Indiana

Illinois Times: ELPC’s Learner Says Federal Court Ruling on Illiana Should Finally End Proposed Toll Road

Illinois-Times-Logo

End of the Road for Illiana?
Controversial Toll Road Loses Second Court Battle
November 10, 2016
By Patrick Yeagle

A federal court struck down last week an environmental study used to justify a new tollway in northern Illinois.

It’s the second such loss in court for the controversial project, which was already suspended but still clings to life.

The Illiana Expressway is a proposed 50-mile, east-west toll road which would connect Interstate 55 south of Chicago to Interstate 65 in northwestern Indiana. The project is intended to relieve congestion on Interstate 80, 15 miles to the north.

Controversial from the start, the Illiana proposal has long been a priority for the Illinois Department of Transportation. Gov. Bruce Rauner says Illinois won’t spend more money on the project, but opponents say IDOT has continued to pursue it anyway.

The controversy is twofold: whether the road is actually needed and what effect it may have on Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, a nearby national nature preserve.

IDOT has projected population growth of more than 170 percent by 2040 in the area surrounding the proposed road, but that estimate is contradicted by two other planning agencies which control federal funding in that area.

Meanwhile, the potential environmental effect of the project was the basis for a lawsuit filed in 2013 by the Midewin Heritage Association, the Illinois Sierra Club and environmental group Openlands. The groups sued IDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, saying the required environmental impact statement used to justify the project was flawed.

A federal court agreed in June 2015, ruling that the study overestimated the consequences of not building the expressway and failed to adequately consider the potential effects on the surrounding area.

While that lawsuit was pending, IDOT and the FHA continued pursuing the project, releasing a second “tier” of the environmental study which built on the first. On Oct. 31, another federal judge ruled that the second tier was invalid because it relied on a first tier which had already been found faulty.

Just before the first federal court decision in June 2015, Rauner vetoed funding for the project, saying that because of the “current fiscal crisis and a lack of sufficient capital resources, the Illiana Expressway will not move forward at this time.” A spokeswoman for Rauner referred a reporter to IDOT.

Still, IDOT continued to defend the environmental study in court, filing a document in October 2015 saying IDOT and its counterpart in Indiana would continue to revise the study.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, calls Illiana a “fiscal folly” which should have died long ago. ELPC represented the environmental groups for free in the lawsuit against the state.

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Chicago Tribune: Latest Illiana Tollway Federal Court Ruling Helps Further Unwind Project

Chicago Tribune

Environmental Groups Happy with Judge’s Ruling on Illiana Tollway Project

By Zak Koeske

vironmental groups that oppose construction of the Illiana Tollway are celebrating a second federal court judge’s ruling that the Federal Highway Administration’s 2014 approval of the bi-state project was invalid.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle found Tuesday that portions of the project’s proposal that relied on its already legally invalidated foundation also were invalid.

The environmental plaintiffs — Openlands, Midewin Heritage Association and Sierra Club Illinois — had challenged both the Tier 1 and Tier 2 environmental impact statements and the federal government’s “records of decision” greenlighting the 47-mile highway project through Will County.

The U.S., Illinois and Indiana transportation departments were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Last June, a federal court judge ruled that the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the Tier 1 portion of the project, which looked at broad issues like the location, mode choice and area-wide environmental impact of the alternatives under consideration, was “arbitrary and capricious,” and in violation of U.S. environmental law.

Norgle’s decision Tuesday found that the prior federal approval of the Tier 2 statement, which relied upon the invalidated Tier 1 statement, must also be invalid and was thus “no longer effective.”

“The federal district court has now twice ruled in favor of the environmental plaintiffs that the Tier 1 and the Tier 2 Environmental Impact Statements are legally invalid,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which challenged the tollway project in court on behalf of the environmental plaintiffs.

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NW Indiana Times: Illiana Continues on Slow Road Through Courts

nwi times

Illiana Continues on Slow Road Through Courts
November 4, 2016
By Andrew Steele

The Illiana Expressway’s lingering presence continued this week with a court ruling affirming that federal approval of the project was based on a flawed and invalid environmental study.

But the decision by Judge Charles Norgle of the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois leaves open the opportunity for the Indiana and Illinois departments of transportation to revise their environmental studies and continue pursuing the project.

The lawsuit was brought by the environmental groups Openlands, Midewin Heritage Association and Sierra Club. They asked the court to declare the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the Illiana project’s Tier 2 environmental impact statement to be in violation of federal law. Approval of the Tier 2 EIS is the final step allowing a project to move forward.

But Norgle dismissed the case as moot, because the Tier 2 study was based on a Tier 1 study a federal court found to be flawed last year.

In that separate Tier 1 case, Judge Jorge Alonso ruled that the environmental assessment did not adequately consider the implications of not building the Illiana. Such a “no build” alternative is required by the National Environmental Protection Act.

And because the Tier 2 study “relied upon the invalid Tier 1 approvals,” Norgle wrote in his ruling this week, the plaintiffs’ success in the Tier 1 case “moots this (Tier 2 ) case.”

