Christian Science Monitor: Battle Over the Clean Water Rule; What’s at Stake?

Christian Science Monitor

Battle over the Clean Water Rule: What’s at stake?

By Amanda Paulson

Just who gets to regulate America’s many seasonal streams and wetlands?

That’s a question that has long been contentious.

At the end of June, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt formally proposed revoking the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, also known as the “Waters of the US” rule, or WOTUS.

Mr. Pruitt was acting on an executive order signed by President Trump back in February. And depending on whom you talk to, the move to repeal the rule is either an environmental disaster that opens up America’s waterways to pollution and development and puts Americans’ drinking water at risk, or a common-sense action that gets rid of a rule particularly despised by many farmers, ranchers, and developers and returns regulatory authority to states.

Q: What is the rule?

The term “Waters of the United States” comes from the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act. The 2015 Clean Water Rule was designed to provide long-sought guidance on just which “navigable waters” fall under federal jurisdiction and are covered by the protections in that act.

Some waters, including permanent rivers and streams, clearly meet the definition. But many wetlands, seasonal streams, and ditches don’t necessarily qualify: They’re not connected to US waterways much of the time, even though they may ultimately feed into them.

In a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling to determine the jurisdiction, Rapanos v. United States, the court was split. Four conservative justices, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, offered a constrained definition that includes only “relatively permanent bodies of water.” Justice Anthony Kennedy concurred, but added that it should also include wetlands and intermittent streams that have a “significant nexus” to those waters – an opinion that has largely governed decisions since.

The Clean Water Rule carried over existing exemptions for things like agriculture and ranching. It has never taken effect, as lawsuits from states (including one involving Mr. Pruitt when he was Oklahoma attorney general) are working their way through the courts.

Q: What change is the EPA proposing?

The rule the EPA has put forward – currently in the 30-day comment period – would mean going back to the standards used 10 years ago. Since the Clean Water Rule is currently under a stay, it wouldn’t actually change practice on the ground.

There’s also some question about whether the repeal is fully legal – and it’s likely to be challenged in court. The EPA “can’t declare that within 30 days it’s going to stop following the law and ignore the standards that have been adopted” through long-standing administrative procedure, says Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which supports the Clean Water Rule.


WBEZ Worldview: ELPC’s Learner Discusses Volvo’s Plans to Shift to All-Electric and Hybrid Cars

Big Promises From Volvo And India On Electric Cars

Volvo announced last week that all of its new cars would be either hybrid or electric by 2020. Volvo is owned by Geely, one of China’s biggest automakers, and the poor air quality in China has led some to believe that the move is also motivated by stricter Asian emissions regulations. Earlier this year, India’s Prime Minister announced a measure to ban the sale of internal combustion engines in the country by 2030 to address pollution. Neither India nor China have the supply of electric cars needed to reduce air pollution.

To discuss, Worldview is joined by Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, and Carlo Segre, Duchossois Leadership Professor of Physics at IIT and CTO of Influit Energy, a startup that researches liquid battery refueling for electric cars.


Crain’s Chicago Business: ELPC’s Learner Says North Lake Shore Drive Design Should Have More Transit, Less Road

Wow! Here’s What North Lake Shore Drive Could Look Like
By Greg Hinz

After a couple of years of quiet work, city and state transportation planners are moving into a more public phase of how to rebuild North Lake Shore Drive, and though some fairly exotic concepts have been eliminated—such as bus tunnels under the lake and a light-rail line in the median strip—what’s left is eye-catching.

You might even say that Daniel Burnham-style big dreaming is back. (Any actual construction is still at least several years away, but there sure is a lot to talk about.)

The centerpiece of an “initial range of alternatives” that will be laid out in a hearing at DePaul University this afternoon are plans to expand and rebuild the Oak Street Beach area into a major new park.

Using lakefill, the beach would be reconfigured and moved hundreds of feet to the northeast. To the west of the beach would be an expansive new park running more than a mile past North Avenue, bisected by the new drive. Two versions of the plan feature a formal pedestrian promenade from the nearby Streeterville neighborhood to the beach, or a combined entrance for those on foot and on bicycles. Under either scenario, the current at-grade Chicago Avenue entrance to the drive would be replaced with an overpass, eliminating a stoplight that slows traffic.

