Wisconsin

2014: ELPC Advances Clean Energy & Clean Transportation Solutions, Protects the Midwest’s Special Natural Places

Dear Friends and Supporters,

DavidHowardELPC has achieved strong successes in challenging times, demonstrating that smart, strategic legal and policy advocacy can both improve environmental quality and grow the Midwest’s economy. ELPC’s solutions-focused strategies engage diverse partners and seize opportunities to make a fundamental difference in accelerating clean energy development and clean transportation technologies, protecting clean air and clean water, and preserving the Midwest’s special wild and natural places. Our multidisciplinary staff teams of expert public interest attorneys, M.B.A.s, policy advocates and communications specialists, combined with sound science engagement from ELPC’s Science Advisory Council, play to win and know how to get things done—truly making a difference for a better world.

We’re on the cusp of fundamental environmental changes. New solar energy, wind power, battery and lighting technologies can help clean up and transform the electricity sector. The Obama Administration’s landmark Clean Power Plan will, in effect, impose a price on carbon pollution while allowing flexible pollution reduction strategies that can be sculpted for effective solutions in each state.

ELPC’s advocacy led to the nation’s largest-ever investment in high-speed rail, including $2.6 billion for developing the Midwest rail network. Modern, faster, more comfortable new trains are being manufactured in the Midwest, creating jobs and spurring economic growth. The Midwest is a proving ground for the rest of the nation: higher-speed rail is arriving, with ELPC’s leadership.

Innovative car technologies – all-electric vehicles, gas-electric hybrids, fuel cell, CNG and others – combined with better designs and lighter materials are reducing
pollution from the transportation sector while lifestyle and economic changes lead to fewer people driving
cars and fewer vehicle miles traveled.

President Obama’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has bipartisan support and sustained appropriations, which have largely avoided political squabbling. The projects supported by $1.3 billion of federal funds over the past four years are achieving real results for restoring the Great Lakes ecological system.

This is an exciting and challenging time for ELPC’s Board and Staff to seize these opportunities for environmental quality and economic development progress. We’re proud of ELPC’s accomplishments in helping transform our Midwest home into a cleaner and more vibrant place to live, work and play.

Sincerely,

Howard A. Learner and David Wilhelm
ELPC Executive Director and Board Chair

 

Protecting the Midwest’s Prairies, Wilderness & Great Lakes

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ELPC’s strategic litigation and advocacy campaigns provide our Midwestern conservation colleagues with first-rate legal firepower when necessary to protect treasured natural resources. ELPC public interest attorneys work in both the federal and state courts, and in the court of public opinion, to protect the Great Lakes, Mississippi River and the Midwest’s special natural areas, threatened species and wildlife habitats. ELPC establishes key legal precedents that protect our natural heritage now and for the future.

Protecting the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie – Challenging the Proposed Illiana Tollway. Midewin is our country’s first national tallgrass prairie and is home to northeastern Illinois’ largest, most diverse community of grassland birds. ELPC and our clients Openlands, Midewin Heritage Association and Sierra Club are challenging the boondoggle Illiana Tollway, which threatens the Midewin Prairie and wildlife habitat with damaging noise, light and pollution from convoys of heavy trucks. ELPC’s federal and state court litigation, combined with our media and public education campaign, has exposed the financial folly of the Illiana Tollway and its destructive impacts on the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. In October, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning Board again voted overwhelmingly against adding the Illiana Tollway to the regional plan. The Illiana Tollway is now the hottest transportation battle in Illinois.

Defending the Sylvania National Wilderness Area. Sylvania is a beautiful 18,327-acre wilderness area with quiet connected lakes and old-growth trees on the Wisconsin-Michigan border. ELPC attorneys, representing Friends of Sylvania, Sylvania Wilderness Cabins, and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition won a major victory in federal district court to finally limit “grandfathered” polluting and noisy gas-powered motorboat use along the Sylvania Wilderness. This ELPC litigation victory is a key precedent for protecting our Wilderness Areas, National Forests, and National Lakeshores in the North Woods and Upper Great Lakes. We’re protecting the Sylvania Wilderness against invasive species and preserving wilderness tranquility for people to enjoy in this special place.