“To hear the Tier 2 case predicated on the uncompleted Tier 1,” Norgle wrote, “is akin to a farmer concerning himself with the quantity of chicken feed to purchase before the eggs have hatched.”

The Illiana Expressway would operate as a toll road stretching about 50 miles from Interstate 65 near Lowell to Interstate 55 in Illinois.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner halted the project in 2014 amidst that state’s budget crisis. The Illinois Department of Transportation still considers the Illiana project “suspended,” a spokeswoman said earlier this month.

The Indiana Department of Transportation has taken on the responsibility of revising the Tier 1 EIS. An INDOT spokesman said Thursday that the agency expects to complete work by the end of the year, “allowing the project to remain on hold in ready status.”

But the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which represents the three plaintiffs, claim the ruling should end the Illiana project “once and for all.”

In a press release, the ELPC noted that Norgle’s ruling states that the Tier 2 EIS is “no longer effective.”

“Federal judges have now twice found the federal and state transportation agencies’ environmental reviews of the proposed Illiana Tollway to be invalid and illegal,” said Howard Learner, the lead attorney and executive director of the ELPC.

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Crain’s Chicago Business: Illiana Corridor Whacked Again in Federal Court

Crain’s Chicago Business

Illiana Corridor Whacked Again in Federal Court

GREG HINZ ON POLITICS

A federal judge has stuck another knife into the just-barely-alive proposed Illiana Corridor.

In a decision released Nov. 1. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle used terms such as “invalid” and “no longer effective” to describe a Tier 2 Environmental Impact Statement prepared on behalf of the project by the Illinois Department of Transportation and its Indiana counterpart.

IDOT had hoped to forestall a ruling. But Norgle held the EIS no longer is valid because of prior court action, so there is no controversy to consider.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and chief attorney for the groups that oppose putting a tollway between Interstate 55 in Illinois and Interstate 65 in Indiana, hailed the decision as one more nail in the Iliana’s coffin.

The ruling means IDOT and the Indiana agency “must start over their environmental reviews from the beginning based on much more realistic data and do it right without impermissible shortcuts,” he said. That will take time and money, and if done right, “would very likely show that the proposed costly Illiana toll way is not economically justified and is not environmentally sensible.”

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Press Release: Victory on Proposed Illiana Tollway: Federal Judge Rules Transpo Agencies’ Environmental Studies “Invalid”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NOVEMBER 2, 2016

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

Victory on Proposed Illiana Tollway: Federal Judge Rules Transpo Agencies’ Environmental Studies “Invalid”
Environmental Groups Call for End to Boondoggle Tollway

CHICAGO – A U.S. District Court judge yesterday ruled that state and federal transportation agencies’ approvals of an environmental impact statement on the proposed 50-mile Illiana Tollway is “invalid” and “no longer effective.”

Judge Charles Norgle of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois’ ruled yesterday that the “Tier 2” environmental impact statement (EIS) is invalid because it was based on the initial Tier 1, which the Federal District Court declared illegal on June 16, 2015. The agencies’ Tier 1 EIS relied on improper methodologies to support the proposed Illiana Tollway in rejecting better alternatives. Their Tier 2 EIS relied on the flawed underlying Tier 1 EIS in then choosing among proposed corridors to build this proposed new tollway.

“Federal judges have now twice found the federal and state transportation agencies’ environmental reviews of the proposed Illiana Tollway to be invalid and illegal,” said Howard Learner, lead attorney and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The transportation agencies impermissibly skewed their environmental reviews from the outset to somehow justify the proposed new Illiana Tollway. Today’s court decision should end the boondoggle Illiana Tollway once and for all.”

“Today’s decision is a win both for good planning and for respecting environmental concerns while addressing transportation needs,” said Jerry Adelman, President and CEO of Openlands, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “We look forward to a genuine solution that honors our region’s beautiful and threatened natural areas and Illinois’ rich agricultural heritage.”

“We’re ready to work with local communities and leaders on transportation solutions that work while reducing traffic, allowing the Midewin to continue to grow as a major asset for Will County and our entire region, and create good jobs,” said Ann Baskerville, Conservation Organizer with the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter, another plaintiff.

The transportation agencies prepared the studies in order to gain approval for the $1.5 billion proposed Illiana Toll Road, which has been assailed as economically unnecessary to the region and a likely endangerment to the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois. The defendant agencies include the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, Illinois Department of Transportation, and Indiana Department of Transportation.

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StreetsBlog: The Illiana Tollway is Becoming a “Zombie Highway”

StreetsBlog Chicago

October 10, 2016
Just in Time for Halloween: The Illiana is Becoming a “Zombie Highway”
by Steven Vance

A new filing in the court case against the Illiana Tollway – a proposed 47-mile highway through farmland and nature preserves that would cause exurban sprawl and lead to Illinois jobs being lost to Indiana — indicates that Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner may actually be in favor of the project. In recent years it looked like Rauner was making moves to kill the project, but now it appears the Illiana is becoming a so-called “zombie highway” project that just won’t die.

Here’s a rundown of how Rauner previously indicated that he was killing the project. In January 2015, the newly elected governor suspended spending on non-essential capital projects, including the Illiana. In the first week of June 2015, he said the Illinois Department of Transportation would remove the Illiana Tollway from its capital plan.

