ISSUES

Let’s Revitalize the Chicago Pedway – Op-Ed in Crain’s Chicago Business

Let’s Revitalize the Chicago Pedway

Op-Ed by ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner

It’s a frigid Chicago winter day and downtown sidewalks are slushy and icy, or it’s a rainy summer day. What does a savvy Chicagoan do? Take the Pedway.

Want to go quickly from the CTA to City Hall, pick up coffee, and get a new watchband on the way? Take the Pedway. Looking for new art displays? Check out the Pedway. Entrepreneurs, there are available storefront opportunities with increased Pedway foot traffic.

The Chicago Pedway is an underutilized civic asset. It can be a great way to get around downtown, an engaging civic arts and culture space, and a good location for shops and restaurants.

If, today, someone proposed building a new underground Pedway, you’d ask, “How can we afford it?” The Chicago Pedway, however, is already built. Let’s leverage that investment with strategic actions to make it work better. Better navigation, better coordination and better activation.

Better navigation and wayfinding: Let’s face it—Pedway signs should be larger, eye-catching and more consistent; maps should be easier to understand and on smartphone apps; and directions should be clearer and easier to follow. Good wayfinding should connect Pedway users to above-ground locations and to the Riverwalk, Navy Pier, and transit and train stations. Better wayfinding and easier navigation tools, both above and along the Pedway, will encourage more pedestrian use. This should work well for everybody, not just “Pedway-niks.”

Better coordination: The Pedway maps as a continuous system, but it’s actually spliced-together segments owned by different public and private owners. Coordinating Pedway operating hours, lighting, accessibility and safety helps everybody: Metra commuters from the Millennium Park and Van Buren Metra stations, and CTA train riders going to City Hall and downtown office buildings; tourists going from east of Michigan Avenue hotels to Loop theaters and restaurants; and downtown workers and residents going from place to place. The recent Chicago Pedway Revitalization Study identified high-value repairs and upgrades for action.

Better activation: Better placemaking activates the Pedway and engages people. Pedway users shop at the retail spaces in Block 37 and Illinois Center, and Goodman Williams Group’s retail analysis shows growth potential for more pedestrian-friendly businesses and sales tax revenues. Space p11 is a new Pedway-level gallery for off-grid art, architecture and culture. The Chicago Loop Alliance sponsors Pop-Up activations, and Broadway in Chicago does pop-up holiday caroling and theater. The Vamonde smartphone app provides a fun adventure. The Pedway should be a lively and cool space.

My organization, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Broadway in Chicago and Chicago Loop Alliance are partnering with the city of Chicago, Cook County and building owners to repair and revitalize the Chicago Pedway.

Let’s seize the opportunities to improve pedestrian use and access. Let’s tap more retail business potential. Let’s make the Pedway a vibrant underground space for arts and culture for Chicagoans and visitors. We’ve done the heaviest lifting already by building the Pedway—now let’s use our imagination and take the practical steps to make it a great cityspace.

This post originally ran in Crain’s Chicago Business. Read the article HERE.

ELPC Sues US EPA for Compliance Plan to Reduce Phosphorus Pollution in Western Lake Erie

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

ELPC Sues US EPA for Compliance Plan to Reduce Phosphorus Pollution That Creates Harmful Algae Blooms in Western Lake Erie

ELPC asks Court to keep EPA on Schedule to Clean Up Lake Erie

Toledo, OH – The Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) today filed a new related lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio challenging the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of an Ohio EPA July 2018 report as legally inadequate. The Ohio EPA’s 2018 report provided no effective plan for reducing phosphorus pollution into western Lake Erie which is now designated as “impaired” waters under the Clean Water Act.

ELPC and co-plaintiff Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie (ACLE) are seeking a judicial remedy providing a compliance plan to require progress on a specific timeline to reduce phosphorus pollution in western Lake Erie by 2025, and provide for public accountability. Phosphorus in manure and fertilizer runoff from agricultural sources is the principal cause of harmful algal blooms that have plagued Lake Erie for many years.

“The Clean Water Act provides a specific legal pathway to reduce phosphorus pollution causing harmful algae blooms in western Lake Erie, but U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA refuse to follow the law,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “The Court should require EPA to do its job well by promptly adopting and implementing an effective Clean Water Act plan to limit manure and fertilizer runoff that causes harmful algal blooms.”