Stopping the SS Badger from Dumping Toxic Coal Ash in Lake Michigan. ELPC and our colleagues are working with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and others to stop the coal-burning SS Badger, a Lake-Michigan ferry boat, from dumping about 1 million pounds of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan each year. In 2013, the SS Badger’s owner agreed with the US EPA to reduce coal ash dumping in 2014 and completely stop by 2015. The SS Badger’s owner now claims to have installed digital combustion controls that lower fuel consumption, and, next summer, will store the coal ash on board. ELPC will work to ensure that the SS Badger stops dumping into the Great Lakes.

Protecting the Great Lakes from Aging Oil Pipelines. Every day, Enbridge’s decaying, 60-year-old “Line 5” pipeline carries over 20 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas fluid under the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. In 2010, another Enbridge pipeline spilled more than 875,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. That spill created an ecological disaster that is still being cleaned up today. ELPC is working with the Michigan Land Use Institute, Michigan Environmental Council, FLOW and other partners to require Enbridge to remove, replace or upgrade its pipeline to protect the vulnerable Straits of Mackinac. We are gaining support from policymakers to take needed protective action.

 

Leading the Midwest’s Clean Energy Transformation

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Disruptive solar energy and battery technologies and sustained advances in energy efficiency are poised to transform the electricity sector like wireless and the internet transformed telecommunications. ELPC advocates new policies to drive energy markets and technological innovations that can change the world.

Growing Renewable Energy in the Heartland. Wind power development is driving manufacturing jobs, rural economic development and pollution reduction. Iowa leads the nation, generating 28% of its electricity from wind power. Chicago has 14 global and North American wind power corporate headquarters. Wind power equipment supply chain businesses create jobs across the Midwest. Solar technologies keep advancing and PV panels drop in price, while energy efficiency advances in appliances, lighting and buildings save us money and reduce pollution.

ELPC’s solutions-based advocacy accelerates clean energy through an “innovate and replicate” model in which new policies — including updating standards for more solar on the grid in Illinois and new solar approaches in Minnesota — can be replicated in more states to drive markets, reduce barriers, and advance clean energy across the Midwest.

Expanding Energy Efficiency Programs. LED lights save 90% more energy than incandescent bulbs. In Illinois, ELPC steered new programs to accelerate market penetration of LED lights and home weatherization to produce longer-term, deeper energy savings. In Iowa, ELPC persuaded a utility to increase discounted LED lights from 2% to more than 40% by 2018, thereby avoiding more than 45 million pounds of CO2 pollution. ELPC’s sustained advocacy to accelerate energy efficiency in the Midwest will save consumers money on their utility bills, reduce the need for polluting power plants, and lighten the load on the electricity grid thereby improving reliability. A key indicator of market change: American Electric Power told the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that it expects electricity demand to decrease by 16% over the next ten years.

Solar is Poised for Breakthrough Success. ELPC’s advocacy leadership is advancing breakthrough policies and removing barriers to solar energy development. ELPC persuaded the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to adopt an innovative “value of solar tariff” to recognize the multiple economic and social benefits of solar. ELPC is working with Illinois policymakers to update standards that will make solar easier to finance and connect to the grid. ELPC attorneys won a nationally precedential case before the Iowa Supreme Court to remove utility-sponsored regulatory barriers against a conventional financing mechanism used to support solar installations on public buildings, homes and business.

ELPC attorneys and a diverse coalition of solar power and energy efficiency businesses, RENEW, AARP, low-income consumer groups, and municipalities are fighting back before the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin against three Wisconsin utilities seeking to raise fixed charges and impose costly regulatory barriers to advancing solar energy and energy efficiency innovations. We need to win before the Comission and in the court of public opinion.

