Illinois

EnergyWire: ELPC’s Learner Expresses Commitment to Advance Clean Energy Standards

EnergyWireIn Midwest, a Vow to Continue Clean Energy Push Under Trump
January 23, 2017
By Jeffrey Tomich

Across the Midwest, clean energy advocates will go to work today like they would on any other Monday.

They’ll engage with legislators, regulators and utilities on policies to advance wind, solar and energy efficiency and curtail emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants that affect the environment and public health.

Moving forward, of course, there is one obvious change. While green groups generally had backing from the White House over the last eight years, they now face a brisk headwind with Friday’s inauguration of President Trump.

Within minutes of taking the oath of office, the incoming administration scrubbed references to climate change from the White House web site and posted an energy policy summary that outlined plans to eliminate “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.”

Clean energy advocates across the Midwest said the reversal in policy at the executive branch cannot overcome trends that are increasingly steering utilities away from coal and to cleaner sources of energy.

Solar panels are a fraction of their cost only a few years ago. Utilities and corporations are continuing to add thousands of megawatts of new wind generation across the Midwest. Energy demand is declining, or at least flat-lining even as local economies grow. And emissions are falling and aging coal plants are retiring.

“There’s a market transformation that’s going on that’s being driven by smart policies combined with technological improvements,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Midwest environmental advocacy group.

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WGN Radio: Learner Talks Environmental Policy Under Trump Administration

wgnradiowlogo-wideWhat Can We Expect from President Donald Trump’s Environmental Policy?
January 19, 2017
With Justin Kaufmann

Howard Learner, President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center joins Justin to talk about Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Rick Perry, Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Energy and what we can expect from President Trump’s environmental policy moving forward.

Listen Here

Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Howard Learner Remains Positive Despite Forthcoming Trump Administration

Midwest-Energy-News-LogoQ&A: Advocate Upbeat about Midwest as Trump Administration Looms
January 19, 2017
By Kari Lydersen

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center based in Chicago, spent the early 1980s fighting for fair housing laws and civil rights protections during the Reagan administration.

On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Learner lamented how he feels like the clock has turned back three decades, and he’s again in the position of fighting for basic protections and rights that many Americans have long embraced.

But Learner said he is up for the battle, and confident that public opinion, state and local politics and economics are on his side. 

Midwest Energy News talked with Learner about the impending Trump administration and the ELPC’s plans for the next four years. (EDITOR’S NOTE: This transcript has been updated for clarity)

Midwest Energy News: So how do you feel about the next four years?  

Learner: We have a plan, we’re geared up to fight back. The best defense is a good offense – we’re fired up and ready. At ELPC we need to step up and be prepared to act in the changing political landscape, we need to find ways to play to win both in terms of defense in Washington D.C. and the place we can play offense to achieve important progress in the states and the cities. The Midwest is a pretty good place for us to get things done.

What role does the Midwest play exactly in the struggle to protect the environment and clean energy during the Trump administration?

The American public and pragmatic Midwesterners strongly support core environmental values like clean air, safer drinking water and people being able to live in communities without toxic threats. And there’s strong bipartisan consensus in favor of clean energy development that’s good for jobs, economic growth, the environment.

There have been good examples in the Midwest that illustrate both points. The tragedy of contaminated water in Flint has made it clear to Democratic and Republican policymakers around the Midwest that the public won’t accept unsafe drinking water. It’s a bipartisan issue, it’s a nonpartisan issue.

Recently [Illinois Gov. Bruce] Rauner signed into law legislation to reduce the lead risk in the drinking water supply for children in public schools and day care centers…When it comes to clean safe drinking water and healthier clean air, there is strong mainstream public support for better protection by both the U.S. EPA and the state EPAs. They believe there are common sense solutions that we can carry forth, that transcend partisan urban-rural and other divides.

Are you saying that it will be up to governors and state legislatures to pass stronger laws in case the Trump administration weakens or does not enforce federal protections?