The Clean Water Act requires an effective plan that implements a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) cap to limit pollution discharges into the Maumee River system, which flows into western Lake Erie. But Ohio EPA argues that it must only follow the non-binding Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement instead of a TMDL with enforceable regulatory standards.

Neither U.S. EPA nor Ohio EPA have followed the TMDL process to reduce pollution of manure from industrial animal feedlots and fertilizers from large agricultural operations that run off into rivers and streams that eventually result in phosphorus entering into Lake Erie.

“The Court has an important role to play in making sure Ohio doesn’t waste more time delaying effective measures to protect Lake Erie from pollution,” said Madeline Fleisher, ELPC Senior Attorney. “U.S. EPA isn’t holding the state accountable so we’re asking the court to do so.”

“The Clean Water Act is the law of the land, but Ohio keeps trying to escape its legal obligation to protect Lake Erie from factory farm pollution,” said Mike Ferner, a coordinator at ACLE. “The state has said western Lake Erie is one of its highest priorities, and the court shouldn’t let Ohio EPA and U.S. EPA get away with simply lip service.”

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2018 Year End Report

ELPC has been protecting the Midwest’s environment and natural heritage for 25 years. In 2018, we expanded our team of skilled public interest attorneys, policy advocates and communications specialists. We remain focused on the strategic legal, policy and advocacy work that has made ELPC so effective. This work has never been more important and we look forward to more successes in 2019.

To learn more about our 25 years of successful environmental advocacy, download our 2018 End of Year report or view below.

A+ Team of Wisconsin Natural Resources Experts Oppose Huge Transmission Line That Endangers Scenic Driftless Area Values

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

A+ Team of Wisconsin Natural Resources Experts Oppose Huge Transmission Line That Endangers Scenic Driftless Area Values

Threats to Unique Landscape, Recreational Tourism and Fragile Ecosystems

Dodgeville, WI – Four of Wisconsin’s leading natural resources experts filed strong written comments opposing American Transmission Company’s (ATC) proposed huge Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line and 17-story towers that will cut a wide swath through the Driftless Area’s scenic landscapes, conservation lands, parklands, key waterways and other natural resource treasures. This is the wrong place for a huge transmission line that is not needed for electricity reliability.

The experts’ written comments were filed individually by January 4th with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. They were also submitted on behalf of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC) and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation (WWF) by public interest attorneys at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which is serving as legal counsel for DALC and WWF.

According to DALC Executive Director David Clutter: “The Driftless Area is a nationally significant landscape that should be protected. This massive transmission line and its 17-story tall towers are not needed for reliability, and the Driftless Area should not be sacrificed for ATC’s profits.  We are pleased to have a superb team of natural resources experts weigh in on the importance of protecting and conserving a unique treasure in the Midwest.”

The natural resources expert team includes:

George Meyer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and former Director of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, stated:

“The Driftless Area and specifically the locations proposed to be traversed by the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife. State, federal and local governments have invested over $100 million dollars in lands for fish and wildlife habitat, public access and recreational purposes including hunting, fishing, trapping, biking, hiking and birdwatching which generate scores of millions of dollars into the local and state economies. The value of these public lands will be significantly degraded by the construction of the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line.”

Don Waller, Professor of Botany and Environmental Studies and former Department Chair at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, stated:

“As a professional conservation biologist, I am concerned about the environmental impacts of this proposed transmission line as I know this project would have both immediate and sustained deleterious impacts on plant, bird, and other animal populations in the region.”

Stephen Born, Emeritus Professor of Planning and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, stated:

“One of the greatest losses associated with a major transmission line across this special region is the degradation of scenic and amenity resources. Because these highly-valued scenic resources are among the surest victims of a huge transmission line, those impacts should be thoroughly and carefully assessed in the review process for the transmission line.”

Curt Meine, Senior Fellow at the The Aldo Leopold Foundation and Adjunct Faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, stated:

“We must strive together for energy solutions that do not sacrifice other conservation goals and degrade the quality of our land (in the Driftless Area). The decision on this proposed powerline is a test.  It will show if we as a society are willing to resist the easy path of expediency and short-term profit.”

