Illinois

Statement from Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition Re: U.S. Supreme Court’s temporary stay of Clean Power Plan

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition issued the following response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s issuing of a temporary stay on implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan:

“While the U.S. Supreme Court may have temporarily delayed implementation, we believe the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill are the best ways to create thousands of jobs, cut electric bills and give Illinois clean air.

“We encourage Governor Rauner and the Illinois EPA to begin a stakeholder process that keeps Illinois from falling further behind other states in growing a strong clean energy economy once the court upholds the Clean Power Plan.”

ELPC is a member of the Coalition, which you can learn more about at www.ilcleanjobs.org.

Chicago Transportation Journal: ELPC’s Learner Warns of “Devil in the Details” in Rauner’s Proposed I-55 Tolls

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s efforts to end the political bottleneck in Springfield have stalled so far, but he might have better luck with a new proposal to ease the chronic traffic jams on the Stevenson Expressway (Interstate 55).

Flanked by state legislators from both parties, Rauner on Thursday announced support for a plan to widen 25 miles of I-55 with so-called “managed lanes.”  Under the concept known as congestion pricing, these lanes would be tolled, depending on the amount of traffic, and could be used by carpoolers.

Rauner called for exploring a so-called Public Private Partnership, or P3, between the Illinois Department of Transportation and private investors to develop the project.  The investors would provide the funding, estimated at $425 million. In return, the investors would recoup toll revenue for construction, operations and maintenance.

“By using existing resources to leverage private investment, we can build the type of infrastructure that allows Illinois to better compete in the 21st century,” Rauner said. “This is an innovative project that will create jobs, improve the region’s quality of life and show that Illinois is open for business.”

Plans for adding tolled lanes to I-55 are not new. Transportation planners have advocated the managed-lane concept for years. In December, Rauner’s transportation secretary, Randy Blankenhorn outlined the project at a public hearing in Countryside.

Still, Rauner’s announcement drew immediate praise from officials and experts, who called the idea long overdue.

“Although new to our region, congestion pricing has been used successfully in the U.S. since 1995, with more than two dozen instances where it is being deployed to give drivers better choices for getting around,” said Joe Szabo, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which Blankenhorn previously headed.

It’s also possible that instead of private investors, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority could end up being IDOT’s partner to finance, build and operate the managed lanes, experts say. Although the Tollway is a state agency and under Rauner’s control, it is separate from IDOT and uses only toll revenue for its projects. Either way, tolling on I-55 would be need to be compatible with the Illinois Tollway’s I-Pass.

The Tollway is in the midst of its own 15-year, $12.1 billion expansion and improvement project called Move Illinois. The Tollway’s current projects include rebuilding and widening the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) and construction of the new Elgin-O’Hare tollway.

In a statement, the Tollway on Thursday said it is “committed to working with IDOT wherever necessary” for a “seamless transition from roadway to roadway.”

P3s have become more common in states as federal highway funds have dried up. Former Gov. Pat Quinn had pushed hard for a P3 to finance his would-be pet project, the Illiana Toll Road, linking I-55 near Wilmington with I-65 in Indiana. The federal government has since withdrawn its approval for the Illiana.

Rauner’s plan prompted a cautious response, however, from Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, which filed a lawsuit to help block the Illiana.

“When it comes to these types of P3 deals, the devil is in the details,” Learner said. “We need to make sure that the public is truly receiving its fair share of the benefits, and that the private investors are assuming their fair share of financial risks as well as potential rewards.”

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Crain’s: Howard Learner Warns “Devil in the Details” of Rauner’s New I-55 Toll Lane Plan

Gov. Bruce Rauner today floated a plan to add a pair of lanes, likely with tolls, to crowded Interstate 55 (the Stevenson Expressway) between I-355 (Veterans Memorial Tollway) and I-90/94 (the Dan Ryan Expressway).

Though the proposal needs approval by the highly polarized General Assembly, one key Democratic lawmaker threw his backing behind the plan, perhaps a sign that something actually will occur.

Specifically, Rauner announced his legislative allies have filed legislation to allow the Illinois Department of Transportation to negotiate a deal with an as-yet-unspecified private group, known as a public-private partnership, to study options for the Stevenson. Among those options are tolls that would go up or down depending on the time of day, a strategy known as congestion pricing.

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The goal is to add at least one lane in each direction on a 25-mile stretch of road that now carries an average of 170,000 vehicles a day. Not yet determined is whether the lanes will be tolled or free, or express toll lanes. But it’s hard to imagine a private company would be interested in fronting the hundreds of millions of dollars likely needed without the promise of a revenue stream.

For the state, a public-private partnership could allow it to do work that Illinois can’t afford, with lawmakers reluctant to raise gasoline or other taxes for the state’s road construction fund.

“Managed lanes are truly an expressway within an expressway, one more option that will make travel more convenient,” said IDOT Secretary Randy Blankenhorn.

