Howard’s Blog

My 2017 End-of-Year Letter

This is an extraordinary time, and the time for action is now.  President Trump, U.S. EPA Administrator Pruitt, Department of Interior Secretary Zinke and others do not share the Environmental Law & Policy Center’s and your core environmental, public health, and civic values. The Trump Administration is trying to turn back the clock on almost 50 years of American progress toward cleaner water, healthier air, and safer communities.  It has already canceled 27 regulatory standards that protect public health and our environment.

ELPC is fighting back and playing to win.  ELPC’s effective strategic litigation and public advocacy are more vital than ever to confront the Trump Administration’s anti-environmental agenda in the Midwest and challenge Trump’s “War on the Great Lakes.”

The best defense is a good offense!  There are opportunities for positive progress to accelerate clean energy and clean transportation solutions to climate change problems, protect safe clean drinking water and healthy clean air, and protect the Great Lakes and other vital Midwest natural resources.  ELPC plays to win in these challenging times in the Midwest states where ELPC focuses, leads and knows how to get things done.

Please stretch this year and make a significant contribution to support ELPC’s successful and strategic legal and policy advocacy work.  Your support will help ELPC win: advancing policies that accelerate solar energy and innovative clean cars as they reach tipping points, protecting safe clean drinking water and healthier clear air for all in our communities, and protecting the Great Lakes, rivers, forests and prairies that make the Midwest a great place to live, work and play.

To learn more about all of ELPC’s winning work and 2017 successes, download our End-of-Year brochure. 

 

Here are some highlights of ELPC achieving strong results at this extraordinary time:

  • Winning Against Trump’s “War on the Great Lakes”.  President Trump won his election in the Great Lakes states, but his misguided policies and budgets amount to a puzzling “War on the Great Lakes.”  When the Administration suggested moving EPA’s Region 5 headquarters from Chicago to Lenexa, Kansas, ELPC exposed this proposal to the public ridicule it deserved, and the Administration backed down. When the Administration zeroed out funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – a successful program supporting 3,000 projects to keep the lakes clean, preserve shorelines, restore wetlands,, and protect safe clean drinking water – ELPC helped mobilize the public and Congress to restore the full funding of $300 million annually.

ELPC attorneys are now in federal court to overturn the U.S. EPA’s approval of the Ohio EPA’s flawed finding that Western Lake Erie is somehow not “impaired” by phosphorus pollution.  In the Toledo area, 500,000 people were without drinking water for three days in 2014 due to toxic blue green algae, which continues to threaten safe clean drinking water, fisheries and ecological health.  This ELPC litigation can be a key Clean Water Act precedent.

  • Winning Against Peabody Energy’s Attempt to Shift Its Environmental Cleanup Costs onto the Public. ELPC took on Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal mining company and prominent climate change denier.  Peabody filed for bankruptcy and tried to escape its $1.3 billion of mine reclamation responsibilities by “self-bonding” and transferring the risks of those costs onto taxpayers. ELPC successfully intervened before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, gained precedential rulings, and forced Peabody to buy surety bonds for all of its reclamation obligations as a condition for the Court’s approval of Peabody’s reorganization.  Victory for both taxpayers and the environment.  Flawed “self-bonding” ended, subsidies for coal reduced.
  • Progress Accelerating Solar Energy in the Midwest States.  Solar Energy + Storage is a game changer that can transform the electricity market just as wireless technologies transformed telecommunications and the ways that we live and work.  For energy policies, the “rubber hits the road” before the state public utilities commissions, which can either promote competition spurring innovative new clean technologies or create barriers to new market entrants.

ELPC advocates led the charge to pass the modernized Illinois Renewable Energy Standard that will drive 3,000 megawatts of new solar energy projects and 1,350 megawatts of wind power.  Now, ELPC and a coalition of solar energy businesses and clean energy and community groups are working to make sure that the Illinois Power Agency and Illinois Commerce Commission implement the new law to achieve its full potential benefits for consumers and the environment.