The proposals—developed by the state and city departments of transportation, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—eliminate as unrealistic the possibility of constructing a light-rail line alongside or in the center of the highway, or building express tunnels and/or causeways under the lakeshore or in Lincoln Park. Also eliminated is doing nothing except for routine maintenance. Officials say that’s inadequate for a roadway that’s now more than 80 years old and suffers on average three car crashes a day.

Remaining on the table are either expanding or shrinking the drive, likely with some lanes set aside for buses or other high-occupancy vehicles.

There’s a lot there, so best to look at the pictures yourself to get an idea. (You can zoom in on some of the larger renderings of the Oak Street Beach proposal here and here.)

If you want to talk to the officials involved and express an opinion, the full concept plan will be reviewed in a meeting at DePaul University’s Student Center, 2250 N. Sheffield, from 3 to 7 p.m. this evening. Or comments can be posted here.

Officials hope to settle on a final concept by 2020. Then they can try to figure out how to pay for it. No cost estimates are available at the moment, nor are details on how difficult legally it will be to build landfill into Lake Michigan.

The city also released renderings of other, generally smaller changes to parts of the lakefront, including possible changes around LaSalle Drive, Lake Shore Drive at Fullerton Avenue, the bike path near Belmont Harbor and other areas around the drive. You can see before-and-after renderings of those proposals below.

Update, 2:30 p.m.—Some reaction is coming in to the idea floated by the transit planners, most of it positive.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, said in an email that, aesthetically, “The conceptual plan is beautiful. The proposed open space and new pedestrian and bike paths would be a major enhancement to our lakefront . . . this is an incredibly rare opportunity for any city—to be able to build a massive swath of new parks and beachfront while also improving a long-neglected arterial highway.”

Reilly also praised the plan’s proposal to somewhat straighten out the “Oak Street Curve” that slows traffic and causes some accidents, but underlined the obvious question: How much will it cost, and where will the money come from? “Pardon the pun, but the project budget really is where the rubber meets the road for this proposal.”

Also laudatory is the Metropolitan Planning Council.

“The proposed alternatives for Lake Shore Drive show that the city is thinking big,” Audrey Wennink, the group’s transportation director, said in a statement. “Lake Michigan is our city’s crown jewel, and this project will transform how people relate to the waterfront on the North Side. Therefore, it is critical that the plan chosen prioritize connections between neighborhoods and the lakefront, increase green space and improve transit, biking and walking.”

Somewhat more guarded was Environmental Law & Policy Center chief Howard Learner.

Adding more parkland is a no-brainer for the crowded North Side, he said. But Learner would like to see more transit and less road in the design. “The goal here should be a parkway through the park, not a highway next to the lake.”


Crain’s Chicago Business: House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

By Greg Hinz

With a big assist from a bipartisan pair of lawmakers from Ohio, it looks like plans by the Trump administration to slash funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are on the way to being derailed.

As previously reported, Trump proposed cutting the program—which pays for everything from sewage treatment plants in Milwaukee and water-permeable concrete in Uptown to electronic barriers to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan—a whopping 97 percent. Trump aides said that and other kinds of spending have to go to make room for tax cuts to stimulate the economy.

​ But yesterday, GOP Rep. David Joyce and Democratic colleague Marie Kaptur, both from the Toledo area, convinced the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies to include the normal $300 million in the pending fiscal 2018 federal budget.

The action is only “a first step,” said Howard Learner, head of the Environmental Law & Policy Center here. But the full appropriations committee likely will go along with the subcommittee, and traditionally so does the full House. It’s worth noting that House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin comes from a lakefront district.



PRESS RELEASE: ELPC Commends U.S. House Committee’s Action to Fully Fund Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                          Contact: Judith Nemes                                                                                                                                                       ELPC Commends U.S. House Committee’s Action to Fully Fund Great Lakes Restoration Initiative 



Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the U.S. House Appropriations Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee acting to fully fund the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the FY 2018 Environmental Protection Agency’s budget:

“This is a big first step forward for protecting the Great Lakes and achieving full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee rejected President Trump’s zeroing out FY 2018 budget funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  With bipartisan support, the Committee restored the full $300 million of funding for the sensible and successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

“Since GLRI was launched in 2010, it has provided vital funding to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world. GLRI projects also protect safe clean drinking water for 42 million people and support a $62 billion economy based on fishing, boating, and recreational activities.  That’s great value for all of us who live, work and play in and around the Great Lakes.

