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Press Release: ELPC Urges US Senate to Preserve Energy Title & REAP in Farm Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

ELPC Urges U.S. Senate to Preserve Energy Title & REAP in Farm Bill

  House overwhelmingly rejects amendment to repeal energy programs

 

Washington, D.C. – During consideration of the Farm Bill (The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018), the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected an amendment from Representative Andy Biggs (R-AZ) to repeal the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and other Farm Bill Energy Title initiatives by a stunning 82%. The vote was 340 to 74.

In response, Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said:

“The bipartisan House vote preserving the Energy Title sends a strong message that attempts to cut farm energy efforts should cease. Congress should step up and increase funding for effective farm energy initiatives like the Rural Energy for America Program. REAP serves all agricultural sectors and has benefited farmers throughout the Midwest and across the country.”

Representatives Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Kristi Noem (R-SD) led the House floor opposition to the measure and spoke strongly in support of these programs during the debate over the Farm Bill.

“The resounding defeat of the Biggs Amendment sends a strong signal to the Senate that these programs have bipartisan support and should be renewed with mandatory funding,” said Ann Mesnikoff, ELPC’s Federal Legislative Director.

The failed Farm Bill was defeated on a bipartisan vote of 213-198. The defeated measure would have wholly eliminated reliable mandatory funding for programs in the Energy Title, including the REAP.

REAP provides grants and loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to adopt energy efficiency and renewable energy. REAP has been highly popular with farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses in the Midwest, with requests regularly exceeding available funds.

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WSIU Radio: Ameren Illinois Announces Money-Saving Program For Customers

May 17, 2018
Ameren Illinois Announces Money-Saving Program For Customers
By Kevin Boucher

A major power supplier is working to save customers 10 to 15 percent on their electric bill.  Ameren Illinois held a news conference on Thursday, May 17th, 2018 in Marion to unveil a new initiative designed to put 300–thousand new smart thermostats in Illinois homes over the next decade.  According to the press release, current Ameren Illinois customers can buy a qualified smart thermostat and then go online to apply for a 100 dollar rebate. Ameren’s John Carol says the new devices can easily replace an existing thermostat.  He adds these new smart thermostats work by recording user settings and using that information to heat and cool the home when the home is not occupied.

Kelly Hendrickson, Communications Executive with Ameren, has been using one for several months and says it adds convenience to people with busy schedules.  She says she can be at a little league baseball game  and use her smartphone app to turn the air down so when the family returns home  the house will be comfortable.

Rob Kelter, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center says the new thermostats will help consumers to stop cooling and heating empty homes.

LISTEN HERE

Press Release: ELPC Collaborates with Ameren Illinois on Commitment to put 300,000 Smart Thermostats in Customer Homes & Businesses

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Ameren Illinois Announces Commitment to put 300,000 Smart Thermostats in Customer Homes and Businesses

Collaboration with leading brands, environmental advocates  Rebates and incentives provided through Ameren Illinois energy efficiency programs 

East St. Louis, IL (May 16, 2018) – Building on its commitment to help customers become more energy efficient, Ameren Illinois announced an initiative to put 300,000 smart thermostats in customer homes and businesses. Ameren Illinois Chairman and President Richard J. Mark was joined by Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) Chairman Brien Sheahan, as well as representatives from the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and leading manufacturers ecobee and Nest in announcing the plan Wednesday afternoon in East St. Louis.

Ameren Illinois customers can purchase a qualified ENERGY STAR® smart thermostat and apply online to receive a $100 discount in the mail.  An instant smart thermostat rebate and an online marketplace will be available in the next few weeks to make the process even easier for customers to save.  Rebates are being provided to customers through energy efficiency program funding approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission under the landmark Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA).

The initiative also seeks to get smart thermostats into the residences of income-eligible customers. Those qualified can now have one of the devices installed for free as part of the Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program.

“When the Future Energy Jobs Act was passed, we made a bold commitment to ensure that benefits of energy efficiency would be available to all of our customers, especially those with limited financial means,” said Mark. “With today’s announcement, we’re living up to that promise. Putting 300,000 smart thermostats in customer homes and businesses is an ambitious goal, but we’re confident that with the collaboration of our partners we can make that vision a reality.”