ELPC helped persuade the Michigan Public Service Commission to update the “avoided cost” calculation and increase buyback rates that boost distributed solar energy and cogeneration.  Now, we’re working to replicate that victory in other Midwest states.  In Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, ELPC is on the offense to accelerate community solar policies, and we’re fighting back against barriers to solar development and subsidies for old coal plants.

  • Protecting the Midwest’s Wild and Natural Places.  ELPC’s top-rate team of public interest environmental litigation attorneys – one of our strongest weapons – are striking back in the courts with our conservation group partners to protect the Driftless Area (WI), Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie (IL), Mississippi River Headwaters (MI) and Sylvania Wilderness (MI).

Thank you for your engagement and your support.  Please consider making a contribution by mail, phone or online to support ELPC’s effective work to seize opportunities for transformational changes and achieve a brighter Midwest future for all.

Huffington Post: Howard Learner on FEMA Funding in Wake of Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey Should Be A Wake-Up Call To Trump’s Disaster Relief Budget
By Howard Learner

August 27, 2017

While President Trump declared Texas an emergency disaster area from the Hurricane Harvey impacts, the Trump Administration’s FY 2018 budget blueprint for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is “penny wise and pound foolish”:

· Cuts $667 million from FEMA state and local grant funding for programs that include disaster preparedness and response. For example: The Homeland Security Grant Program “plays an important role in the implementation of the National Preparedness System by supporting the building, sustainment, and delivery of core capabilities essential to achieving the National Preparedness Goal of a secure and resilient Nation.”

· Cuts about $90 million from FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program funding to local communities. In other words, reducing funding for prevention and resilience actions that can mitigate harms to people and property to better withstand the impact of hurricanes and coastal storms. And save money by preventing more damages later. This program is authorized under Section 203 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act in order to “reduce overall risk to the population and structures from future hazard events, while also reducing reliance on Federal funding in future disasters.”

· Eliminates all $190 million of funding for the National Flood Insurance Program’s Flood Hazard Mapping and Risk Analysis Program efforts to improve and redraw the nation’s flood maps to align with current topological and hydrological realities. That’s important for communities to better understand climate risks and take protective measures that reduce harms and save money in the future.

It’s been reported that out of all 50 states, Texas, California and Oklahoma have the most disaster declarations from FEMA. This is an area of strong potential bipartisan policy alignment, especially in the Midwest and Great Lakes states.

Let’s see whether the Congressional debates on funding for Texas disaster relief lead to some common sense budget solutions focused on better prevention and resilience actions and better disaster preparedness and relief for people and our communities.

READ HERE

Read Howard’s Speech from #Rally4ThePlanet

On April 21, 2017, ELPC hosted an Earth Day Rally in Chicago with partners included elected officials and friends from across the environmental and public health advocacy sector.

Here is Howard’s speech from that event:

CHICAGO EARTH DAY RALLY – APRIL 21, 2017

Good afternoon!  This Earth Day, let’s commit to work together to make Chicago the cleanest and greenest city in the country.

Everyone in Chicago, and across our nation, has the right to breathe clean air.  All people have the right to have safe clean water to drink.  All people have the human right to live in a healthy community without toxic threats.

Safe clean drinking water.  Healthy clean air.  Healthy communities without toxic threats.  These are not just Democratic values or just Republican values.  They are not just the value of city dwellers or rural folks.  These are core environmental values shared by all Americans.  Not just on this Earth Day, but on every day of the year.

President Trump and his EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt don’t seem to share these values.  Their shortsighted actions are harmful to achieving safe clean drinking water, healthy clean air, healthy communities and accelerating clean renewable energy.

We need to fight back – and win!  Not “fight the good fight.”  We will play to win – and we will work together to win the fights.

We won the fight by working together to force Midwest Generation to shut down the old, highly polluting Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Pilsen and Little Village.  Chicago’s air became cleaner and healthier for us all.

