Chicago Tribune: Environmental Groups File Suit to Stop $1.3B Illiana Toll Road Proposal

Friday, April 18, 2014

By Richard Wronski

Tribune reporter

Three environmental groups filed a lawsuit today to block the proposed $1.3 billion Illiana toll road that would serve primarily as a trucking corridor linking interstates in Illinois and Indiana.

The lawsuit challenges the Illinois Department of Transportation’s authority to build the toll road running through Will County, saying the Illiana’s approval violated state law.

The Illiana would be state’s first major public-private partnership, in which private investors would build and operate the highway.

The lawsuit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court by the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, representing the Sierra Club and Openlands.

“IDOT has been trying to use its political clout to circumvent the process and force the Illiana toll road to jump ahead of … higher priority projects,” said Howard Learner, the center’s executive director.

Read More

Press Release: Lawsuit Challenges Validity of Illiana Tollway Authorization

Thursday, April 17, 2014


April 17, 2014


Manny Gonzales, ELPC

(312) 795-3730



Cindy Skrukrud, Sierra Club

(312) 251-1680 x 110



Brandon Hayes, Openlands

(312) 863-6260


News Advisory: Lawsuit Challenges Validity of Illiana Tollway Authorization

Groups Challenge IDOT’s Move to Override Smart Regional Planning

CHICAGO (April 17, 2014) – Today the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), representing the Sierra Club and Openlands, filed a lawsuit in the Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County to halt the proposed Illiana Tollway.  The lawsuit contends that the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has no authority to continue developing the proposed 47-mile tollroad.

The lawsuit against IDOT, the Board of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) and the MPO Policy Committee alleges that an October 2013 vote by the MPO Policy Committee to approve amending the GO TO 2040 Plan to include the proposed Illiana Tollway as a financially constrained project was in fact illegal.  State law required that the inclusion of the Illiana Tollway first be approved by the CMAP Board—which rejected the amendment in a 10-4 vote just one week earlier.

The lawsuit seeks a court order declaring that the proposed Illiana Tollway hasn’t received the necessary approval to proceed.

“The Illinois Department of Transportation is violating Illinois law by spending public funds on the proposed Illiana Tollway, which the Chicago Metropolitan Area for Planning voted to reject for the regional transportation plan,” said Howard A. Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center and one of the Plaintiffs’ attorneys. “Illinois state law requires CMAP’s approval, which IDOT cannot legally circumvent. The Plaintiffs are requesting that the state court declare the agencies’ actions to be unlawful and enjoin IDOT from spending any public funds on the proposed Illiana Tollway.”

The CMAP Board, with representatives of Chicago and seven suburban counties, was following its staff report’s recommendation, which found that the Illiana Tollway wasn’t needed and would expose the region to financial risk and environmental devastation without any appreciable transportation benefits.

“CMAP’s GO TO 2040 Plan is the result of years of work by thousands of citizens and leaders, and it is a good plan for our region,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.  “When the CMAP Board voted to reject the Illiana, they did so in the best interests of our region.  When IDOT’s MPO Policy Committee reversed that finding, they undermined the GO TO 2040 Plan and they broke the law.  When we make plans for the good of the region we need to stick by them, not allow politics to override them like IDOT did in the case of the Illiana.”

“The vote by the MPO Policy Committee—in defiance of the CMAP Board—was a politically-motivated vote for bad planning that destroys the integrity of the GO TO 2040 Plan,” said Openlands President & CEO Jerry Adelmann. “In addition to destroying thousands of acres of productive agricultural land and severing rural communities, the proposed Illiana Tollway would denigrate state and federally protected natural areas—including Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie—with noise, exhaust, and light.”

CMAP’s staff also found that the proposed Illiana Tollway could require a public subsidy of up to $1.1 billion. IDOT’s own studies show that fewer than 20,000 vehicles would use the Illiana per day up to as late as 2040. CMAP was well prepared to evaluate the project and spent years crafting a broad GO TO 2040 Plan, a framework for future transportation spending in the region.

Yet, the MPO Policy Committee, chaired by IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider, approved the project by an 11 to 8 margin, potentially making Illinois taxpayers responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in costs not covered by the project’s hoped-for private financing.