“Members of Congress across the Midwest heard loud and clear from their constituents that the Trump Administration’s completely eliminating GLRI funding in the FY 2018 is a bad idea.  We especially thank Representatives David Joyce (R-OH) and Marci Kaptur (D-OH) for their leadership in supporting the $300 million of appropriations for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative programs.

“Unfortunately, the House Subcommittee also carries out the Trump Administration’s harsh EPA budget cuts that will compromise the EPA’s ability to advance healthier clean air and protect safe, clean drinking water protections that are vitally important to our health.   The American people deserve better protection than that for our core clean air and clean water values.”




ABC 7 Chicago: ELPC Proposes Chicago Pedway Makeover Plans

Now, there is a plan to spruce up the walkway, which pedestrians can use with it’s too hot or cold to be outside. The tunnel links more than 50 buildings, as well as Metra and subway stations, and is used by thousands daily.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center proposed the upgrades, which seeks to revitalize the main stem of the pedway along Randolph Street from Millennium Station to the Thompson Center.

“If we had better navigation, signage and better coordinated, we activated it arts and entertainment it would be a really cool place,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Chicago Tribune: ELPC Spearheads Report Offering Tool Kit to Improve Chicago Pedway

By Blair Kamin

July 7, 2017

For the Pedway to succeed, says the report, “it must be viewed as more than just a shortcut between places; it must be seen both as a destination and as a desirable way to move around downtown.”

If, like me, you’re a veteran Pedway user, you might be tempted to respond, “I could have told you that!” Yet the report moves things ahead by formulating a systematic approach — the equivalent of an urban design tool kit — to solve the Pedway’s problems. While some of the suggested tools, like consistently labeled signs, are no-brainers, others, such as the cube-shaped entrance pavilion, promise imaginative touches of architectural spectacle. The Pedway needs both.

Commissioned by the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, which is partnering on the effort with Broadway in Chicago and the Chicago Loop Alliance, the 38-page study got a boost Wednesday.

Confused by Chicago’s pedway system? It’s not just you.
Key players — including Steve Koch, a top adviser to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and city Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld — informally approved going forward with the next steps to develop plans to revitalize the Pedway.

“The city has given us the green light,” said Howard Learner, the center’s executive director.


PRESS RELEASE: Midwest Environmental Groups Sound Alarm on Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Cuts & Line 5 Issues

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                          Contact: Judith Nemes

July 6, 2017                                                                      


Midwest Environmental Groups Sound Alarm on Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Cuts & Line 5 Issues

ELPC & Groundwork Gathering in Traverse City Urge Attendees to Fight Back Against Trump Administration’s War on the Great Lakes 

TRAVERSE CITY, MI. – Michiganders gathered in Traverse City today to hear two Midwest environmental leaders present strategies to push back on threats to the progress of restoring the Great Lakes and safe clean drinking water. They focused on countering the Trump Administration’s proposed complete elimination of $300 million in funding for the bipartisan-supported Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the FY 2018 budget, which has provided $2.2 billion for about 3,000 projects since its inception, and persuading Michigan policymakers to decide on an alternative to the dangerous Line 5 pipeline.

“President Trump won his election in the pivotal Great Lakes states, but his misguided policies and practices amount to a War on the Great Lakes,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Midwest-based Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The Trump Administration is eliminating funding for the sensible and successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, rolling back Clean Water standards and reconsidering the additions to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron. The Trump Administration doesn’t seem to understand how much Michiganders care about protecting the Great Lakes where we live, work and play, and which provides safe clean drinking water for 42 million people.”

Hans Voss, Executive Director of Traverse City’s Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and a leader in the campaign to protect the Great Lakes from an oil spill from the Line 5 pipeline, urged attendees to comment this month on safer alternatives proposed by the State Pipeline Safety Advisory Board.

“The time for state decision-makers to study and debate what to do about the Line 5 pipeline is over,” said Voss. “Now is the time for citizens to speak up and push for lawmakers to shut down the pipeline once and for all.”