On the clean water, clean air and clean energy fronts, it’s clear we’re going to need to play defense in Washington D.C. Trump nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be U.S. EPA Administrator.  Mr. Pruitt has spent his career as an Attorney General persistently suing the EPA to stop or stall standards to protect clean air and safe drinking water. It is the fox guarding the chicken coop. As the old saying goes, you hope for the best but you plan for the worst.

Unfortunately I expect that ELPC and our colleagues will have to file lawsuits to require the EPA to do its job and fulfill its responsibility, to protect healthy air and clean drinking water for people around our region.

The Trump transition team has indicated that they plan to greatly cut back EPA’s environmental enforcement. If EPA does step back on its environmental enforcement responsibilities, ELPC will help stand up to fill the gap. We’re hiring some additional public interest litigation attorneys. This is one of ELPC’s core strengths, and we are building upon it. This is a time in which public interest environmental litigation is needed both to defend the core environmental laws and to file citizen suits for environmental enforcement.

We have 20 environmental attorneys, and we are stepping up and hiring additional litigants. Secondly, we have created the expanded HELP program – the High-impact Environmental Litigation Program. After the election we got calls from a number of attorneys saying, “I want to help — give me a pro bono case I can do.” We are building upon and expanding on ELPC’s top-rated environmental litigation team and at the same time we are tapping a number of experienced litigators who want to take on pro bono cases to help protect clean air and clean water.

Since many environmental laws are self-implementing, depending largely on citizen suits for enforcement, is it really that different from what you’ve had to do during previous administrations?

We’ve certainly brought citizen suits in the past, we have a citizen suit pending in federal court in central Illinois to enforce clean air violations by Dynegy at its [E.D. Edwards] coal plant. But this is different. When an administration cares about environmental regulations in a positive way, the Attorney General tends to bring the enforcement actions, and we fill some gaps. If we see President Trump’s administration retreating on its enforcement responsibilities, ELPC will step up and have a much more vibrant enforcement strategy. We’re preparing to do that by increasing our in-house litigation team.

That all takes resources and funding. Some media outlets and non-profit organizations have actually seen a boom in support because of Trump. Has that happened for environmental organizations, or do you expect it to happen?

We’ll see. There are some groups out there these days that seem to be asking for money twice a day, it’s a disaster and then it’s another disaster. I hope we’re at a time when environmental philanthropy will be stepped up in response to the needs of the times. These are extraordinary times. And it doesn’t hurt that the stock market is at a relatively high point.

Certainly people in the Midwest and around the country who care about the environment understand that it’s likely to be under siege if someone like Scott Pruitt does become the next EPA Administrator. I think when times are tough, people are willing to dip into their pocketbooks more and step up. But we aren’t taking out loans based on hoped-for increased fundraising, and you’re not going to see the fundraising emails from ELPC. This isn’t about money.

So a Trump administration especially with Pruitt as EPA Administrator would likely roll back enforcement of environmental regulations. On the clean energy development front, will the Trump administration halt progress?

We hope and believe that Congress will not allow the Trump administration to roll back the Production Tax Credit for wind power or the Investment Tax Credit for solar power. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) said [a PTC repeal] would happen “over my dead body.” This is pretty bipartisan.

Solar and wind power have strong bipartisan support. Look what has happened in about the past three months. Illinois passed a strong Renewable Portfolio Standard [fix] supported by both Democrats and Republicans. Iowa Gov. [Terry] Branstad has always taken pride in the state’s wind power leadership, and Iowa is starting to step up on solar development. Wind power development in Iowa is good for jobs, economic growth and the environment, and it’s supported by the entire Republican leadership as well as the Democrats.

Michigan just passed legislation that improves and steps up the RPS. Governor John Kasich in Ohio just vetoed the attempt by the legislature to freeze energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. In just the last few months, we’ve seen progress in four Midwestern states in significant ways.

And Minnesota has always been a leader, in Indiana we have a little work to do, in Wisconsin we have Gov. Scott Walker. But there are two new wind farms in Wisconsin now. For a long time wind power was stalled in Wisconsin, now there are large new wind farms going up in Wisconsin and Dairyland Power [Cooperative] is doing another 15 MW of solar. We’re seeing smart policy plus technological innovation driving clean energy development in the Midwest.