ELPC also represents Openlands and Sierra Club in another pending lawsuit in federal court.  That lawsuit, filed in July 2013, alleges that the “Tier 1” environmental impact study for the Illiana Tollway was legally inadequate, in part because the study was based on population and employment forecasts that differed significantly from CMAP’s.  Plaintiffs are filing a motion for summary judgment tomorrow, April 18.




Crains Chicago: Environmental Groups Sue To Block Illiana Expressway

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Environmental groups sue to block Illiana Expressway

April 17, 2014

Leading Chicago environmental groups Thursday sued to block the proposed Illiana Expressway, saying action on the proposed road at the southern edge of the Chicago metropolitan area has proceeded in violation of the law.

In an complaint filed on behalf of the Sierra Club and Openlands in Cook Count Circuit Court, the Environmental Law & Policy Center alleges that expressway proposal has not received the required blessing of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which acts as the gatekeeper for federal funds here.

The road was approved by the CMAP’s Policy Committee in a decision that the law center bitterly fought. However, the group says the rejection by a 10-4 vote of the road a week earlier by CMAP’s board is more important legally, according to the complaint. (You can read the whole thing below.)

“The Illinois Department of Transportation is violating Illinois law by spending public funds,” Howard Learner, president of the Chicago-based center, said in a statement. “Illinois state law requires CMAP’s approval, which IDOT cannot legally circumvent.”

Continue Reading on Crain’s Chicago Business 

Chicago Tribune: Illinois could be first state to ban microbeads

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The tiny plastic particles found in many facial cleansers and soaps promise a gentle scrubbing and luxuriously smooth skin.

But those little beads of grit are also piling up in waterways, where they can suck up toxins and harm wildlife, environmentalists say. Because of those concerns, Illinois is one of several states considering legislation to force manufacturers to drop products that use the particles, called microbeads.

A measure advancing through the General Assembly in Springfield this spring would phase out the sale of microbeads by the end of 2018. Major soap manufacturers, some of which already have plans to stop using microbeads, support the legislation. An environmental group working to reduce plastic pollution says, however, that the state’s timetable is too lax.

Continue Reading

WVON Voice of the Nation Talks Solar Energy with ELPC’s Brad Klein

Monday, April 7, 2014

Michael T. Thomas’s “GreenPreneur” show spoke with ELPC Senior Attorney Brad Klein about solar energy initiatives and challenges in the Midwest and nationally.  Listen in. 

Cap Times: Howard Learner – Wisconsin’s quiet transportation revolution

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Madison is at the forefront of the quiet revolution in car use and vehicle technologies that is fundamentally changing transportation needs, infrastructure investments and traditional financing structures. Madison is third among the nation’s 100 largest cities for declining driving miles per person (18 percent decrease), and Milwaukee is second (21 percent decrease) from 2006 to 2011, according to the WISPIRG Foundation.

As driving patterns change and gas tax revenues decline, Wisconsin should prioritize smart investments in transit and rail, which are gaining passengers, and “fix it first” when it comes to highways and bridges.

Let’s start by advancing long-delayed higher-speed passenger rail connecting Madison to Milwaukee, Chicago and Minneapolis, and the suburbs and “exurbs” in between. Modern high-speed rail can improve mobility, create jobs, spur economic growth and opportunity, and reduce pollution. Gov. Scott Walker should reconsider his rejection of passenger rail upgrades. Those fast trains could have already been whisking people from Madison to Milwaukee and Chicago.

Read More

New ELPC Report: Farm Energy Success Stories (3rd Edition)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

FESS_2014_CoverThe new edition of ELPC’s Farm Energy Success Stories features over a dozen projects from across the nation funded by the Farm Bill’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which ELPC has long championed.  These projects span a wide variety of technologies — including biomass, anaerobic digesters, energy efficiency, geothermal, hydroelectric, solar and wind — that have had a positive impact on rural development.

The new Farm Bill passed earlier in 2014 provides $881 million for Energy Title programs like REAP over 10 years, benefiting small- and mid-sized farms and ranches, as well as rural small businesses. ELPC’s Farm Bill Clean Energy Team has led the charge to extend the Farm Bill’s Energy Title programs and make these programs work well on the ground.

Learn more at ELPC’s www.FarmEnergy.org.

