Wisconsin

Janesville (WI) Gazette: Proposed Great Lakes Basin Rail Line Draws Criticism from Local Lawmakers

Janesville (WI) Gazette

Proposed Great Lakes Basin rail line draws criticism from local lawmakers
By Xavier Ward

A transportation company’s request to keep secret a list of investors in its proposed rail line drew criticism Monday from two state lawmakers and an environmental advocacy group.

In a letter to the federal Surface Transportation Board, Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said Great Lakes Basin Transportation’s proposed rail line through Rock County is a project that demands transparency.

“I have serious concerns over intent, potential investors and stockholders, and transparency,” Spreitzer wrote to the board, which has the authority to approve or deny the project.

“The proposed route is a massive project that deserves a complete application, diligent oversight and full transparency for the sake of all people and lives affected,” Spreitzer wrote.

Although Great Lakes Basin filed an application for the rail line May 1, the project has stirred controversy since it was proposed last year.

The 261-mile rail line would allow trains to bypass Chicago’s congested rail yards, company officials have said. The route would start in Milton, run south and then head west between Beloit and Janesville. It then turns south again through the town of Beloit before crossing into Illinois.

Opponents of the project thought the Surface Transportation Board would respond to the company’s request for confidentiality by Monday, but the board did not.

Spreitzer wrote that he didn’t think the project was realistic because Great Lakes Basin has not produced documentation on financing.

Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, raised similar concerns about the lack of transparency and the completeness of the application.

She also blasted the company’s decision to reveal a toll road and airport project at the last minute.

Great Lakes Basin President Frank Patton announced plans to build a tollway and a new Chicago-area airport when the company submitted its application.

Those additions changed the project’s price tag from $8 billion—the cost Patton originally quoted—to $2.8 billion, according to the application.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago environmental advocacy group, has filed a request to extend the public comment period on the confidentiality order by 15 days and to extend the comment period on the application by 55 days.

The request states there is no urgency for a decision on the protective order and that the public could benefit from an extended comment period.

The advocacy group also filed a request to become a party of record and a motion of intent to participate in the process, said Kevin Brubaker, deputy director at the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“The Environmental Law and Policy Center has grave concerns about this project. This 261-mile-long railroad proposal could fundamentally alter the shape of development in northeastern Illinois and Wisconsin,” Brubaker told The Gazette.

READ MORE

Think Progress: ELPC’s Learner Calls Possible Shutdown of EPA Region 5 Office in Chicago “Tone Deaf and Foolish”

ThinkProgress
Chicago Staff Want a Meeting with EPA Head After Leaked Report Targets Their Office for Closure
by Mark Hand

Environmental Protection Agency employees in Chicago are asking Administrator Scott Pruitt to take the time to meet with them on Wednesday after he visits a nearby Superfund site across the border in northwest Indiana where the federal agency is working to address widespread lead contamination.
The employees want to discuss rumors that the Trump administration plans to close the Chicago Region 5 office. Reports surfaced last weekend that the Region 5 office would be one of two EPA regional offices closed to meet the administration’s budget-cutting goals for the agency.
Pruitt reportedly is expected to attend a Chicago Cubs baseball game rather than meet with employees from the office, which could be consolidated with the agency’s Region 7 office in Kansas. The identity of the other regional office targeted for closure has not been released or leaked.

If Pruitt opts to skip the baseball game, the union that represents the 1,000 employees in the EPA’s Region 5 office, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, would want to discuss what it describes as “devastating cuts he and the Trump administration have proposed.”

READ MORE

Wisconsin Public Radio: Wisconsin Activists at ELPC Water Conference Discuss Strategies To Fight CAFO-related Pollution

Anti-CAFO Citizen Groups Hope Unity Leads To Success
April 3, 2017
By Chuck Quirmbach

Some small citizen groups in Wisconsin are teaming up in hopes of stopping local proposals for more large-scale farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

Criste Greening and some neighbors have spent about five years battling a proposed CAFO near their homes outside Wisconsin Rapids. The battle hasn’t been easy, Greening said.

“And because as citizens we have issues and concerns about agriculture, I was termed ‘the radical environmentalist,” Greening said.

Greening told an Environmental Law and Policy Center conference in Madison last week that there’s nothing radical about her, saying she’s as a special education teacher who wants clean water for her three children.