We’re going to have to play some defense in Washington D.C., but we’re looking at these four Midwest states if not five that have stepped up in the last few months. What it shows is first of all that clean energy development has strong mainstream public support. Secondly, it makes sense as a matter of economics. And policymakers understand where the economics are and they are supporting smart policies.

Trump claims he is such a great businessman, so if this is all true why would he undermine clean energy development? 

I will not try to interpret what’s going on in President-elect Trump’s mind. The ITC and PTC have created thousands of new jobs and accelerated cleaner energy in the power markets, protecting public health and the environment, which is what the public wants. This is good for jobs, good for economic growth and good for the environment.

Trump has said he wants to create jobs. If President-elect Trump were to support repealing these important public incentives, that would be a triumph of misplaced ideology over common sense.

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Press Release: Un-Mucking Illinois’ Waterways: Court Settlement Should Reduce Algae Pollution in Rivers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Un-Mucking Illinois’ Waterways: Court Settlement Should Reduce Algae Pollution in Rivers

CHICAGO (January 19, 2017) – Environmental groups have settled long-running litigation against the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) over pollution from three of its Chicago-area sewage treatment plants. The agreement requires the parties to work together to curb phosphorous discharges from the plants that are fueling algae blooms and lowering water quality in the Chicago River system and downstream waters as far away as the Gulf of Mexico.

The Chicago River system is much cleaner as a result of investment in clean water infrastructure and the Clean Water Act. However, an overload of phosphorus and other nutrients from wastewater plants continues to pollute these waters. The settlement approved today by MWRD’s Board of Commissioners, resolves a pair of lawsuits targeting the District’s phosphorus pollution as a violation of the federal Clean Water Act. To address the problem MWRD has agreed to upgrade pollution controls at its largest wastewater plants by 2030. The parties have also agreed to form a joint committee to hire scientists and engineers who will identify problematic places in the Chicago River system and come up with a plan to eliminate algal and plant issues. The District has also agreed to extensive monitoring of phosphorus-related problems in the downstream Lower Des Plaines River, as well as a study to determine the feasibility of a tenfold reduction in the MWRD’s phosphorus discharge limit, in line with more stringent limits set elsewhere in the country.

“Our local waters have been a poster child for the national problem of phosphorus pollution, but now we have a chance to be a model for the solution,” said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “If you can fix this in a waterway with a reputation like the Chicago River, it means you can clean up any river. This settlement puts us on a path that can signal an urban river renaissance nationally.”

The Illinois EPA will play a key role in addressing the situation, implementing an enforceable requirement in the District’s discharge permits for its three Chicago-area plants. Attorneys for the environmental organizations expressed confidence that the state Agency, which was extensively involved in the settlement discussions, intends to do so promptly. The Illinois EPA has separately agreed to conduct extensive monitoring of algae-related pollution in the downstream Illinois River.

Jack Darin, Director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, said, “This is a major breakthrough in the decades-long effort to restore the Chicago River system to a healthy waterway that supports wildlife, recreation, and economic development in our communities. New pollution controls will make significant reductions in nutrient pollution, the largest remaining pollution problem in these waters, and create good jobs modernizing our water infrastructure. We are excited to partner with MWRD and area communities in implementing this historic agreement in the years to come.”

“This settlement signals a positive change toward improving the way permits are written to protect Illinois waters,” said Jessica Dexter, Staff Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “We expect other dischargers to follow suit and be part of the long-term solution to rid algae overgrowth from our waterways.”

“Here in the Gulf region, the nutrient problem really hits home,” said Matt Rota, Senior Policy Director at New Orleans-based Gulf Restoration Network. “The MWRD has been a very real part of that problem – they’re the largest single contributor to the Gulf Dead Zone right here in our back yard. We’re very pleased that they’re now working with us to be part of the solution.”

“Our members love to paddle on our local waterways, but the disgusting, smelly algae that blooms every summer can really get in the way of their enjoyment,” said Kim Knowles, staff attorney with Prairie Rivers Network. “We’re glad to finally be headed toward a long term solution.”