Indiana Business Journal: Learner – Vehicle-miles tax would roll Hoosiers

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Howard Learner/Indiana Business Journal

March 29, 2014

Indianapolis is striving to become an electric-vehicles center. Gas tax revenue is declining, though, as people drive less and as more fuel-efficient new cars require filling up less at the pump. That saves people money, reduces pollution and lessens America’s imports of foreign oil.

However, less driving and more fuel-efficient vehicle technologies produce less funding for needed transportation infrastructure improvements that are vital to Indiana’s economic growth, public health and safety.

Many politicians oppose raising the motor fuel taxes. So, some states, like Oregon, are looking to shift from gas taxes to vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) taxes, which charge motorists based on how many miles they travel on the roads. An onboard vehicle device, using GPS or other technology, records the distance driven, assigns it to the appropriate taxing jurisdiction, and calculates the tax amount owed.

Proposed federal legislation (House Resolution 3638) would establish a Road Usage Fee Pilot Program, namely VMT taxes. However, this approach doesn’t work well in practice in Indiana and similarly situated states with the interstate highways driven by millions of out-of-state drivers. It would also penalize and undermine Indianapolis’ leadership on electric vehicles.

First, Indiana’s interstate highways are a crossroads—that’s different from coastal Oregon. Changing to VMT taxes would mean out-of-state drivers who now pay Indiana gas taxes on fuel purchases would instead get a free ride as they travel through. Indiana drivers would be forced to pay the entire VMT tax burden.

Why would Indiana legislators want Indiana taxpayers to further subsidize highway use for out-of-state motorists?

Second, VMT taxes would effectively penalize fuel-efficient cars, which exert less impact on highways than heavy trucks and SUVs. Why should a gas-guzzling Hummer, which causes much more wear and tear on the highways, pay the same VMT tax as a lighter, fuel-sipping Chevy Volt, Ford Focus, Nissan Leaf or Toyota Prius? Will heavy trucks pay their higher fair share?

The Congressional Budget Office’s March 2011 report comparing gas taxes and VMT taxes said, “Heavy trucks travel less than 10 percent of all vehicle miles, but their costs per mile are far higher than are those for passenger vehicles, and they are responsible for most pavement damage.”

CBO suggested that VMT taxes, if adopted, should be adjusted to recognize weight-per-axle in properly allocating highway wear-and-tear to the cost causers.

Third, VMT taxes would penalize new clean electric vehicles and hybrid cars that pollute much less than internal-combustion-engine and diesel cars and trucks, and thereby provide air quality, public health and other environmental quality benefits for everyone. That penalty—the VMT tax versus gas tax—is contrary to Indiana’s cleaner air goals and undermines Indianapolis’ efforts to become an electric-vehicles center.

Fourth, the current tax is simple and inexpensive to administer at the pump. The system is already in place. The VMT tax requires that fairly costly new technology be installed in vehicles, and a new administrative system be created. The costs of operating and auditing a VMT system are higher than collecting gas taxes.

If legislators are reluctant to raise gas taxes, why would the proposed VMT taxes be any more popular with the public? The gas and motor fuel taxes are both fairer and practically better suited to Indiana’s geography and needs.

For Indiana, the proposed VMT tax for cars is not the right tool to address transportation infrastructure funding challenges.

Special Report: Putting Solar Power to Work in Michigan

Monday, March 31, 2014

ELPC is partnering with the Michigan Land Use Institute to get solar policies right in Michigan.  Together with other allies and stakeholders, ELPC is part of the Michigan Public Service Commission’s “solar work group” that meets every 3 weeks to identify next steps for the utilities’ fledgling solar initiatives. A final report with recommendations is due out in June, but reports from our regular meetings are available on MLUI’s website.

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Experts say Great Lakes water level changes inevitable, plan study on how people can adapt

Friday, March 28, 2014

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Great Lakes levels will continue rising and falling in often unpredictable ways and people should learn to deal with the changes instead of trying to tame nature with costly engineering projects, experts said Thursday.

Donald Scavia, director of the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute, announced a wide-ranging study of ways to adapt to up-and-down water levels during a seminar at which about 50 Great Lakes policymakers, scientists and advocates debated whether further efforts to control the inland seas would be worth the trouble.

“Lake levels are varying and they’re going to continue to vary,” Scavia said. “The question we should be focusing on is, how do you live with the variability instead of where do you put the next dam.”

Continue Reading


Learn more about the ELPC-University of Michigan seminar here.