We won the fight by working together to force the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to finally disinfect and keep some of the bad bacteria out of the Chicago River.  We gained a safer, cleaner river with better recreation for us all.

We won the fight by working together to pass the Illinois clean energy legislation to accelerate solar energy, advance more wind power and achieve more energy efficiency.   We can make Chicago a leading clean energy community in ways that reduce pollution, create jobs, grow the economy and help to solve our climate change problems.

We will win the fight against the Trump Administration’s misguided plans to cut the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding from $300 million annually to $0.

We will win the fight against the Trump Administration’s reported misguided plans to close down the EPA Region 5 Office in Chicago that oversees the Great Lakes, the largest fresh water body in the world, and move the EPA staff to Lenexa, Kansas.  What are they thinking?

Do they really think that when BP, Enbridge or U.S. Steel spill oil or toxic chemicals in Lake Michigan and nearby rivers that EPA’s emergency response team can get there more quickly from Lenexa, Kansas than from Chicago?

We will continue working together to reduce pollution and clean up and restore the Great Lakes to be a great place to fish, swim and enjoy the outdoors…and to provide safe, clean drinking water supplies for all Chicagoans.  We will keep doing so

We will continue working together to achieve better public transit that is affordable and accessible to all.  And to achieve a more livable, walkable and bikeable city that is healthier and less dependent on cars.  And to develop a modern intercity higher-speed rail that improves mobility, reduces pollution, creates jobs and pulls together our regional economy.

Chicago can and should become a cleaner and greener city, and a safer and healthier city that makes all of us proud.

Joining us on Earth Day today are some of the people and organizations, political and environmental leaders, and community activists that make things happen.  These are dedicated and effective people who work every day for Chicago to become a clean water, clean air and clean energy leader.

Thank you all working to make Chicago a healthier place to live, work and enjoy.  Thank you for now for what you will keep doing every day, not just on Earth Day, to build a cleaner and greener and a better Chicago for everyone.

My end-of-year letter

Elections produce change, they can shock the system, and they create new challenges and, often, unanticipated opportunities.  President-elect Trump does not share ELPC’s values and that creates enormous challenges.  Some fundamentals, however, still present positive opportunities in the Midwest states where ELPC focuses, leads and knows how to get things done.

The Midwest is the nation’s most pivotal region for transitioning to a clean energy economy and is the nation’s transportation crossroads where vehicle and mobility innovations can make the most difference in the ways that we live and work.  Cleaning up the energy and transportation sectors are the most important climate change solutions that are needed to save our planet.  Likewise, we must protect the Great Lakes, which are 22% of the world’s freshwater resources, supplying drinking water to 42 million people.  The leadership gap and gridlock in Washington DC makes clear that states and cities are key places for ELPC to drive environmental progress.

ELPC is effective.  We advance savvy policy changes that combined with technological innovations are driving energy markets to accelerate solar energy, wind power, battery storage and energy efficiency.  We are seizing opportunities to transform the transportation sector with innovative new electric and driverless cars and trucks that pollute less and smart mobility options including high-speed rail, better public transit and shared vehicles.  ELPC public interest attorneys are winning strategic litigation with our conservation partners to protect the Midwest’s special wild and natural places – the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Sylvania Wilderness, Great Lakes and Northwoods.

Your support will help ELPC win in 2017, advancing cleaner energy in the Midwest, accelerating transportation innovations, and protecting the great lakes, rivers, forests and prairies that we love. Please read the enclosed report, consider ELPC’s track record of success, and make a contribution by phone, mail or at ELPC.org/donate.

ELPC shows that smart, strategic legal and policy advocacy can both improve environmental quality and grow the Midwest’s economy. ELPC’s teams of expert public interest attorneys, M.B.A.s, policy advocates, communications specialists and science advisors play to win and know how to get things done – truly making a difference for a better world.