Blankenhorn previously headed the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, a government group which has strongly backed the idea of using the Stevenson as a public-private partnership model. CMAP’s current executive director, Joe Szabo, promptly endorsed Rauner’s idea, saying in a statement, “Although new to our region, congestion pricing has been used successfully in the U.S. since 1995, with more than two dozen instances where it is being deployed to give drivers better choices for getting around.”

Such systems are common in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in particular, with freeways and tollways running parallel to each other.

But CMAP has been a vigorous opponent of another public-private partnership project, the proposed Illiana Corridor, saying the expressway would be an economic boondoggle.

That suggests that though Rauner’s plan got some immediate backing from Illinois Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, legislators ought to ask some tough questions.

A 2011 state law allows IDOT to build, finance, operate and maintain highway projects using a public-private partnership model, so long as the Legislature adopts a resolution in favor of the project. The General Assembly’s two GOP leaders, Sen. Christine Radogno and Rep. Jim Durkin, appeared with Rauner at a news conference today and are backing such a resolution.

IDOT says using a public-private partnership model could allow it to save up to $425 million in construction costs. Work could begin as soon as next year and be completed by 2019.

Update, 4 p.m. — A sign that Rauner’s proposal might face some headwinds is coming from Howard Learner, head of Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“When it comes to these types of P3 deals, the devil is in the details,” Learner says in a statement. “We need to make sure that the public is truly receiving its fair share of the benefits, and that the private investors are assuming their fair share of financial risks as well as potential rewards. The Illiana Tollway is an unfortunate example of a poorly designed P3 that imposes much too much financial risk on the public.”

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Associated Press: ELPC Outlines the Risks Associated with Coal Company Self-Bonding

ST. LOUIS (AP) – A Midwest environmental group is questioning the ability of the country’s largest coal producer to guarantee it has enough money for future cleanup of its Illinois mines, and it’s threatening to sue the state if regulators don’t change their approach.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources allows St. Louis-based Peabody Energy to pledge it has adequate assets to pay for the estimated $92 million needed to reclaim three southern Illinois mines once there’s no coal left to extract, or if the company shuts down.

The Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center says that arrangement, known as self-bonding, puts taxpayers at risk should Peabody go bankrupt. Five other major coal companies have sought bankruptcy protection since 2014, and Peabody’s stock price has plummeted amid tighter federal regulations and an industry shift toward natural gas, a cheaper and cleaner alternative.

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SNL Energy: ELPC Asks IL DNR to Revoke Self-Bonding and Ensure Coal Companies Perform Environmental Remediation

Concerns over coal companies’ ability to self-bond — a growing issue in Wyoming and West Virginia — are also popping up in Illinois.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center sent a Feb. 1 letter to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources asking the agency to revoke Peabody Energy Corp.‘s $92 million in existing self-bond obligations and require surety bonds instead. The group bases its request on what it says is a financial condition “so demonstrably deteriorated that [Peabody] no longer has a clearly apparent capacity to meet appropriate self-bonding standards.”

“The nation’s two largest credit rating organizations, Moody’s and [Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services], have given Peabody Energy ‘Negative’ outlooks on their credit ratings,” the letter states. “In all likelihood, Peabody is headed for bankruptcy.”

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ELPC’s Learner Calls for Illinois Climate Solutions in Progress Illinois After 2015 Named Warmest Year on Record

Global temperatures hit an unprecedented high in 2015, with temps shattering the previous record set in 2014 and reaching 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels for the first time in recorded history.

That’s according to new research released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA.

“Weather and temperature data are facts. They’re not opinions. And what the data is showing is that climate change is occurring,” Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, said in response to the new figures. “And 2015 being the warmest year on record is a strong indicator that here in Chicago and the United States and globally, we need to step up and act smartly and accelerate climate change solutions.”

Last year, the planet’s average surface temperature was 58.62 degrees Fahrenheit (14.79 Celsius) — an increase of 0.29 degrees Fahrenheit (0.16 degrees Celsius) compared to the previous record set in 2014, according to NOAA.

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ELPC’s Learner and The Daily Herald Editorial Board Say It’s Time to End the Illiana Tollway

Seven months ago, we were extremely pleased with Gov. Bruce Rauner who had just announced that he was withdrawing any more funding for the unnecessary and expensive Illiana Expressway.

Yes, we acknowledged at the time there were administrative steps needed to completely end the proposal, which would connect I-55 in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana.

Unfortunately, not all the steps have been completed and the Illiana Expressway apparently is still alive and we must question again why that is.

Daily Herald transportation writer Marni Pyke reported Monday that the Illinois Department of Transportation filed court documents in late 2015 — months after Rauner said the plan would not move forward — saying the state agency was committed to addressing problems in the environmental report and will hire consultants to conduct more analyses.

Huh?

“No decisions have been made at this point on next steps. No funding has been identified or spent. No consultants have been hired,” said IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell.