Easy to install and operate, use of a smart thermostat can save between 10 and 15 percent on heating and cooling costs. The devices enable customers to adjust settings on the go via smartphone apps. Additionally, many smart thermostats models can sense when the homeowner and/or residents are away from home and automatically modify the temperature, further reducing energy usage.

“Smart thermostats will empower Ameren Illinois residential and business customers to better manage their energy usage, and give them more control over their monthly bill,” said ICC Chairman Brien J. Sheahan.  “On behalf of Governor Bruce Rauner and the ICC, we applaud Ameren Illinois for continuing the state’s more than 100-year tradition of leadership on energy issues by embracing new innovation and technology, like smart thermostats, that help our state reach its energy efficiency goals.”

“Smart thermostats will help consumers to stop cooling and heating empty homes,” said Rob Kelter, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “With this initiative, Ameren Illinois is stepping up to help its customers save money and reduce pollution at the same time.”

The initiative is bolstered by the active involvement from leading smart thermostat brands, including Nest and ecobee.  Since 2011, Nest thermostats around the world have helped customers save more than 22 billion kilowatt-hours of energy and their work with Ameren is in service of this mission to bring energy efficiency to more homes across the U.S.

ecobee introduced the world’s first smart wi-fi thermostat to help homeowners save money, conserve energy and live more comfortably.  “We applaud the commitment that Ameren Illinois is making here today and are thrilled to offer the Ameren Illinois customers a better way to save on their energy bill and reduce their carbon footprint,” said Stuart Lombard, president and CEO of ecobee.

Ameren Illinois’ energy efficiency program is recognized as one of the best in the country – rated #12 by ACEEE, an independent energy efficiency organization. Over the past nine years, Ameren Illinois has helped its customers reduce their energy usage by nearly 12 million megawatt-hours, saving them approximately $781 million. This improved energy efficiency has enabled Ameren Illinois customers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 8.3 million metric tons – the equivalent of taking nearly 1.8 million cars off the road for a year.

To learn more about the program or apply for smart thermostat rebates, please visit www.AmerenIllinoisSavings.com. Income-eligible customers can also find the home energy audit application on that website or simply call 866.838.6918.

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InsideClimate News: Toxic Algae Blooms Occurring More Often, May Be Caught in Climate Change Feedback Loop

May 15, 2018
Toxic Algae Blooms Occurring More Often, May Be Caught in Climate Change Feedback Loop
By Georgina Gustin

Blooms of harmful algae in the nation’s waters appear to be occurring much more frequently than in the past, increasing suspicions that the warming climate may be exacerbating the problem.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) published newly collected data on Tuesday reporting nearly 300 large blooms since 2010. Last year alone, 169 were reported. While NOAA issues forecasts for harmful algal blooms in certain areas, the advocacy group called its report the first attempt to track the blooms on a nationwide scale.

The study comes as scientists have predicted proliferation of these blooms as the climate changes, and amid increasing attention by the news media and local politicians to the worst cases.

Just as troubling, these blooms could not only worsen with climate change, but also contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

EWG based its study on news reports and before-and-after satellite images that show the expansion of the blooms. Though the rapid increase in the annual numbers might reflect more thorough observations and reporting in recent years, Craig Cox, who focuses on agriculture for EWG, said the numbers may still be on the low side.

In 2014, the news was especially urgent in Toledo, where a toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie forced health officials to declare the water unsafe for drinking and bathing. Harmful algae blooms had been common in the western part of Lake Erie from the 1960s through the 1980s, but they had diminished with better pollution controls—until about a decade ago, according to NOAA.

Now the blooms—thick undulating mats of green—have become an annual occurrence there.

The root cause of the problem lies mainly in agricultural runoff that contains phosphorus, which encourages algal growth.

At a recent conference, the mayor of Toledo pointed the blame for the continuing problem squarely at the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, saying that lawmakers in the state were too intimidated by the group to support legislation to deal with the problem. “It’s probably the most powerful interest group in Ohio,” Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said in an interview.

