’s business and professional endeavors as well as civic engagements. The list is divided by sector, and Learner appears alongside 33 non-profit standouts.

Learner’s profile includes his work with numerous environmental and legal organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Law Institute, as well as his service to organizations like Citizens Action of Illinois and the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce. Below is the profile that appears in the September 4th issue of Crain’s Chicago Business.

Howard_250x330dHoward A. Learner

President, Executive Director

Environmental Law & Policy Center, Chicago

Age: 62

Business: Environmental progress, economic development advocacy organization

Professional: Economic Club; Chicago Bar Association; Chicago Council of Lawyers; Environmental Law Institute

Civic: Leadership Fellows Association; Forest Preserves Foundation; Citizens Action of Illinois; Friends of Israel’s Environment; Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers & Commerce

Undergraduate: University of Michigan

Graduate: Harvard University

NW Indiana Times: Feds Agree with ELPC & Reject Great Lakes Basin Rail Application

By Andrew Steele

The federal Surface Transportation Board has rejected Great Lakes Basin Transportation’s application to build and operate a 261-mile freight railroad from LaPorte County to southeast Wisconsin.

“GLBT has failed to provide the board with accurate financial information upon which the board can rely to make a determination on the transportation merits of the project,” the STB stated in its decision, dated Wednesday.

Financial statements that GLBT provided in June show the company had $802,000 in accounts payable as of Dec. 31, and investors owned $473,573 in common stock.

But, the STB observed, “The balance sheet … contains an unexplained line item for ‘net income’ (amounting to negative $1,203,545) that appears to account for a substantial difference between its assets and its liabilities and stockholders’ equity.”

Further, “GLBT’s current assets of $151 are so clearly deficient for purposes of constructing a 261-mile rail line that the board will not proceed with this application given the impacts on stakeholders and the demands upon board resources,” the STB ruled.

Company attorney Michael Blaszak said Thursday that GLBT “is assessing its options with respect to the board’s decision today and will have no further comment on the decision.”

Railroad officials have said in the past they can’t secure funding commitments from investors without STB approval of the project, hence the limited amount of current resources.

Plans for the Great Lakes Basin Railroad call for 244 miles of mainline track and 17 miles of branch lines, including one connecting with the Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad at Kingsbury. The railroad would have 26 connections to other railroads, including two in Lake County and six in Porter and LaPorte counties.

The railroad would be able to handle as many as 110 trains per day for various-length trips along its three-state path, according to the GLBT application.
The construction cost was estimated at $2.8 billion.

The line would allow trains passing through Chicago to avoid congestion there, an opportunity GLBT officials said ensured its viability.

“A freight train can take 30 hours — more during periods of severe weather — to pass through the Chicago area, resulting in added inventory cost for shippers, suboptimal equipment utilization, air pollution, delayed passenger trains and billions of dollars in wasted productivity,” GLBT stated in its application.

Frank Patton founded Great Lakes Basin Transportation in 2011. An environmental review process, overseen by the STB, began last year, but was suspended in December at the request of GLBT so it could concentrate on completing the application. The STB decision officially discontinues the environmental review.

Opponents of the freight rail project expressed their satisfaction in the hours after the the decision was published.

Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said cooperation among elected officials and organized citizens was key.

“(U.S. Rep. Pete) Visclosky ensured all residents had scoping meetings in their counties, our state legislators updated our antiquated eminent domain laws creating a level playing field, various local governments including the Porter County Commissioners passed resolutions stating concerns, and our citizens banded together to create a strong grassroots effort and the best decision for the most people was made,” she said via email.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said “the board made a very sensible, very clear decision.”

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Crain’s Chicago Business: ELPC’s Learner Says Freight Companies Should Pay Their Share to Fix Chicago Rail Bottleneck

As the Nation’s Rail Hub, Chicago is an Expensive and Dangerous Bottleneck
By Judith Crown

One of the daily nuisances caused by the tangle of the Chicago area’s nearly 4,000 miles of rail track can be seen at the 71st Street grade crossing just east of Western Avenue. Motorists are routinely stuck for 15 to 20 minutes behind a gate, which is down an average of two hours a day.

“It gets pretty crowded,” said Vernon Wiltz, an aide to Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th). “We get complaints about traffic, and the train horns are horrendous at 3 or 4 in the morning.”

But however bad it is for motorists, think of it from the freight train’s point of view. Thomas the Tank Engine and his cousins must crawl for hours at a time navigating an eight mile stretch of South Side track where four freight and two passenger lines converge to create one of the worst rail choke points in the nation.

The so-called 75th Street corridor, which despite its name actually meanders from Evergreen Park to the Dan Ryan Expressway, is a prime reason why experts say a coast-to-coast freight train can spend one-third of its trip simply trying to pass through Chicago area bottlenecks. They pose deadly safety hazards and add immense expense to the cost of shipping goods by rail.

As President Trump beats the drum for a $1 trillion national public works program reminiscent of the New Deal, the Chicago area offers a long list of critical infrastructure suffering from deferred maintenance and in dire need of an upgrade. Rail, central to Chicago’s growth from prairie backwater to metropolitan crossroads, tops the list.

The economic peril of inaction is palpable. A 2015 Amtrak study concluded that $935 billion in goods transit through the Chicago on rail per year, and executives of major carriers frustrated by delays are becoming more vocal about the possibility of shifting traffic—and by extensions spending and investment–away from the area.

Indeed, Keith Creel, the CEO of Canadian Pacific told investors in May that his line was in talks with Jacksonville Fla.-based CSX to form a joint marketing and operating agreement to avoid Chicago switching yards and bypass chokepoints.

The partnership could find other ways to avoid Chicago. CP, for example, could bring intermodal traffic into Vancouver and hand it off to CSX on the east side of the Great Lakes, said Keith Schoonmaker, director for industrials equity research at Morningstar, Inc. “You’re a fool to drive into a traffic jam,” Schoonmaker said.

Another alternative: Shippers could circumvent the city by using the widened Panama Canal—East Coast cities are dredging their ports to accommodate larger container ships that can pass through the widened waterway, said Joseph C. Szabo, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning who headed the Federal Railroad Administration under former President Barack Obama.

Four Atlantic ports already can accommodate larger containerships: New York/New Jersey, Baltimore, Hampton Roads, Va., and Port Everglades, Fla., according to Shyam Raman, program manager at consultancy Frost & Sullivan, which analyzed the Chicago rail congestion problem for Amtrak.

These threats are real, Szabo said. “We put at risk losing our dominance if we don’t take decisive action.” Freight volumes are growing, he added, due to growth in population, consumption and the explosion of e-commerce, so it’s possible the region could tread water but still lose market share.

About 25 percent of all U.S. freight trains, and half of all intermodal trains that ferry shipping containers and trailer trucks, pass through the Chicago area, according to CMAP. Each day, tracks in the region bristle with 1,300 trains carrying freight and passengers.

But tracks, bridges, switches and signals largely laid out more than a century ago have resulted in a jumble that grinds away at efficiency. It often takes 26 to 30 hours for a freight train to pass through the area, a considerable time suck out of the typical three to five days it takes to move freight from West Coast ports to the Eastern seaboard.

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

Rauner at Center of Flap Over Asian Carp

By Greg Hinz

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

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

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

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

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

The Detroit News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six alternatives were considered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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