One of the two lawsuits settled in the agreement, brought in 2011 by Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Prairie Rivers Network, was a Clean Water Act citizen enforcement action alleging that the algae fueled by the District’s phosphorus was causing violations of water quality standards. The other lawsuit, brought by those organizations and three others – Environmental Law & Policy Center, Friends of the Chicago River, and Gulf Restoration Network –successfully challenged the MWRD’s Clean Water Act permits as inadequate to address the problem. Last year, an Illinois appellate court sent the permits’ phosphorus limits back to Illinois EPA for revision.

NRDC was represented pro bono by the law firm Baker & McKenzie, and the Sierra Club and Prairie Rivers Network were represented by solo attorney, Albert Ettinger.

“This settlement is the natural next step in advancing the health of the Chicago River system and essential to the impacted water bodies downstream,” said Margaret Frisbie, Executive Director, Friends of the Chicago River. “In recent years the river’s physical condition has improved dramatically and it is time to reduce phosphorus to better protect our burgeoning fish populations and other aquatic life at the same we make the river system more appealing to people who live, work, and recreate in, on, and along it.”

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Read Joint Statement with MWRD Here

 

Breaking: ELPC Commends Illinois General Assembly for Approving Preventing Lead in Drinking Water Legislation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 10, 2017

Contact: Judith Nemes
(312) 795-3706
JNemes@elpc.org

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

“Illinois children have a basic right to safe drinking water in schools and child care centers. The Environmental Law & Policy Center commends the Illinois General Assembly for approving the Preventing Lead in Drinking Water legislation (SB550) today, which requires taking stronger steps to protect children from lead poisoning.”

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center thanks the bill’s co-sponsors, State Senator Heather Steans and State Representative Sonya Harper, for prioritizing safe drinking water for Illinois children. We recognize and appreciate the hard and effective work of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and our environmental colleagues in crafting SB550.”

“Toxic levels of lead exposure can cause significant damage to children’s intellectual and emotional development and contribute to behavioral problems. There is no safe level of lead in our drinking water supplies. This Illinois legislation is an important step in the right direction to protect our children’s health.”

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Chicago Tribune: ELPC to Host Pedway Workshop

ChicagoTribuneConfused By Chicago’s Pedway System? It’s Not Just You.
January 9, 2017
By Blair Kamin

With public meetings about improving Chicago’s popular but confusing downtown pedway system set to start this week, it’s time to hear from the real experts on the heated underground network of tunnels and corridors — the people who use it to escape winter’s biting cold.

Many of them responded to my Dec. 25 column about the pedway, which serves thousands of people each weekday and links more than 50 buildings to the CTA’s Red and Blue lines, and the train station beneath Millennium Park. Pedway users voiced concerns about a lack of maps to inconvenient operating hours to poor access for people who are disabled.

A Chicago-based nonprofit, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, will convene the meetings Wednesday and Thursday. It is funding a $125,000 redesign of the main pedway stretch beneath Randolph Street. City officials, who acknowledge that the pedway needs a reboot, are cooperating with the effort, which could introduce concerts and art shows to the underground.

That would be nice. But members of the public want to see these nitty-gritty issues addressed:

Is a Pedway Map Available?

The city’s Department of Transportation has one posted online. So does Google Maps. But neither map is ideal.

The city’s map was last changed in 2013; it will be updated “in the near future,” said a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation. The Google map, while more user-friendly than the city’s, doesn’t include the entire system.

Within the pedway system, there are no paper maps available even though the city’s Department of Transportation promised to provide them 11 years ago as part of a federally funded, nearly $1.5 million city push to make the system easier to navigate. Even in the digital age, hand-held maps would be useful.

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GreenBiz: ELPC’s KIein Says Water Quality Trading One Option to Reduce Water Pollution

GreenBizQuantifying Water as a Liquid Asset
January 7, 2017
By Kelli Barrett

The World Economic Forum ranked the water crisis as one of the top threats facing society after listing it as the No. 1 threat in 2015. Water was also central to the Paris climate talks, while the United Nations dedicated Sustainable Development Goal No. 6 to water and sanitation and the Sioux people of North America put the previously unknown town of Standing Rock on the global map by standing up to protect their water rights.