ELPC designed Illinois’ new $30 million solar procurement program, and we are working to create more sustainable cities by developing old industrial brownfields into solar “brightfields” that generate clean energy, create jobs and spur economic revitalization. ELPC’s multidisciplinary team of energy experts works on multiple fronts to accelerate Midwest leadership to a cleaner energy future.

 

Advancing Midwest Leadership for Climate Change Solutions

EOY-McCartyThe Midwest is the center of our nation’s carbon pollution problems and should be the fulcrum for clean energy and clean transportation solutions. ELPC is working to speed development of clean wind power and solar energy resources, implement policies to advance energy efficiency, and accelerate hybrids, electric vehicles and other modern clean car technologies combined with better planning. These climate change solutions are good for job creation, good for economic growth and good for our environment and public health.

Achieving the Full Potential of the Clean Power Plan. President Obama’s proposed Clean Power Plan advances climate solutions leadership. The U.S. EPA is finalizing strong federal carbon pollution reduction standards in 2015 that will use Midwest states’ implementation plans to clean up the Midwest’s electricity sector. Supportive policies, improved technologies and changes in business and public attitudes and actions are driving clean energy from early adopters to the mainstream, with more wind power development, more solar energy installations and more efficient LED lighting, appliances, HVAC, pumps and motors. Electricity demand is declining while the Midwest economy is rebounding, and renewables and natural gas are squeezing out old coal plants and reducing carbon pollution. ELPC’s framework strategy Repowering the Midwest is moving from policy vision to reality.

 

Accelerating the Next Generation of Sustainable Transportation

Advancing Midwest High-Speed Rail Development. ELPC’s sustained advocacy to advance the Chicago-hubbed Midwest high-speed rail network is achieving major progress with bipartisan political and business, labor and civic support. By late 2015, we expect 110 mph modern rail service on 75% – 80% of the Chicago–St. Louis corridor, and soon after on the Chicago-Detroit corridor. Modern passenger railcars manufactured in Rochelle, Illinois are on track by early 2016. Minnesota continues planning for high speed rail projects as well. Key federal transportation legislation is a priority for Congress in 2015, and ELPC is working closely with the pivotal Midwest delegation to expand funding for high-speed rail development that improves mobility, reduces pollution, creates jobs and spurs economic growth.

Reducing Harmful Diesel Pollution. ELPC and our community partners challenged increased diesel pollution from Norfolk Southern’s rail yard expansion in Chicago’s Englewood community. ELPC’s legal and policy advocacy combined with community organizing, public engagement and media attention brought Norfolk Southern to the negotiating table. The settlement will reduce particulate pollution from diesel rail equipment and trucks, add neighborhood green space, and bring new jobs and economic growth.

Promoting Electric Vehicles. ELPC business and policy specialists are working to expand electric vehicle market penetration by removing barriers and advancing supportive policies. ELPC is partnering with the City of Chicago and leading businesses to promote workplace charging policies and infrastructure. By developing the policies to create workplace and home charging opportunities, electric vehicles can be used by more people, expanding capacity for businesses to operate large-scale green fleets.


 You may also download a PDF of our year-end brochure here.

 

 

Time to Get WI Back on Track with High Speed Rail

CHICAGO, Ill. – Wisconsin now has to play catch-up, says Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), noting the state has been left behind by its Midwest neighbors in high-speed rail. The ELPC is expanding its advertising campaign in Wisconsin, erecting another billboard south of Milwaukee to encourage political leaders to support high-speed rail. Learner says it’s time to put partisan politics aside.

“Even though Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson and Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle were strong advocates of advancing high-speed rail in Wisconsin, Gov. Walker made the quixotic decision to turn down funding for higher speed rail going from Milwaukee to Madison that would have created jobs in Wisconsin,” says Learner.

Gov. Scott Walker turned down $810 million in federal stimulus money in 2010, saying state taxpayers would be on the hook for millions more in the years to come. Now, that money has gone to Michigan, where Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is using it to beef up connections between Detroit and Chicago. Learner says it’s not just about Madison and Milwaukee; high-speed rail would pull the entire region together.