The proposed 345 kV high-voltage transmission line is on a route cutting a wide path from Dubuque, Iowa, through the Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Refuge, across protected conservation lands, wetlands, family farms, school district property and many sensitive natural areas in the Driftless Area. The huge transmission line routes would run through the protected Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area and Black Earth Watershed Conservation Area, and by Governor Dodge State Park and Blue Mounds State Park.

ATC is requesting a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Public Service Commission so that it can assert eminent domain in order to take private land for its expensive transmission line and high towers.

Howard Learner, Executive Director at the Environmental Law & Policy Center and one of the attorneys for DALC and the WWF said: “The Driftless Area is the wrong place for a huge transmission line, which is not needed for reliability in any case. The proposed costly transmission line is yesterday’s misguided way to meet future energy needs for people and businesses in Wisconsin.  There are better, cleaner, and more flexible solar energy, storage, wind power and energy efficiency resources in southwest Wisconsin that would create jobs and economic growth here instead of subsidizing out-of-state energy including fossil fuel generation.”

 

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Chicago’s Underground Pedway Needs Better Navigation, Coordination, and Activation

ELPC is leading the civic greening initiative to revitalize the Chicago Pedway, an underutilized civic asset that connects the public transit system and can provide a good way for people to get around Chicago’s downtown especially on cold winter ways.  The Pedway has been built in pieces connecting City Hall, the County Building, Thompson Center and the Cultural Center with CTA and Metra stations, Block 37, retail businesses and entertainment venues, commercial office buildings, and residential and hotel high-rises.

There’s a 5% leveraging 95% opportunity here:  95% of the work and cost has been incurred in building the underground Pedway system.  The civic opportunity is to provide better navigation and wayfinding/signage, better coordination that unifies the separate segments, and better activation with arts and entertainment to engage the public.

The Chicago Tribune’s editorial yesterday explains the potential for improvement, and some recent articles highlight both opportunities for engaging public art spaces and challenges with sanitation and wayfinding.  There have been a series of arts installations and performances, inviting passers-by to stop and experience the space as a destination of its own, rather than just a throughway.

ELPC and our partners at Broadway in Chicago and the Loop Alliance are working to coordinating the many public and private stakeholders. The Pedway is a resource that has already been built, it already serves tens of thousands of Chicagoans and tourists every day, and it connects pedestrians and public transit. As the Chicago Tribune editorial puts it well:  Let’s “bring some magic to Chicago’s Pedway — or at least some maps!”

Check out ELPC’s Pedway Revitalization Map, or the full report to see ELPC’s vision for making the Pedway much better.  Please support ELPC’s efforts to revitalize the Chicago Pedway. Donate to ELPC here, or join our email list for updates on this and other Midwest environmental issues.

Michigan approves first electric vehicle charging infrastructure program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Nick Dodge, Byrum & Fisk Communications, (517) 333-1606

Judith Nemes, Environmental Law & Policy Center, (312)-795-3706

Michigan approves first electric vehicle charging infrastructure program

Michigan Public Service Commission approves PowerMiDrive initiative to advance charging infrastructure in Michigan

LANSING – Michigan’s first electric vehicle charging infrastructure program, Consumers Energy’s PowerMiDrive initiative, was approved today by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC). Charge Up Midwest, a coalition of organizations working to advance electric vehicles throughout the Midwest, worked closely with Consumers Energy and the MPSC as the pilot program was developed, and contributed to the proposed settlement agreement that preceded the MPSC’s order.

“We applaud the Public Service Commission and Consumers Energy for taking this important first step to advance electric vehicles in Michigan and keep our state on the cutting-edge of the rapidly changing mobility sector,” said Charles Griffith, climate and energy program director at the Ecology Center. “This program is the first of its kind in Michigan and will promote buildout of charging infrastructure, which is one of the key challenges facing electric vehicle advancement in Michigan.”

The PowerMiDrive pilot program has been in development for more than two years. Today’s decision at the MPSC is the culmination of a stakeholder workgroup process facilitated by the MPSC. The decision approves the initiation of a $10 million, three-year pilot program to support installations of EV charging infrastructure at homes and residences, multi-unit dwellings, workplaces, and other public locations, as well as fast-chargers along highway corridors. The program will utilize rebates and consumer education to encourage program participation, and encourage “off-peak” charging through the incorporation of time-of-use rates.  Today’s decision allocates an additional $2.5 million for the program from what was originally proposed by Consumers Energy.