Fortunately, scores of efforts are underway to meet the challenge and the Electric Power Research Institute started off the year with a review of its Water Prize-winning Ohio River Basin Trading project. A January webinar outlined a multi-pronged strategy that includes promotional videos and impact investors rather than donor-based finance.

Using the project’s funding, Midwest farmers such as Ken Merrick have been able to implement conservation activities to reduce fertilizer and animal waste from running into nearby waterways that flow to the Gulf of Mexico. Merrick, who operates Conser Run farm in Ohio, added a storage area for manure and a buffer strip where his cows only occasionally are allowed to graze.

He also lets trees and grasses grow along the creek running through his farm, which mops up excess pollution before it reaches the water.

The program is still in a pilot phase but, if it evolves as planned, Ohio River farmers can quantify their pollution reductions and generate stewardship credits using a market-based approach called water quality trading. They then can sell these credits to power plants and wastewater treatment facilities interested in meeting sustainability goals or to comply with regulatory requirements.

The Trading Debate

Water quality trading made headlines in 2016 after an organization called Food and Water Watch penned a paper in late 2015 condemning the entire practice and re-labeling it “pollution trading.” The group charged that it undermines the Clean Water Act (CWA) and puts U.S. waterways at great risk. Advocates of the practice dismissed the paper in August, arguing trading is one of several tools states and utilities can use to improve water quality.

“Trading isn’t a silver bullet. It’s not a panacea,” Brad Klein, a senior attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said. “But we need to get on top of this issue of water pollution, and water quality trading may be another arrow in the quiver.”

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Chicago Athlete Magazine: ELPC’s Mudd Called Chicago’s 3-Minute Idling Rule for Diesel-Powered Vehicles a Good Start, But Tougher Laws Needed

ChicagoAthleteOut of Breath? Chicago’s Air Pollution Could Be Affecting Your Training
January 5, 2017
By Hannah Magnuson

Athletes struggling to breathe in the Windy City are up against stronger forces than just the city’s infamous gusts. Air pollution triggers asthma symptoms for many Chicago runners and cyclists, whether they know it or not.

Take local runner Emily McCoy, 20. McCoy competed for two years at the NCAA Division 1 level for Loyola University’s cross country and track teams and couldn’t understand why she was having so much trouble breathing.

“It was so frustrating because the rest of my body would feel fine but my breathing would be getting shorter and shorter and shorter,” McCoy complained.

She reported her breathing difficulties to Loyola’s athletic trainers who encouraged her to get an asthma inhaler prescription. McCoy later visited a doctor who conducted breathing tests and determined she had both exercise-induced asthma and vocal cord dysfunction.

Before learning of her health conditions, the long-distance runner repeatedly had to cut short her running and training workouts.

McCoy’s struggle is common among many athletes throughout Chicago and beyond. Two of her teammates, Kelly Janokowicz and Cassie Bloch, also suffer from asthma.

Exercising near busy roadways, including Chicago’s Lakefront Path alongside Lake Shore Drive, exposes local runners and cyclists to hazardous pollutants from diesel-powered vehicles idling in commuting traffic. There are diesel-powered construction equipment operating at roadside building sites as well.

Diesel engines emit tiny particulates that lodge in human lungs and cause a myriad of health problems, including asthma and lung cancer. And when diesel-powered vehicles have outdated, dirty engines, they emit much higher levels of diesel particulates that are far more hazardous to athletes and anyone else who come into close proximity while they’re operating.

While diesel pollution is an ongoing problem for Chicago runners and cyclists, environmental and health advocates, including the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Respiratory Health Association, are working with city officials to reduce the levels of hazardous exposure throughout the city.

How Asthma Can Affect Your Training

Asthma is a condition that occurs when the smooth muscles in a person’s airways constrict due to some type of trigger, explained Loyola Exercise Science Professor Jeremy Fransen.  This constriction in the airways impedes airflow and makes it more difficult to breathe.

“Asthma is triggered by different things for different people–for some it’s allergies, for some, exercise or environmental pollutants,” said Fransen, who has a PhD in exercise physiology.