She said small groups like hers are hoping to boost their clout against CAFOs by banding together and calling themselves the Citizens Water Coalition of Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, farmers have organizations such as the Dairy Business Association, which says it tries to ensure dairy farms of all sizes have the support they need to thrive in the state’s economy, communities and food chain.

There are 269 permitted CAFOs in Wisconsin, 252 of those belong to dairy operations according to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources statistics.

Listen Here

Wisconsin Public Radio: USDA Researcher Speaks at ELPC Water Conference & Warns Wisconsin Well Owners About Contamination

USDA Researcher Warning Kewaunee County Well Owners About Contamination
April 3, 2017
By Chuck Quirmbach

A scientist who’s looked into widespread well contamination in Kewaunee County says he’s now urging owners of tainted wells to find another water source.

U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist Mark Borchardt recently published findings that indicate cow manure is the leading cause of groundwater pollution in Kewaunee County. But he found that human waste from sanitary systems is spoiling drinking water there, too.

Borchardt told attendees at Environmental Law and Policy Center conference in Madison last week that he’s been making phone calls to the owners of the contaminated wells.

“These folks, I’ve spent my evenings fairly stressed out calling them, saying, ‘you can’t drink your water.’ To find salmonella in a private well, in someone’s home, really shuts things down.” Borchardt said.

He said his staff are out doing more water testing in Kewaunee County. So far, 26 wells they’ve tested are contaminated with cattle manure, 18 with human waste and three with both.

Listen Here 

Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s New Solar Energy Co-op Website Tells Success Stories to Inspire Others

New Website Highlights Solar Advancements Made by Rural Co-ops
March 31, 2017
By Karen Uhlenhuth

Electric cooperatives that have taken the plunge into solar energy are the stars of a new website aimed at persuading more co-ops to add solar energy to their mix.

RuralSolarStories.org, produced by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC),  features the tales of three rural electric cooperatives across the Midwest that have responded to customer interest by investing in solar generation. More stories are on the way.

The website’s mission “is to help raise the voices of solar champions within the co-op community,” said Andy Olsen, a senior policy advocate for the ELPC. “The co-op community is unique. There’s such a culture of cooperation and learning among peers, we wanted to make sure solar leaders had a venue to be heard.”

Olsen believes there are several compelling reasons to shine the spotlight on rural co-ops that are in the solar-energy vanguard.

“Co-ops have an outsized influence on energy policy,” he said. “We’ve experienced that at the state and federal levels. We talk to members of Congress about energy policy and they want to go back and talk to the co-ops.

Read More

Wisconsin Public Radio: Regional EPA Chief Talks Water at ELPC Water Conference in Wisconsin

Regional EPA Chief Says Water Is A Top Concern
Thursday, March 30, 2017
By Chuck Quirmbach

The leader of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Midwest says clean water may be the top issue he hears about from the public.

Robert Kaplan became acting administrator of EPA Region 5 when the previous regional administrator resigned during the water controversy in Flint, Michigan. Kaplan told a Environmental Law and Policy Center conference in Madison this week that concerns about water across the Midwest haven’t gone away.

“Everywhere I go people want clean water. It might be the No. 1 thing we talk about. Even if we’re there to talk about air or some other matter, it always comes back to water,” Kaplan said.

The EPA continues to try to restore clean water to all of Kewaunee County, where many wells are polluted, Kaplan said.

Read More

ELPC Statement on Proposed Rollback of Fuel Economy Standards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 15, 2017

Contact:

Judith Nemes

David Jakubiak

Trump Administration’s Rollback of Fuel Economy Standards Is Misguided

Rolling back common sense fuel efficiency standards will cost people more at the gas pump, increase pollution, and reduce America’s technological innovation leadership and global competitiveness

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 President Trump’s announcement that his administration will reverse the schedule in place for U.S. automakers to adopt improved fuel economy and pollution reduction standards by 2025:

“The misguided rollback of the CAFE fuel economy standards moves America in the wrong direction. The Trump rollback will force consumers to pump gas more often, result in more pollution that harms public health, and weaken American technological innovation leadership and competitiveness. The U.S. will import more foreign oil, which weakens our national security.”

“The Phase 2 CAFE fuel efficiency standards drive automakers to accelerate technological innovation and supports American manufacturing jobs. This is smart, common sense policy that has been adopted after many technical studies and input from a wide range of stakeholders. The United States should not voluntarily cede our technology innovation leadership to Asian and European automakers.”