ELPC is on the Cusp of Transformational Electricity Policy, Market and Technological Changes, Leading the Midwest to a Clean Energy Future, State by State.  New solar energy, wind power, battery and lighting technologies can help clean up and transform the electricity sector.  ELPC attorneys, M.B.A.s and policy experts are driving new pro-innovation and pro-competition policies to remove barriers and open up markets for solar, wind and storage technologies before the state public utilities commissions where “the rubber hits the road.”  We are playing both offense and defense to accelerate clean renewable energy across the Midwest.  The stakes are high for our future energy mix and climate change solutions.

We Can Make Solar + Batteries = 24/7 Electricity Market Game Changer. Midwest energy policies do not support (and in some ways impede) widespread implementation of new solar energy and storage technologies that would provide both economic benefits – less expensive ways of achieving reliability for business and residential consumers – and environmental value as a very low-carbon part of the electricity system when grid integrated.  ELPC is also working at regional transmission organizations to design policies for demand response and battery storage that provide grid support, enhance reliability, and reduce need for old coal plants.

ELPC Is Taking on Peabody Energy – the Biggest Coal Mine Company.  ELPC attorneys are making progress before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in challenging Peabody Energy’s flawed “self-bonding” practices — a promise to pay, without guarantee — for its mine reclamation obligations. Peabody and other coal mine companies must fulfill their environmental cleanup responsibilities and not shift their costs onto taxpayers.

ELPC Is Winning in the Courts to Clean Up or Retire Coal.  ELPC won a federal district court decision requiring the Edwards coal plant in Peoria to reduce dangerous soot pollution, and ELPC attorneys helped stop First Energy’s and AEP’s requested bailouts of uneconomic old coal plants in Ohio. Because of coal plant retirements, Illinois is already 81% and Michigan is 90% of the way toward achieving their full Clean Power Plan carbon pollution reductions by 2030.

ELPC is Accelerating Electric Vehicles (EV) and “Driverless” Car Policies to Steer the Right Course to Clean Up and Rapidly Transform the Transportation Sector.  We are exploring ways to develop a modern EV fast-charging network that brings together homes, public sites and fast-charging stations powered by solar or wind energy along major Midwest interstates.  ELPC is leading the national environmental advocacy with government agencies to integrate greenhouse gas reduction standards into emerging federal safety policies for driverless vehicles.  Done right, the technological advances spurring development of driverless cars create opportunities to lower traffic fatalities, optimize fuel efficiency to produce less pollution, and reduce congestion.  That’s a winning strategy.

ELPC – the Go-To Public Interest Litigation Attorneys for Conservation Partners Working to Protect the Midwest’s Wild and Natural Places When Serious Threats Emerge:

  • We’re Protecting the Sylvania Wilderness, a beautiful 18,327-acre area of interconnected lakes and old growth trees along the Michigan-Wisconsin border where people canoe, fish, hike, camp and enjoy the quiet of the outdoors.  ELPC attorneys represent environmental groups intervening in litigation brought by private plaintiffs seeking to overturn the Forest Service’s limits on “grandfathered” uses of loud gas-powered motorboats.  In June, ELPC won a favorable Federal District Court summary judgment decision to limit large motorboat uses that disturb the wilderness experience and potentially bring in invasive species.  If upheld on appeal, that decision will also set a precedent for protecting other Midwest National Parks, Lakeshores and Wilderness Areas.
  • We’re Ditching the Illiana Tollway Boondoggle and Protecting the Remarkable Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. The Illiana Tollway is a fiscal folly, undermines sound regional planning, and would harm wildlife and ecological values in the 19,000-acre Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. ELPC attorneys representing the Midewin Heritage Association, Openlands and Sierra Club have now twice prevailed before the Federal District Courts, which have declared that the federal and state transportation agencies’ approvals of the Tier 1 and Tier 2 Environmental Impact Statements and Record of Decisions violated NEPA and are invalid.  ELPC’s media outreach has secured 20 editorials against the Illiana “road to nowhere” during Illinois’ fiscal crisis when there are much higher priorities for limited transportation infrastructure funds to enable badly-needed fixes for transit and commuter rail, intercity higher-speed rail, and bridge repairs.  It’s time to finally bring the proposed Illiana Tollway to an end.
  • We’re Protecting Clean Water in the Great Lakes and Midwest Rivers. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has bipartisan support and sustained appropriations, which have largely avoided political squabbling. The projects supported by close to $2 billion of federal funds over the past seven years are achieving real results for restoring the Great Lakes ecological system. In Illinois, ELPC attorneys won a state court decision overturning agencies’ failure to establish sound phosphorus standards and a separate permit appeal challenging discharges of superheated water into Lake Michigan.  In Iowa, ELPC attorneys won a court decision reversing an agency’s flawed “antidegradation” standards that should keep clean water clean.