“We want to make sure that the benefits of electric vehicles are available to everyone, including folks in apartment buildings or anyone that doesn’t own their own garage,” said Mark Nabong, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Consumers’ new program can help more people access electric cars as a clean, cheaper alternative to gasoline cars.”

Consumers Energy is not the only utility company with proposals to expand electric vehicle charging. DTE Energy currently has a $13 million pilot program for consideration before the MPSC. Michigan’s two major utility companies are taking significant steps to promote EV charging infrastructure in the state, and if DTE Energy’s proposal is approved, Michigan will have the most forward-looking electric vehicle charging program in the Midwest.

“Today’s decision puts Michigan on the road to cleaner air and a smarter grid by improving drivers’ access to our cleanest and cheapest fuel—electricity,” said Joe Halso, associate attorney with the Sierra Club.  “We look forward to more work with the Commission, Consumers Energy and stakeholders to implement PowerMIDrive and position Michigan as a leader when it comes to planning for an electric vehicle future.”

“The MPSC’s decision is a major win for Michigan utility customers who will benefit with lower rates because more charging will occur at night,” said Robert Kelter, senior attorney at the Midwest-based Environmental Law & Policy Center.

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Charge Up Midwest is a partnership of environmental and clean energy organizations actively working to increase electric vehicle deployment throughout the region in Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio. Visit www.ecocenter.org/charge-midwest to learn more.

 

Dr. George Crabtree at ELPC Thinks: Battery Storage Is An Energy Market Game Changer

Battery storage technologies are rapidly getting better and cheaper.  They can help transform the energy market and modernize electric vehicles just as wireless technologies changed telecommunications and the ways that we live and work.  Dr. George Crabtree is Director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) at Argonne National Laboratory and one of the nation’s leading experts on battery storage technologies.

Dr. Crabtree joined us for the ELPC Thinks event on January 8, 2019 in ELPC’s Chicago Conference Center, explaining JCESR’s cutting-edge battery storage research with the broad potential impacts for accelerating clean technology, and transforming the electricity and transportation sectors.   You can watch a full video of Dr. Crabtree’s presentation here and learn more about ELPC’s work in clean energy and clean transportation here.

EPA’s Proposed Weakening of Mercury Pollution Reduction Standards (MATS) Threatens Children’s and Women’s Health, and Great Lakes Fisheries

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Judith Nemes, 773-892-7494, JNemes@elpc.org

Environmental Protection Agency’s Proposed Weakening of Mercury Pollution Reduction Standards (MATS) Threatens Children’s and Women’s Health, and Great Lakes Fisheries

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

“The Trump EPA’s proposal to weaken mercury and air toxics pollution reduction standards threatens children’s health and the Great Lakes. State public health officials continue to issue ‘mercury advisories’ warning people, especially young children and pregnant women, to limit their intake of fish from most of the Great Lakes and inland lakes in the Midwest. Sadly, it’s not safe for many people to eat the fish that they catch in the Great Lakes.

The Trump EPA’s proposal undermines MATS by retroactively recalculating the costs and benefits of the rule, which most utilities have already fully implemented. The misguided proposed changes leave MATS legally vulnerable and foolishly make it harder to strengthen mercury pollution reduction standards in the future to better protect children’s and women’s health, and Great Lakes fisheries.

Mercury is a known neurotoxin that impairs fetal brain development when it gets into pregnant women’s bloodstreams and crosses the placental barrier. Most coal plants have already installed pollution control systems for mercury in response to the MATS rule that the U.S. EPA issued in 2011. The U.S. EPA should not reverse course and loosen the way co-benefits are analyzed in the future that could lead to softening future standards. Coal plants’ owners should continue to install and operate modern pollution control equipment to reduce mercury and other toxic air pollution. These are common sense safeguards.

The Trump EPA’s rollback skews the regulatory benefit-cost analysis by excluding the important real world co-benefits of reducing pollutants that harm public health and the environment. This flies in the face of sound benefit-cost analysis, and it comes at the expense of our children’s health.