###

ELPC Statement on Proposed U.S. EPA Budget

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                     

February 28, 2017

Contact: Judith Nemes 

Trump’s Proposed U.S. EPA Drastic Budget Cuts Put Great Lakes, Safe Drinking Water, Public Health At Risk

Reckless Funding Cuts for Protecting Clean Water and Clean Air Will Hurt Midwest Communities

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 White House’s proposal to slash U.S. EPA funding for vital clean water and clean air programs:

“The Trump Administration’s drastic cuts to the U.S. EPA’s budget would weaken vital protections for healthy clean air and safe drinking water that all Americans care about.  Americans rely on the U.S. EPA to help protect them from dangerous air pollution and unsafe drinking water, but President Trump’s drastic budget cuts impede necessary protections for core environmental and health values and responsibilities.”

“EPA’s clean water grants to state and local agencies help prevent water pollution problems and protect clean, safe drinking water for all.  EPA’s work to protect healthy clean air is vital to reducing asthma and respiratory problems that harm both at-risk elderly and young people.  EPA’s work to reduce mercury pollution is vital to protect children’s health and make it safe to eat the fish we catch in the Great Lakes and inland lakes and rivers.”

The State Journal-Register: Learner Says ELPC will Stand Up for Citizens’ Rights to Clean Air and Water

State_Journal-Register_logoEnvironmentalists Preparing to Battle Trump, GOP in Court
January 29, 2017
By Tammy Webber and John Flesher

CHICAGO – The night before Donald Trump’s inauguration, five environmental lawyers filed a federal court brief defending an Obama administration clean-water rule that the new president and his Republican allies have targeted for elimination, considering it burdensome to landowners.

The move served as a warning that environmentalists, facing a hostile administration and a Republican-dominated Congress, are prepared to battle in court against what they fear will be a wave of unfavorable policies concerning climate change, wildlife protection, federal lands and pollution.

Advocacy groups nationwide are hiring more staff lawyers. They’re coordinating with private attorneys and firms that have volunteered to help. They’re reviewing statutes, setting priorities and seeking donations.

“It’s going to be all-out war,” said Vermont Law School Professor Patrick Parenteau. “If you’re an environmentalist or conservationist, this is indeed a scary time.”

Trump’s first week in office only heightened their anxieties. He moved to resume construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines that the Obama administration had halted, while signaling intentions to abandon his predecessor’s fight against global warming, vastly expand oil and gas drilling on public lands and slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, introduced measures to overturn a new Interior Department rule barring coal mining companies from damaging streams and to remove some wolves from the endangered species list.

“They’ve wasted no time in doing bad things,” said Pat Gallagher, director of the Sierra Club’s 50-member legal team, which he said is likely to grow as environmentalists increasingly regard the courts as their best option, even though success there is far from certain.

The Department of Justice, which represents the federal government in environmental lawsuits, declined to comment, while the White House did not respond to emails seeking comment. Doug Ericksen, communications director for Trump’s transition team at EPA, said of the environmentalists that he’s “not sure what they think they’re preparing for” but suspects they are stoking fear of Trump as a fundraising tool.

“They’re more concerned about raising money than protecting the environment,” Ericksen said.

Jim Burling, litigation director for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit property rights group that sues regulators on behalf of businesses and landowners, also contended environmental groups were exaggerating the Trump administration’s threat for political and financial gain.

The government bureaucracy is entrenched, Burling said, and, “who happens to occupy the White House hasn’t made that much difference.”

Environmentalists say their fears are justified by the new administration’s antagonism toward government’s role in keeping air and water clean and the planet from overheating.

Donations began increasing after Trump’s election, “even before the fundraising letters were sent” asking for support to fight the administration’s actions, said David Goldston, government affairs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Earthjustice, which has represented the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in its fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, has about 100 staff attorneys and plans to bring more aboard, said Tim Preso, who manages the group’s Northern Rockies office.

The Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center is adding four attorneys to its pre-election staff of 18 and is coordinating with more than a dozen outside attorneys who would file citizen suits against polluters for free if agencies fail to enforce existing rules, said Executive Director Howard Learner.

“We cannot fully substitute and replace the EPA doing its job,” Learner said. “But on the other hand, we’re not going to default to zero if the EPA steps backward when it comes to clean air and clean water enforcement.”

Read More

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.

Read More

ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now