ELPC believes in the core principle that environmental progress and economic growth can be achieved together, and we put that sustainability principle into practice every day. Our multidisciplinary staff teams of public interest attorneys, M.B.A.s, policy experts and communications specialists are fully engaged across the Midwest, and we’re achieving progress.  ELPC’s strong Board of Directors, scientist advisors, and next-gen and state advisory councils expand our capabilities, talent and networks to succeed.   It isn’t easy; real change never is. We don’t give up. We play to win and work with diverse partners to accomplish results that matter.

Thank you for your engagement and your support.  Please consider making a contribution by mail, phone or online at elpc.org/donate to support ELPC’s effective work to seize opportunities for transformational changes and achieve a brighter Midwest future for all.

Victory in Federal Court! Illiana Tollway Tier 2 EIS “Invalid”

ELPC litigation success! U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle issued an Order yesterday holding that the federal and state transportation agencies’ approvals of the Tier 2 environmental impact statement and record of decision for the boondoggle Illiana Tollway are “invalid” and “no longer effective.” ELPC Staff Attorney Rachel Granneman and I are representing Openlands, Midewin Heritage Association and Sierra Club in this case.

Federal judges have now twice held in favor of ELPC and our clients that the federal and state transportation agencies’ environmental reviews of the proposed Illiana Tollway were invalid and illegal. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) impermissibly skewed their environmental reviews from the outset to somehow justify the proposed new Illiana Tollway. Their Tier 1 EIS, which was held to be illegal by the federal court on June 16, 2015, relied on improper methodologies to support the proposed Illiana Tollway and reject better alternatives. Their Tier 2 EIS relied on the flawed underlying Tier 1 EIS in then choosing among proposed corridors to build this tollway.

The new federal court decision yesterday ruled “invalid” and “no longer effective” the Tier 2 EIS approvals by IDOT, INDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. Accordingly, the court then stated that the case is now “moot” and dismissed the lawsuit. We are pleased that the federal courts have now held that both the Tier 1 and Tier 2 environmental impact statements are illegal and cannot be relied upon for the proposed new Illiana Tollway.

The U.S. District Court’s decision means that IDOT and INDOT must start over their environmental reviews from the beginning based on much more realistic data and do it right without impermissible shortcuts. However, if done right, that would very likely show that the proposed costly Illiana Tollway is not economically justified and is not environmentally sensible.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: The proposed new Illiana Tollway proposal is fiscally irresponsible, contradicts sound regional planning, and would harm the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. It’s time for IDOT and INDOT to stop wasting taxpayers’ money and time, and instead bring the boondoggle Illiana Tollway to its well-deserved end.

Thank you for your continued engagement and support. We’re winning.

Take down the TRUMP sign along the improved Chicago Riverwalk!

TakeTrumpSignDownThe enormous TRUMP sign along the scenic Chicago Riverwalk is a 20-foot-high, 141-foot-across blight on this otherwise beautiful environmental, architectural, cultural and economic corridor. This sign offends community values and shouldn’t be there. Help end this offensive visual pollution by signing our petition to #TakeTrumpSignDown!