The Trump EPA should not lose sight of its core mission, which includes protecting the public’s health from mercury and other dangerous air toxics.”

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Chicago Tribune Editorial: Should the Illinois Tollway keep spending this $25 million?

Should the Illinois Tollway keep spending this $25 million? 

By Editorial Board

Northern Illinois has its share of public works projects that have languished in the “planning stages” for years without ever seeing an inaugural bucket of concrete poured. Millions spent, nothing delivered. A third airport in Peotone comes to mind. So do the Iliana toll road and, for those with long memories, the Crosstown Expressway proposal of the 1960s and ’70s.

You probably can put the Route 53 extension on the same dusty shelf. Proposals for an expressway that would extend Route 53 into Lake County stretch back to the 1960s.

But now the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the arbiter over which transportation projects get whatever federal funding is available for the region, has taken the Route 53 extension off of its priority list. When you say “no federal funding,” you’ve said a lot.

Unbowed, the Illinois Tollway is forging ahead with a $25 million environmental study launched last year to help officials determine if the proposed toll road is needed to handle growth in Lake, northern Cook and eastern McHenry counties. The 25-mile extension would link up Arlington Heights in Cook County to Grayslake in Lake County, and widen a stretch of Route 120.

So while the already dim prospects for the project have grown ever dimmer, the Illinois Tollway is still spending the $25 million. Why?

Tollway officials say they hope this study will help bring finality to a half-century debate: Should this project be built or not? The officials say the study is examining a wide geographic area and not just the Route 53 corridor. Conceivably, the Route 53 extension or some other notion — improved arterial roads? — could emerge as a potential solution for the area’s traffic snarls. CMAP then could return the Route 53 extension or a replacement project to its priority list.

The question is whether those two “coulds” justify continuing to spend the $25 million. The Tollway by itself arguably can provide all the finality it wants: If CMAP is downgrading this idea, we’re finished spending money on it.

The Tribune’s Mary Wisniewski quotes former Tollway Director Bill Morris, of Grayslake, as calling the agency “irresponsible” for spending millions of dollars on yet another environmental study. Last year the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization, listed the Route 53 project, which if ever built would carry a price tag of $2.65 billion, on its roster of the nation’s most wasteful highway boondoggles.

Still, the proposed extension has always had influential friends. They include the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, a think tank whose board members represent the construction industry and labor unions — entities that stand to profit if the extension ever gets built. Proponents of the extension argue it would bring jobs and commerce to Lake County.

But for now the proposal to extend Route 53 is going nowhere.

Here’s free-of-charge advice for the directors of the Tollway:

Your chairman, Bob Schillerstrom, says the environmental study is in its early stage. Yes, your staff sincerely thinks spending this $25 million could — emphasis ours — eventually lead to some project that CMAP would rule eligible for federal funding. But to those of us who pay the tolls, that sounds like a $25 million hope that the study will justify spending gazillions on new concrete.

With all of that, why not give the Route 53 extension — or any new derivative of it — a well-deserved rest? Why not declare any such project comatose for now? Why not revive it if and when the localities involved agree on whatever road improvements they desire?

And why not admit that continuing to spend the $25 million doesn’t bring finality to this long debate. It only perpetuates it.

ELPC Commends Preservation of Key Energy Title in New Farm Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Andy Olsen, (608)-334-1456, AOlsen@elpc.org

New Farm Bill Preserves Key REAP Farm Energy Program 

Washington, D.C. – The House and Senate have now passed the Farm Bill and sent it on to the President. The bill continues the Energy Title which includes programs to help develop the vast potential for renewable energy and energy efficiency in agriculture. The bill maintains the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) at $50 million per year of mandatory funding.

Ann Mesnikoff, ELPC’s Federal Legislative Director said:
“The Conference Committee produced Farm Bill wisely preserved the REAP program. We thank the Members of Congress who supported the program that delivers benefits to all agricultural sectors and every state.”

Andy Olsen, ELPC Senior Policy Advocate said: “REAP has done much for many farmers and rural small businesses, as well as our environment. We welcome the continuation of the program and seek to increase funding to do even more for our country.”

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