“This is a time to put the ideology behind and for Wisconsin to say we want the better transportation, we want the jobs, we want the economic connectivity and growth that comes from modern higher-speed rail development,” says Learner. “The Gov. needs to go to Washington and say. ‘let’s step up and get Wisconsin back on track.'”

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois recently announced the state is allocating an additional $102 million for the high-speed line that connects Chicago to St. Louis. In Minnesota they’re planning for a Zip Rail high-speed train that will connect the Twin Cities to Rochester.

According to Learner, Wisconsin has the opportunity to play catch-up and move forward, because it’s all about regional development.

“Connecting the Twin Cities to Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago, but also the cities in between that are being cut off from air services, where people face congestion delays and high prices of gasoline, and La Crosse, Brookfield, Oconomowoc, connecting those mid-size cities to the larger communities,” says Learner.

The Amtrak passenger train that runs between Chicago and Minneapolis is now regularly delayed because of the huge amount of rail freight carrying Wisconsin frac sand, and the oil from North Dakota that results from fracking. 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Riding Amtrak to Chicago (But Banned to Madison)…

By James Rowen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s The Political Environment

I sat in The Hiawatha’s “Quiet Car” earlier this week riding the rails to Chicago, plugged my phone into a wall socket and thought what a mistake Wrong-Way Walker made killing Amtrak expansion to Madison.

He did more than eliminate a  federally-funded, job-creating new line to Madison.

He also killed a comfortable, low-cost/no-TSA hassle-free Midwestern regional alternative to unpleasant plane or car travel, too.

On the Milwaukee-Chicago route, there are no tolls to pay, no road traffic congestion, no big parking fees when you get there.

Mr. Rowen’s blog is part of our Purple Wisconsin project. Rowen is a political writer and environmental consultant who has had careers in  journalism and public service.

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Chicago Sun-Times: From ashes to no ashes, SS Badger to keep sailing

A long-running Lake Michigan controversy looks like it’s about to sail into the sunset. For years, environmentalists have complained that the SS Badger dumps 509 tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan every year as it hauls cars and passengers between Manitowoc, Wis., and Luddington, Mich.

The ash contains mercury, although the Badger owners say it only amounts to a quarter of an ounce over a season. But the dumping is about to end. In 2013, the Badger’s owners signed a consent agreement with the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency saying they would “implement a sophisticated ash retention system” after the 2014 season that will keep the ash on board and out of the lake.

Concerns were raised, because the Badger had missed deadlines before. But now, as the end of the current sailing system on Oct. 26 nears, they say they’ll make that deadline.

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ELPC’s Aug. 29 Badger Update: Let’s Make Sure the S.S. Badger Stops Dumping Coal Ash into Lake Michigan

Summer is coming to an end, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center is making sure that the SS Badger car ferry’s coal ash dumping into Lake Michigan is finally coming to an end, too.

ELPC and our colleagues worked with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and others to force the SS Badger car ferry to clean up its operations and stop dumping up to 1 million pounds of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan each year.  ELPC is now watchdogging to make sure that the SS Badger car ferry complies with the federal consent decree deadline to stop dumping coal ash into the Lake by 2015.

Last fall, owners of the coal-burning SS Badger and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice filed a consent decree in federal court under which the SS Badger would reduce its coal ash dumping in 2014 and completely stop dumping coal ash in Lake Michigan by 2015. Here’s a quick update on what’s happening.

1. Last winter, SS Badger operators installed new digital combustion controls that enable the ship to operate more efficiently, burning less coal on its trips from Manitowoc, WI, to Ludington, MI. This upgrade is intended to reduce fuel consumption by 15% this summer. That’s a step in the right direction that should have been done years ago.

2. By next summer, SS Badger operators plan to install a retention system that will store the coal ash on board the ship before disposing it in an appropriate on-land site. This should result in no more toxic coal ash being dumped into Lake Michigan, as the consent decree requires.

ELPC’s watchdogging will not end until the SS Badger’s coal ash dumping into Lake Michigan stops. The SS Badger’s owners talked about cleaning up for years prior to the consent decree, but then they stalled and delayed. The consent decree should add certainty, and ELPC will monitor to ensure it is implemented and enforced fully.