Respected Chicago Tribune architectural writer Blair Kamin has blasted the sign on Chicago’s Trump Tower as “grotesquely oversized” and “crudely detailed.” And Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called the sign “awful” and “in very poor taste.” In fact, the mayor was so moved by the sign’s unpleasantness – and, no doubt, by the scores of Chicago voters who agreed with him – that he drafted a new ordinance, later adopted by the city council, to limit the size and placement of future signage along the Riverwalk.

But the Trump sign eyesore remains. Tell the mayor you want it taken down. 

The newly improved Chicago Riverwalk is generating broad public support to preserve the public space as a place where civic values take priority over this offensive commercialism. Chicago’s downtown Riverwalk should be a recreational showplace lined with trees, walking paths and restaurants – NOT Las Vegas-style excess. Take action today to support the removal of the “TRUMP” sign on this tower along our community’s iconic Chicago River.

Litigation Victory! Federal Court Finds that Dynegy’s Edwards Coal Plant Violates Law on Particulate Pollution and Opacity

Victory! ELPC and our partners won a major victory as Federal District Court Judge McDade just issued a very favorable decision granting us summary judgment in our lawsuit challenging excessive particulate emissions, which exacerbate respiratory problems, from the old Edwards coal plant near Peoria, IL. The Court’s opinion holds that a Dynegy subsidiary, the plant owner, violated the Edwards coal plant’s operating permit thousands of times over seven years – emitting an illegal amount of harmful soot pollution.

ELPC attorneys Jenny Cassel and Justin Vickers represent client plaintiffs Respiratory Health Association and Sierra Club, and we are working with co-plaintiff Natural Resources Defense Council. Together, we alleged that the Edwards coal plant was not properly controlling soot pollution – also known as “particulate matter,” which is associated with asthma, decreased lung function, and other respiratory problems.

This important legal victory reinforces the ability of environmental advocacy organizations to bring and win citizen enforcement lawsuits against polluters, even when state agencies do not enforce the permits they issue. It’s time for Dynegy to recognize that if it is going to continue to operate the Edwards plant, it must follow the law by installing sufficient modern pollution control equipment.

Going forward, the case will shift to a “remedy” phase for the Judge to determine what steps Dynegy must take to reduce pollution and comply with its permit, as well as what penalties should be paid for violations.

Kudos to ELPC attorneys Jenny Cassel and Justin Vickers and our partners who all worked hard on this case. This court decision will reduce pollution and set a precedent for environmental enforcement lawsuits brought in the public interest.

Take Action: Tell Bill Schuette to Drop His Litigation to Stop Sensible Mercury Pollution Reduction Standards that Protect Children’s Health

What is Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette thinking? He seems to somehow believe that more mercury pollution in Michigan’s water and in your food is just fine.  Attorney General Bill Schuette continues to lead endless litigation to stall and delay the important federal Mercury & Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which protect children’s health, clean air and safe water. Have you had enough? Click here to take action.

Let’s look at the facts.

  1. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that is harmful to children, impacting fetal brain development and leading to harmful effects on language, memory, visual-motor skills and attention.
  2. The Mercury & Air Toxics Standards require utilities to install widely available mercury pollution reduction control technology, and that limits both in-state mercury emissions as well as pollution that often drifts across state lines.
  3. Michigan coal plants have already stepped up to comply with these standards, so why is AG Bill Schuette still leading the federal litigation against those standards?
  4. Since December, AG Bill Schuette’s repeated appeals have been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Enough is enough.
  5. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has “disassociated” the State of Michigan from these appeals. AG Bill Schuette is doing these appeals of the mercury pollution standards on his own.
  6. The implementation of MATS is moving forward, even as AG Bill Schuette’s latest appeal proceeds.

Bottom line: AG Bill Schuette should drop his litigation, which is being fought with taxpayer dollars and at the expense of public health. Let’s work together to hold AG Schuette accountable.