Chicago athletes face all three of these triggers, increasing their chances of breathing trouble.

The Loyola runners who regularly use the Lakefront Path and do workouts around Montrose Harbor – both within breathing range of Lake Shore Drive–are used to altering their training patterns to avoid these asthma triggers.

Bloch, 21, routinely checks the air quality index in the summer before heading out for a run, and if certain allergen counts are high, she opts to run on indoor treadmills instead.

She takes two puffs of her asthma inhaler before nearly every run regardless, and alters her running route if she sees a construction site up ahead.

Janokowicz, 21, uses an inhaler and takes allergy medications to make her symptoms manageable. Despite those precautionary measures, Janokowicz still experienced a month-long “bad episode” this fall, which started with a cough and aching chest and progressed to a bad cold. She was not able to run most days and had to stop racing entirely for the season.

“I guess it was the allergens in the air that exacerbated it, but I also think it was that really hot day when it was 100 degrees and we had a workout outside,” Janokowicz recalled.

She’s certain that cleaner air would have helped alleviate her symptoms and shorten the month-long break from her training she was forced to take.

McCoy now does breathing relaxation exercises after races and difficult workouts to relax her lungs, but still has to stop or cut runs short on occasion.

The Loyola runners’ struggles are shared by many Chicago athletes, according to Fransen. He explained how these interruptions to an athlete’s training are often unavoidable.

When a person is experiencing asthma symptoms while exercising, oxygen is being demanded from both the lungs and the muscles used in running or cycling, he said.

“If you can’t get oxygen in these areas, you would have to slow down your pace to continue, which would lead to a decrease in performance,” Fransen explained.

How Can Chicago Improve Its Air Quality?

Although exposure to heavy traffic and construction are unavoidable for Chicagoans, there are measures the city can take to clean up the air.

Newer diesel engines are over 90 percent cleaner than outdated engines because they filter out most of the dirty diesel particulates that would otherwise get spewed into the air. Old engines can be retrofitted with similar clean technology. However, no city ordinances require that old engines be retrofitted or replaced. This means trucks, trains and construction equipment can use outdated and dirty engines for years without penalty, said Susan Mudd, Senior Policy Advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), a Chicago-based non-profit organization.

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Austin Talks: ELPC’s Mudd Calls for Tougher Chicago Ordinances to Reduce Diesel Pollution

austin talksMore Austin Voices Needed to Fight Diesel Pollution from Freight Trains
December 30, 2016
By Hannah Magnuson

Commuters waiting for the Austin Green line are already facing frigid winds this winter without having to worry about inhaling hazardous fumes.

But when freight trains idle less than 20 feet away from the platform, none of them can escape the diesel pollution.

The train platform places commuters in Austin right between “L” tracks and tracks shared by the Union Pacific Railroad and Metra. While only the “L” train has a designated stop, the Union Pacific freights frequently sit and idle alongside the platform for hours at a time, commuters say.

These idling freights emit diesel particulates that pose health risks to those close enough to inhale them, especially for the crowds standing on the platform.

These diesel particulates lodge in the lungs and can lead to health problems, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease and lung cancer. Children and adults with compromised lungs are at an even greater danger for health problems.

“If you were to pick a place to idle, this is not a good place,” said John Kukla, who uses the Green line stop daily to commute to his job as a financial manager.

For Kukla, 48, the idling freights have an even greater impact: he lives right across the street from the Austin stop and can see them from his living room window.

At night, when the freight trains often idle, the noise is so loud he’s unable to hear his TV or sleep.

There are no prominent signs on the “L” platform with information for commuters to call and complain about pollution and health concerns.

With some research, Kukla found the call number for “reporting unusual or suspicious occurrences and environmental hazards” on the Union Pacific website several years ago and has been calling (888) 877-7267 to report idling freights located at the intersection of North Austin Boulevard and West Corcoran Place.

Over the course of the 10 years he has lived in Austin, Kukla has noticed some improvement in the railroad company’s response to his calls.

While five years ago locomotives would idle for an entire weekend, he now sees them two to three times a week, and they usually move within 20 to 30 minutes after he calls to complain.