The gathering took place at the Bluewater Event Center in Traverse City.



Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Susan Mudd Says Illinois Volkswagen Money Should Include Electric School Buses

Waiting on VW Money
June 26, 2017
By Mary Wisniewski

Illinois, a state notorious for financial problems, is due to get some non-taxpayer money — $108.7 million from a national settlement with carmaker Volkwagen over the German automaker’s emissions scandal.

But Illinois is behind other states in soliciting public input on how to spend the money, which is supposed to go to clean air projects. And some environmental groups are worried that Illinois is taking too long to find out what people want and come up with a plan.

“I think this should be started as soon as possible,” said Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council. “I think the sooner the better, the more people who get to participate the better.”

Midwestern states ahead of Illinois include Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Iowa. Minnesota, for example, has already hosted three public input sessions and is accepting comments through Friday.

“Those states are ready to take advantage of the funds as soon as they become available,” said Susan Mudd, senior policy advocate with the Environmental Law and Policy Center. She said Illinois does not risk losing the money but does risk causing delays.

Illinois EPA officials responded that they are waiting to be named as the legal beneficiary for the money by the trustee before having public hearings. Being named legal beneficiary will happen after the trustee names an “effective trust date,” which is the day when the process to qualify for funding gets going and deadlines kick in for states to submit plans.

“Illinois EPA will be seeking public input before completing our mitigation plan, but we have not decided on the method(s),” said IEPA Associate Director Heather Nifong in an email.

Asked why Illinois has chosen to wait on getting public input while other states have gone ahead, Nifong said in an interview, “Every state should choose their own path forward.”

The money is due to come from a multibillion-dollar settlement with Volkswagen. The automaker admitted in 2015 that it had installed secret software that allowed U.S. vehicles to emit up to 40 times the legally allowable level of pollution. VW agreed to more than $15 billion in settlements, and some of that money is going to states for clean-air programs.

Late last month, a coalition of environmental groups, including the Environmental Council, the Citizens Utility Board, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Law and Policy Center, met with Illinois EPA Director Alec Messina to discuss the settlement and make suggestions on how the money should be used.

In a written statement, the groups recommended using 15 percent of the VW money, or about $16 million, to deploy light-duty plug-in electric vehicle charging stations. The rest of the money should be spent on zero-emission vehicles, such as electric school and transit buses, the statement said.

Katie Miller, principal at Alexander Graham Bell Elementary School in the North Center neighborhood, is hoping for electric school buses.

“We have several children who suffer from asthma and other related respiratory illnesses,” Miller said. She said the bus companies try to work with the school to limit bus idling, but “it’s not a perfect system. … An electric bus would really resolve a lot of these issues.”

Nifong said Illinois is talking with stakeholders, such as environmental groups, on an informal, ongoing basis and continues to listen to people who are “eager to share their ideas on how the mitigation funds should be spent.”


Reuters: ELPC’s Learner Says EPA Rollback of Clean Water Rule Imperils Safe Clean Drinking Water

EPA and Army Corps seek to rescind clean water rule
June 27, 2017
By Valerie Volcovici 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers released a proposal on Tuesday to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule, the latest move by the Trump administration to unwind environmental regulations put in place under former President Barack Obama.

The agencies are working to rescind the rule, known as the Waters of the United States rule, and reinstate the language of the rule before it was changed in 2015.

“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said.

In 2015, EPA and the Army Corps issued what they called the Waters of the United States rule to clarify which bodies of water should be regulated under the Clean Water Act.

The act, passed in 1972 and last amended in 1987, is intended to protect the nation’s waters from pollution.

In February, President Donald Trump said during the signing of an executive order calling for a review of the rule that the act should apply only to navigable waters that affect interstate commerce.

Some lawmakers from states with large rural areas praised the move.

“Out of state D.C. bureaucrats shouldn’t impose regulations that hurt Montana farmers, ranchers and landowners,” said the state’s Republican senator, Steve Daines.

Environmental groups criticized the move, saying it ignores public input and would put parts of the country like the Midwestern Great Lakes at risk.

“This foolish rollback of clean water standards rejects years of work building stakeholder input and scientific data support, and it imperils the progress for safe clean drinking water in the Midwest,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.



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