ELPC in the News

Big Ag Needs a Closer Look

Big agriculture is apparently getting bigger in Ohio. And with the fate of Lake Erie hanging in the balance, it is time for Ohio’s elected leaders to start paying more attention.

A recent study by the Washington-based Environmental Working Group and the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center has concluded that the Maumee River watershed now has 775 hog, cattle, dairy, and poultry operations — 42 percent more than in 2005.

Those farms have more than twice as many animals as they did in 2005.The growth — in number and size — of these megaoperations coincides with the problem of annual toxic algae blooms on the lake.

 

 

Growth in unregulated farms in Maumee Watershed fuels Lake Erie’s toxic algae blooms

Using aerial photos, satellite images and state permit figures, two environmental groups say more than half of the manure in the Maumee River watershed comes from unpermitted farms with livestock. “To me, this really spotlights how much more Ohio should be doing to track and oversee these big sources that are effectively industrial agriculture operations when you get to this scale,” said Madeline Fleisher, a senior attorney at ELPC.

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.

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.

Howard Learner on the State of Solar in the Midwest

ELPC’s President and Executive Director, Howard Learner, joined SEIA’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Abigail Ross Hopper, November 14 at the Solar Power Midwest conference to discuss key trends facing the solar industry in the Midwest. There was a discussion on the state of distributed and utility-scale solar since the passage of critical energy legislation in Illinois and Michigan, how recent electoral outcomes factor into regional opportunities and challenges to solar, and how effective strategic partnerships can make solar a more dominant player in the Midwest energy landscape.

Howard closed the conversation with a call of optimism for the future of clean energy saying “We can blow through the 7GW of solar we have in the Midwest if we get the implementation right and seize the opportunities presented.”

Energywire: Board Shuts Down Vistra Effort to Fast-Track Coal Plant Ruling

Board shuts down Vistra effort to fast-track coal plant ruling

November 5, 2018

By Jeffrey Tomich

The Illinois Pollution Control Board denied a request by Vistra Energy Corp. to expedite new rules that would let the company run its dirtier and more profitable coal plants in the state more frequently.

In an order last week, the five-member board said the Irving, Texas-based power producer’s claims of “economic harms” didn’t justify an expedited rulemaking.

“The board is not convinced that the need to address wholesale energy market issues should control the substance or timing of proposed amendments to a substantive environmental regulation,” the six-page order said.

The order comes a month after the board proposed modifications to Illinois’ Multi-Pollutant Standard (MPS) that includes pollution limits for Vistra’s 18 coal units representing more than 5,000 megawatts (Energywire, Oct. 5).

The Pollution Control Board’s proposal is a sort of compromise between the power producer’s effort to get relief from existing emissions rules and critics, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) and a coalition of environmental groups, which want to keep existing standards in place.

Vistra had asked the board to finalize the rule change by Feb. 1, after which it would be subject to review by a legislative committee before taking effect. Madigan and environmental advocates challenged the request.

Vistra CEO Curt Morgan told analysts during a Friday conference call that the board’s proposal is “reasonable and fair” and he now expects a final outcome in April or May, after which the company could make decisions related to the future of its Illinois coal fleet.

The power producer has suggested it may shutter coal units in southern Illinois based on what executives view as inadequate capacity payments — payments made to ensure power plants are ready to run during periods of peak demand.

Morgan said Vistra is continuing work to “optimize” its Illinois portfolio and believes it can achieve a “reasonably significant” improvement in earnings from its Illinois plants. The company will be ready to act on that plan as soon as it gets an outcome from the Pollution Control Board.

“We’re going to be in a position to execute immediately,” Morgan said. “If the deal goes through the way it is now, we know what we would do. It’s just a matter of timing. But we also have been contingency planning, so if something else happened, then we would be prepared for that, as well.”

A possible wild card in the administrative rulemaking process? Politics.

Illinois voters will elect a governor tomorrow, and polls point to Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker defeating incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner.

Pritzker earlier this year criticized the rule proposed at Vistra’s request by the Illinois EPA.

In response to a questionnaire sent to candidates by the Chicago Sun-Times, the Democrat said of the proposed MPS rule change: “I will stand on the side of science and reason and not scrap limits on pollution.”

But would a new governor, during his first months in office and facing a fiscal crisis, step in and derail an administrative rule initiated by his predecessor?

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, one of the groups challenging Vistra’s petition, believes a Pritzker administration would reassess the state’s position on the rule proposal.

“You’re dealing with a proposal that came from the Illinois EPA,” he said.

While the board wouldn’t explicitly seek out a new governor’s stance before issuing a ruling, Learner said he believes this week’s election will provide important context for their decision.

“They’ll be interested to hear what [the administration’s] position is if a new governor is elected,” he said.

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Inside Climate News: Can Illinois Handle a 2000% Jump in Solar Capacity? We’re About to Find Out

Can Illinois handle a 2000% jump in solar capacity? We’re about to find out

October 30, 2018

By Dan Gearino

Illinois is about to learn what it takes to manage a nearly 20-fold increase in solar power.

A new state law requires utilities to dramatically increase their purchases of renewable energy, with a goal of getting at least 25 percent of the state’s electricity from clean energy by 2025, a large part of it from solar.

For a state starting with very little solar power now—less than 100 megawatts—becoming a Midwest solar leader will mean building an industry infrastructure almost from scratch, and doing it fast.

To ramp up by the deadline, the state needs two things: workers and projects.

People involved in the effort describe an atmosphere of almost chaotic progress. State officials and clean energy advocates want Illinois to be a model for how to expand clean energy in a way that provides targeted help to the local communities.

“The stakes are high,” said David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, a Chicago-based consumer advocacy group involved in the process. “I think we have a good plan and we have reasons to be optimistic in general, but there’s no question we’ll face some roadblocks and things we didn’t think of.”

Hundreds of people have enrolled in job-training programs across the state, organized by nonprofit groups as part of the law. Developers are submitting proposals for new solar projects. And some of the established developers are starting to complain that the process for selecting projects—designed to give a wide number of developers a chance—is flawed.

Catapulting Illinois to a Midwest Solar Leader

Illinois ranks 35th in the country in solar power right now, with 98 megawatts, less than 1 percent of its electricity generation. Development has been slow here in part because the state lacks the supportive policies from the government and utilities that have boosted solar elsewhere.

Five years from now, analysts expect to see nearly 2,000 megawatts of solar power in Illinois and the state in 17th place nationally, according to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association. No other state has Illinois’ combination of starting from so low and being on track to rise so high during that period.

“It’s going to catapult Illinois to the forefront of the solar market, and put our state on the path to the renewable future we need to limit the worst impacts of climate change,” said MeLena Hessel, policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

This boom in renewable energy stems from the state’s Future Energy Jobs Act, a 2016 law that provided subsidies for two nuclear power plants and also set the target to get 25 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025, among other requirements. The renewable energy provisions were part of a legislative compromise to get enough votes to approve the nuclear power subsidies. (The law was upheld by a federal court in September.)

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