While calling the railroad company seems to be effective about half the time, Kukla said he believes strength in numbers might make a difference in getting the train operators to be more responsive.

“I don’t know if it’s on everyone’s radar,” Kukla said. “People are not even aware of what they’re breathing in.”

Ald. Chris Taliaferro said he has not heard any complaints about the freight idling or any other environmental concerns in the 29th ward. The alderman has communigty meetings every first and third Wednesday of the month, and individual meetings on Mondays (at 6272 W. North Ave.) where citizens can share complaints. He said these issues have not been raised with him.

“I think [the railyard] might [do more to stop the idling] if 50 people were calling the call number instead of just one,” Kukla said.

Kukla voiced his concerns recently at a Central Austin Neighborhood Association meeting – a community organization focused on improving the quality of life for its residents.

According to President Serethea Reid, the group has a Facebook page and sends out a monthly email but has no other way to publicize the call number to complain about exposure to harmful pollution.

Taliaferro said residents should call Union Pacific directly to alert them.

Union Pacific did not return calls for comment.

While the city of Chicago limits idling for on-road diesel vehicles to three minutes within any 60-minute time period, no such anti-idling ordinance currently exists for freight trains.

“The absence of an anti-idling ordinance for freight trains – and the lack of enforcement of the existing anti-idling ordinance for on-road vehicles — make it very difficult to make progress towards lowering the levels of diesel pollution in the city,” said Susan Mudd, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC).

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Greenwire: ELPC’s Learner Says Peabody Energy Reorganization Plan Dodges Self-Bonding Issue that Risks Shifting Mine Reclamation Costs to Communities

Greenwire

Peabody Sends Chapter 11 Plan to Bankruptcy Judge
December 23, 2016
By Dylan Brown

The nation’s top coal producer published yesterday its plan for escaping bankruptcy.

Peabody Energy Corp. delivered its Chapter 11 reorganization plan to Judge Barry Schermer of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The plan needs Schermer’s approval.

St. Louis-based Peabody joined many of its competitors in bankruptcy earlier this year in the wake of an unprecedented industry slump caused by plummeting coal prices, withering foreign demand, skyrocketing domestic natural gas production and increased regulation (Greenwire, April 13).

Industry debt is also a factor. Much of Peabody’s $10 billion or so debt stems from its 2011 expansion into Australia with the $5.2 billion purchase of Macarthur Coal Ltd.

In August, Peabody requested more time to draw up a restructuring plan, but President and CEO Glenn Kellow said his company and its creditors have now reached “a proposal that has broad consensus, maximizes the value of the enterprise and paves the way for a sustainable future.”

“Eight months ago, we set out on a path to strengthen the balance sheet and position the company for long-term success amid historically challenged coal industry fundamentals,” Kellow said in a statement.

According to Peabody, the plan would reduce its debt by more than $5 billion, lower regular payments and offer up $750 million in stock “backstopped” by a third party along with the issuance of new common stock to appease certain creditors. The company is also selling the Metropolitan mine in Australia if the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission approves the deal.

Peabody expects to emerge with “substantial liquidity to satisfy near and long-term needs” as a public company. It is also preparing updated financial statements that show its recent performance

“While we still have outstanding issues to resolve prior to emergence, this plan demonstrates that Peabody retains an unmatched asset base, leading U.S. platform, substantial Australian thermal and metallurgical coal business, and a team of skilled employees,” Kellow said.

Peabody’s critics are skeptical of the plan’s handling of mine cleanups and $16.2 million in bonuses that the court approved for executives who hit performance targets.

Peabody has more than $1 billion in self-bonds, corporate promises that fulfill mine cleanup insurance requirements — more than than any other company (E&E News PM, Aug. 16).

“The company’s first proposed reorganization plan dodges the issue and unfairly risks shifting the costs for Peabody’s environmental cleanup responsibilities onto the public,” Howard Learner, an attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in a statement. “A ‘feasible’ reorganization plan for Peabody to emerge from bankruptcy should not include continued self-bonding of mine reclamation costs.”

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