Working together, we’re on the verge of finally stopping the SS Badger’s dumping toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan. For more information on actions to protect our Great Lakes, please see www.protectourlakes.org.

Howard Learner’s New Comment in Environmental Law Reporter: “Emerging Clarity in Climate Change Law: EPA Empowered and State Common Law Remedies Enabled”

Please see ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner’s new Comment in the Environmental Law Reporter (September 2014):  “Emerging Clarity in Climate Change Law:  EPA Empowered and State Common Law Remedies Enabled” (pdf).  This legal analysis addresses: (1) How the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions in EPA v. EME Homer City and UARG v. EPA fill out the climate change law framework of Mass. v. EPA and AEP v. Connecticut; and (2) The recent Third Circuit decision and the Iowa Supreme Court decision that allow state common law actions to address carbon and other air pollutants.  Here’s a brief summary of Howard’s Comment on this timely and important set of issues:

The emerging law of climate change is becoming clearer. The U.S. Supreme Court’s series of climate change and other Clean Air Act decisions authorize the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency to advance its standards-setting process, and provide general deference to EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act and other statutory programs. The Court is sending a clear message to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which reviews most of EPA’s final standards, and to other courts, to restrain judicial activism.  Likewise, federal and state courts are opening the door for plaintiffs to assert state common law tort remedies.

The Court’s majority has made clear its solid support for the landmark Massachusetts v. EPA decision authorizing EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. The partisan political attacks and the novel theories of the cottage industry of appellate attorneys representing certain polluting industries have not deterred the Court. The Court’s recent decisions in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation and Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, which strongly, although not entirely, uphold EPA’s CAA implementation discretion, should reduce confusion and bring much-needed increased certainty for both state policymakers and energy industry executives to move forward in making business decisions.  At the same time, both federal and state courts are beginning to fill in the blanks left by the Court in its American Electric Power v. Connecticut decision, which held that the Clean Air Act displaces federal common law injunction actions brought by states and other plaintiffs seeking to limit carbon dioxide pollution from coal plants, by preserving citizens’ traditional rights under state common law.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Electric rates could rise 5% in January for We Energies customers

Electric rates for homeowners and other residential customers of We Energies could go up nearly 5% in January, depending on how state regulators decide the utility’s 2015-’16 rate case this fall.

While the overall rate increase is proposed to be just under 2% — staying below the projected inflation rate — residential customers would see rate increases exceeding the projected inflation rate next year.

We Energies customers pay the second-highest electric rates in the state, according to the state Public Service Commission. Since 2005, We Energies’ residential bills have increased 51%, while inflation is up 22%.

The Milwaukee power company’s rate request comes as its parent company, Wisconsin Energy Corp., is seeking approval for a $9.1 billion acquisition of Chicago-based natural gas and electric utility Integrys Energy Group.

In Illinois, Integrys and Wisconsin Energy have promised to keep rates unchanged for two years — provided the Illinois Commerce Commission allows rates to increase in early 2015, before the acquisition closes.

But an Illinois customer group wants natural gas charges in the Chicago area frozen at current levels rather than after another increase takes effect. In Wisconsin, customer groups haven’t made a formal request for concessions related to the acquisition, but have said regulators should ensure customers benefit from the deal.

In a bill message appearing in the mailboxes of 1.1 million customers across the state, We Energies explains its rationale for the rate increase and the changes it’s proposing in how customers are charged.

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Midwest Energy News: Advocates say Wisconsin solar fight could spill into other states

A closely watched battle over utility policy in Wisconsin could determine the fate of solar development throughout the region, advocates say.

The dispute is over three major rate cases recently filed by We Energies,Madison Gas & Electric andWisconsin Public Service Corporation. The three utilities cover much of the eastern half of the state as well as its largest cities.

If the state Public Service Commission (PSC) approves the cases, solar experts say there will be a massive chill over solar development in these utilities’ service territories. And they expect other utilities in Wisconsin and beyond will file similar requests.