With the state budget stalemate ongoing, that’s not surprising. There’s not enough money for things that matter, much less for items that don’t. Our question and the question others have is why is Illiana still on IDOT’s radar in the first place?

“Why is IDOT trying to push this boondoggle.” asked Howard Learner, the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “It’s hard to read that any other way than saying they’re looking for money,” Learner said. “It’s baffling”

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Daily Herald: ELPC’s Learner Baffled by Gov. Rauner & IDOT Mixed Message over Proposed Illiana

Thought dead by many, the Illiana Expressway still clings to life in court, despite Gov. Bruce Rauner’s booting it off IDOT’s radar last year.

And that worries foes of the 50-mile proposed toll road linking I-55 near Wilmington with I-65 in Indiana.

“When the state of Illinois doesn’t have a budget and is under severe financial distress — when core programs for kids and schools are being cut — why is IDOT trying to push this boondoggle?” asked Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

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ELPC’s Howard Learner Discusses Amtrak Blue Ribbon Panel, Solving Rail Gridlock in Chicago with Railway Technology

Blighted with severe bottlenecks across its freight and passenger railway lines, Chicago has been dubbed “America’s rail traffic speed bump”. After an Amtrak investigation revealed that the city’s congestion problem could cause up to $799bn yearly losses to the US economy, what are the new solutions that could solve Chicago’s problem once and for all?

Located at the crossroads of four major Eastern and Western railroads, Chicago is the hub of the United States’ passenger and freight rail networks. Carrying a third of all rail freight traffic in the US valued at over $1tn, the city is the most important freight rail hub in North America. Chicago also holds the second largest commuter rail ridership of any US city, representing 11% of total ridership. As such, almost every major North American industry is dependent on the smooth running of Chicago’s rail operations.

But despite its national importance, Chicago has earned its nickname of “America’s rail traffic speed bump” after its services were blighted by severe, debilitating gridlocks and delays.

Although delays reached a critical point in winter 2014, the gridlock began much earlier and is still present today. Between 2013 and 2014, six of the eight worst performing long-distance passenger routes originated and terminated in Chicago. The situation only worsened during the current fiscal year, when Chicago was the source and end point of seven of the country’s worst performing trains.

As a result, on 24 October 2014 president of US passenger service operator Amtrak, Joseph Boardman, set up the Chicago Gateway Blue Ribbon Panel, a board of rail experts, attorneys, professors and former mayors tasked with identifying the critical infrastructure and operational improvements Chicago needs to relieve its rail congestion.

The panel’s findings, published on 1 October 2015, revealed that if left unchecked, Chicago’s rail gridlock will end up costing the US economy almost $800bn each year, due to its effects on six key industries constituting 85% of US domestic product: agriculture, natural resources, automotive, manufacturing, retail and services.

“The congestion challenge in Chicago poses the largest potential economic vulnerability to the US economy of all the major rail hubs in the United States”, the panel concluded, urging immediate action in order to avoid “the next Chicago rail crisis”.

Chicago’s rail traffic problem has not been an ignored topic. Over the past 15 years, authorities have made efforts to address the issue, the most important of which is a yet unfinished $4bn investment programme called Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE).

Established in 2003, CREATE encompasses 70 different freight and passenger projects looking at improving rail line capacity. So far, only 29 of these projects have been completed or are currently under construction, at a cost of $1.2bn, while the rest have been stalled due to lack of funding.

With Chicago’s volume of rail freight projected to increase by 62% before 2040, Amtrak’s report lists seven key recommendations, from top-priority infrastructure investments to improved operating practices, which aim to tackle Chicago’s congestion once and for all.

Infrastructural developments: tackling Chicago’s biggest chokepoint

“Because of the centrality of Chicago to the national railroad system in the US, the importance of alleviating congestion and increase fluidity has national economic implications,” says Howard Learner, Chicago attorney and member of the Blue Ribbon Panel.

“The CREATE programme received input and support by a wide range of democratic and republic politicians, policy makers across the board, transportation companies, labour unions, planners, environmental groups and others. One of the things the panel did here was prioritise two of the infrastructure improvements that have been highlighted in the CREATE programme.”
The first top priority project highlighted in the report is the 75th Street Corridor, located south of the city, identified as “Chicago’s biggest chokepoint”.

On a daily basis, 90 freight trains and 30 commuter trains have to squeeze through the same crisscross of tracks on a two-mile radius, forming long waiting queues around three major chokepoints. The Panel thus identified four separate CREATE projects which should be prioritised in order to alleviate this severe congestion.

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Howard Learner appears on WGN Radio’s “The Download” to talk about the Paris Climate Conference and More

ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner talks with WGN Radio host Justin Kaufmann about the Global Climate Treaty established in Paris, what climate change will mean for the Midwest, and how energy efficiency is a “two-fer” for environmental protection and economic development.

Listen to the broadcast on WGN’s website. Howard’s segment begins at minute 36. 

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