Two weeks later a federal judge halted the planning of the new tollway by ruling that the required Environmental Impact Statement was invalid because the study used the circular logic that the tollway would be needed because of new housing that would be developed along the corridor… due to the construction of the highway. In September 2015, the U.S. DOT dropped their appeal of the ruling, effectively pulling support for the project.

Now here’s how the state is either keeping the Illiana on life support or else trying to keep the zombie under wraps. In July 2015, Rauner authorized spending $5.5 million to “wind down” the project, and to pay for some litigation fees.

In April this year, the Indiana DOT said that they would pay for rewriting the Environmental Impact Study. However, IDOT spokesman Guy Trigdell said “the approach in Illinois has not changed” and “we are not pursuing the project.”

News last week shows that IDOT currently appears to have a greater involvement in the project than previously stated. The Daily Southtown reported that John Fortmann, an IDOT engineer, filed a statement in federal court that said “IDOT is working cooperatively” with the Indiana DOT to fix the problems with the EIS that made the court rule it invalid.

Continue reading here.

Chicago Tribune: Illinois DOT Moving Forward with Illiana Tollway Project

Chicago Tribune

IDOT Still Moving Forward on Illiana Toll Road

By Susan DeMar Lafferty

October 8, 2016

The Illinois Department of Transportation is teaming up with Indiana to get the Illiana toll road back on track, according to a document filed in court recently.

A statement filed in US District Court Oct. 6 by John Fortmann, an IDOT engineer, said “IDOT is working cooperatively” with the Indiana Department of Transportation to address the environmental issues that caused the court to rule in June, 2015 that the Federal Highway Administration erred in approving the project, because the project’s environmental impact statement was the result of a “faulty” analysis.

The ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Midewin Heritage Association, Openlands, and the Sierra Club, challenging the FHWA’s Record of Decision to approve the project.

The Illiana is a proposed $1.3 billion, 47-mile highway to connect Interstate 55 in Wilmington to Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind., as a truckers’ alternative to Interstate 80.

It was suspended by Gov. Bruce Rauner shortly after he took office in January, 2015, due to the state’s budget crisis.

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Peabody trying to shift coal clean-up costs onto taxpayers, ELPC’s Learner explains to NPR’s Marketplace

Just about every big coal mining company in America is in bankruptcy, or emerging from it. That includes the world’s largest private sector coal firm: Peabody Energy.

Peabody won court approval to set aside just a small amount of money for environmental cleanup – a mere 15 cents on the dollar. That leaves the states in which it operates at risk for the rest.

The whole question here is, if coal companies wobble and fall down for good, who pays for the cleanup? The process of removing water pollution, planting trees and shrubs and returning the topsoil is expensive and time-consuming.

In Peabody’s case, the court and three key mining states agreed to let the company put up just a fraction of the cleanup money that would be required.

“They’re trying to shift the costs from the coal mining companies back to the states, and basically onto taxpayers,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said. “And unfortunately, for example, the state of Indiana seems to have agreed to take 15 to 17 cents on the dollar.”

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ELPC Statement On Opening Of New Self-Bonding Rulemaking

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 16, 2016

Contact:
David Jakubiak

Federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement Opens New Self-Bonding Rulemaking
New Rules Must Ensure Coal Mine Clean-Up Is Done Well and Costs Not Shifted To The Public
STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER
Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement’s (OSMRE) opening of a federal rulemaking addressing the problems of coal mining companies’ self-bonding of mine reclamation costs:

“OSMRE recognizes that the self-bonding standards should be strengthened to deal with today’s energy market reality of multiple coal mine company bankruptcies and declining demand for coal. We commend OSMRE for moving forward with a new rulemaking process to better protect taxpayers and ensure that mine reclamation and environmental clean ups are paid for by the companies that are responsible for the costs.

“ELPC will work to ensure that improved self-bonding standards prevent coal mine clean-up costs from being shifted onto taxpayers and that the coal mining companies fulfill their mine reclamation responsibilities and do that well.”

Progress IL: Enviros rally & testify on clean energy justice issues in Chicago

Environmentalists from across the country were in Chicago Wednesday to testify before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about its proposed Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP).

CEIP is an optional component of the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to slash carbon emissions from existing U.S. power plants. The voluntary incentive program is meant to jump-start action to curb carbon pollution and help states comply with the Clean Power Plan.

CEIP seeks to reward early investment in energy efficiency and solar projects in low-income communities as well as zero-emitting renewable energy projects — including wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower — in all communities.

Participating states could use the emission allowances or emission rate credits distributed through the program to comply with the Clean Power Plan when it takes effect in 2022. The EPA, which released its updated CEIP plan in June, is proposing that the matching pool of allowances or emission rate credits be split evenly between low-income community projects and renewable energy projects.

Emma Lockridge, a leader with Michigan United and the People’s Action Institute, was among dozens of speakers from across the country who testified this morning in support of making CEIP mandatory and more comprehensive.

Lockridge and many other hearing attendees described themselves as living in frontline, environmental justice communities.

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