Michigan’s leaders should stand up to better protect children’s health, safe water and safe food. Please ask AG Schuette to drop his litigation against sensible mercury pollution standards.

ELPC Gains Favorable Bankruptcy Court Ruling for Actions to End Peabody’s Flawed “Self-Bonding” of Its Mine Reclamation and Environmental Cleanup

ELPC has achieved a breakthrough in our advocacy campaign challenging Peabody Energy’s flawed “self-bonding” of its coal mine reclamation and environmental clean-up requirements under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. We are seeking to avoid the risk that Peabody will evade its financial responsibility and force the public to pay for the coal mine clean-up costs. Taxpayers should not be left holding the financial bag for Peabody’s obligations.

The irresponsible practice of “self-bonding” is a coal mine company’s promise that funds will be available in the future, rather than setting aside actual funds or purchasing surety bonds, to pay for its mine reclamation and environmental clean-up responsibilities. Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court made two key rulings on July 20th in response to ELPC’s motions.

First, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Barry Schermer ruled from the bench that ELPC has standing as a “party in interest” to engage before the bankruptcy court to seek to require Peabody Energy to fully comply with its responsibilities to pay for full and effective mine reclamation and environmental clean-ups at its coal mine sites. Peabody’s lawyers argued, in a remarkable 33-page brief, that ELPC lacked any standing to express our position on mine reclamation bonding. In short, Peabody essentially said that environmental organizations could not even question Peabody’s promises to return the land to its pre-mining condition. The Judge rejected these arguments in his opinion from the bench and subsequent Order.

Second, when a company is in bankruptcy, federal law places an “automatic stay” on some outside legal proceedings. The Court granted ELPC’s and the Western Organization of Resource Councils’ motion to lift the stay, to the extent that it applied, on our citizen complaints to require the Illinois, Indiana, New Mexco and Wyoming departments of natural resources and the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to take action to make sure that Peabody provides sufficient funds for its mine reclamation.

These two rulings are significant. They put ELPC in a position to assert that sufficient funds be made available for mine reclamation and environmental clean-up at coal mines in Illinois, Indiana, New Mexico and Wyoming. And, as a practical matter, the Judge has made clear that these environmental responsibilities are on the court’s radar alongside the competing demands of Peabody’s creditors.

This is key progress in ELPC’s and our allies’ advocacy against Peabody’s irresponsible practice of self-bonding going forward. Stay tuned for more news to follow.

Victory! ELPC Wins Federal Court Case Protecting Michigan’s Pristine Sylvania Wilderness Area

Victory! This week, the Federal District Court ruled in favor of ELPC, our clients, and the U.S. Forest Service to uphold restrictions on the use of loud and disruptive gas-powered motorboats in the beautiful interconnected lakes of the Sylvania Wilderness Area, which includes 18,000+ acres of old-growth trees in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula near the Wisconsin border.

Federal District Court Judge R. Allan Edgar’s decision enables the U.S. Forest Service to enforce the laws to protect the Sylvania Wilderness as place to canoe, hike, camp and enjoy the quiet of the outdoors. The Court held that restrictions on large gas-powered motorboats “are precisely the type of regulation that Michigan courts have upheld as reasonable” and are rationally connected to achieving the goal of preserving Sylvania’s wilderness character.

ELPC attorneys represented Sylvania Wilderness Cabins, Friends of Sylvania, and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition in this case. ELPC’s legal victory will help preserve pristine water quality, reduce the spread of damaging invasive aquatic plant species, and preserve the wonderful quiet and scenic enjoyment of this special natural place. This is an important court victory that sets a precedent for protecting the Sylvania Wilderness Area and other protected National Lakeshores and Wilderness Areas around the Great Lakes and Midwest.

Kudos to ELPC Staff Attorney Jen Tarr and ELPC Board member Bob Graham, who worked with me on this important case.

Best wishes and bravo all on this victory for the Midwest’s wild and special places!

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