All three cases would significantly restructure the way residential and business customers are charged for electricity, so that all customers pay a higher fixed amount each month while the variable charges based on electricity use are reduced.

This creates an inherent disincentive to reduce energy use – whether through installing solar panels or increasing energy efficiency. RENEW Wisconsin program and policy director Michael Vickerman described it as a “reverse Robin Hood” move that shifts the burden of paying for electricity from large energy consumers to small consumers.

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International Business Times: Lake Erie Algae Bloom Crisis Is Putting Pressure On Ohio, Farm States To Tackle Agricultural Pollution Problems

On the shores of Lake Erie, the immediate sense of crisis has passed. Following the toxic algae that bloomed in the lake earlier this month, forcing residents of Toledo, Ohio to rely on bottled water for their drinking supply, authorities now offer assurances that the tap water is safe.

But a gnawing fear remains in communities along the lake. The algal bloom has intensified concerns about its apparent source — pollution washing off surrounding fields in the form of fertilizer and manure. Not without reason, people worry that more outbreaks could emerge at any time.

“I’m still drinking bottled water,” said Jessica Morelli, a nursing mother who skipped showers the weekend of the tap water shutdown, worrying she’d get a skin infection that she could potentially pass on to her 8-month-old daughter. “People are still kind of leery. If it could make you so sick one day, how could it be normal so quickly again?”

Around the nation, similar worries have become a part of everyday life as communities grapple with growing volumes of pollution spilling into waterways from livestock and farming operations. Though talk of industrial pollution may summon images of belching smokestacks, the agricultural expanses producing meat, dairy, grains and vegetables are today so enormous that they can generate quantities of water pollution rivaling cities. Yet the rules governing this pollution still generally treat farming as something other than an industry.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate agricultural runoff, leaving such effluent to be governed by local agencies whose philosophies and standards vary from state to state. State rules and enforcement are often lax, environmental policy experts assert, in part because pushback from agricultural lobbying interests, but also because of limited funding and staffing at regulatory agencies.

“The states to date have had a very ineffective response on what to do about this,” Brad Klein, a senior attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Centerin Chicago, told International Business Times. “We’re hoping that situations like Toledo provide a wake-up call that this could happen anywhere, and that it’s happening with increasing frequency.”

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Wall Street Journal: Ohio Regulators Aim to Help Water Problem With Fertilizer Licenses

The drinking-water crisis in one of Ohio’s largest cities is drawing attention to a new requirement for farmers in the state: a license to fertilize.

The certification is the biggest step Ohio has taken to control nutrient runoff from farms, seen as a key cause of algae blooms in Lake Erie. Those blooms are blamed for a two-day “do-not-drink” advisory in Toledo and its suburbs that ended Monday.

Regulators say the new licenses that become mandatory in 2017 will require farmers to take a one-day class. They say it will help cut fertilizer use by showing farmers how they can apply less nutrients without negatively affecting their crop yields. The law also allows regulators to revoke such certifications if problems are found on a farm.

State officials and farm leaders point to the certification as a sign of the growing steps Ohio is taking to tackle the blooms, with such efforts expected to increase in the years ahead. But environmentalists argue much more aggressive steps are needed to prevent repeat occurrences of what happened in Toledo.

“This isn’t a matter of farmers fine-tuning what they’re doing,” said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Midwest advocacy group. “This requires a substantial rethinking of how nitrogen and phosphorus is used in the agriculture sector.”

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ELPC Gets High-Speed Rail Message Out on New Wisconsin Billboard

Here is the billboard that ELPC placed along I-94 about 35 miles west of Milwaukee, followed by the complementary poster that we placed at the Milwaukee Amtrak station:

HSRbillboar

HSRbillboard2

ELPC and allies have been working to advance the Midwest High-Speed Rail Network, including the popular Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison route, for over a decade. Learn more at www.HighSpeedRailWorks.org. Please share these billboards with your friends and networks.

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

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now