Kapszukiewicz noted that the city spent billions of dollars upgrading its water treatment facility more than a decade ago and that there have been no sewage overflows into the lake since then, and yet the blooms are getting worse. “Toledoans are paying for a problem we didn’t create,” he said.

“Nutrient runoff” comes from sewage and other sources, but mostly from fertilizer and manure, which are especially high in phosphorus.

The agricultural industry in Ohio and elsewhere has long been aware of the problem. Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau, said the bureau had been looking into it for years. But when it came to legislative and regulatory measures, Cornely said: “You’ve heard the old saying, ‘You can have it fast or right.’ We want it to be right.”

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Rauner finally moves on Asian carp—and gets some praise

by Greg Hinz

It’s been a while since the last round of scary headlines about voracious Asian carp potentially making their way to Lake Michigan and gobbling up everything but your wading toddler. But environmentalists, fishermen and those who use the Great Lakes for commerce sure haven’t forgotten.

Now, there’s a new development that ought to help keep both the fish and headlines at bay.

Gov. Bruce Rauner this weekend announced that the state is willing to take the lead as the non-federal sponsor on a program with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to install new locks at Brandon Road, on the Illinois River near Joliet.

Specifically, Rauner released a copy of a letter he has sent to other Great Lakes governors, which says Illinois will serve as sponsor and which expresses Rauner’s “hope that we can come together as a regional coalition of Great Lakes states to protect our lakes, our economy, and our ecosystems.”

The letter and an accompanying statement did not explain if earlier Illinois concerns have been resolved, including who would pay $100 million in capital and $10 million in annual operating costs. But according to Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, chairman of the Illinois River Coordinating Council, “If the corps can address our economic, transportation, environmental, and cost concerns in partnership with Illinois—we have no problem working with other states to enhance our efforts at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam.”

The action is being hailed as good news by Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“Gov. Rauner is recognizing the reality that Illinois voters care deeply about protecting the Great Lakes, and that it’s time to step up with serious actions to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan where they would create economic and ecological havoc,” Learner said in an email. “Investing in protections at Brandon Road to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes is more sensible and cost-effective than trying later to treat the disease.”

Apparently at least one area of disagreement remains: whether to widen the locks to roughly 150 feet in width, twice their current size. Barge industry officials favor that, but Learner’s group opposes it on the grounds that wider locks give carp more room to maneuver up stream.

Read full article here. 

 

Chicago Sun-Times: Rauner, Lawmakers in Showdown Over How and How Fast to Spend VW Settlement

 

April 30, 2018
Rauner, Lawmakers in Showdown Over How and How Fast to Spend VW Settlement
By Brett Chase 

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s top environmental official is pressing to spend an anti-pollution windfall in the coming months, but critics say the rushed timetable is dictated not by sound policy but by the fall election.

Alec Messina, the Rauner-appointed director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, wants to speed the handout of $109 million in legal settlement money — part of a $2.9 billion multi-state settlement with Volkswagen over an emissions-cheating scandal involving the German automaker’s diesel vehicles.

Messina says he wants to submit a final plan within a month to a national trustee and, as soon as August, start funding projects aimed at reducing air pollution in Illinois.

That timing could give Rauner good news to announce close to the November election — and help him in his tough re-election battle with Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker.

Democratic lawmakers are trying to slow down and possibly alter Messina’s plans for distributing the money — plans that environmental advocates complain appear skewed toward helping big diesel-engine manufacturers while largely ignoring efforts to reduce the type of vehicle emissions central to the VW scandal.

The Illinois Senate passed a bill Thursday to require six public hearings on how to spend the money — and that a task force be appointed to decide on a plan.

Last week, Messina called it “frustrating” to be accused of playing politics with the settlement and argued the Senate legislation, if implemented, would delay distribution by up to a year.

“This is an important opportunity to make strides toward improvement in air quality,” he said.

Bill sponsor state Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, and others criticized Messina for holding private meetings with business leaders, including some from construction equipment manufacturing giant Caterpillar, while shutting out public input. Other states getting VW settlement cash, including Indiana and Ohio, have held public meetings on how to spend the money.

A number of health, environmental and clean energy groups have asked the state EPA to put the brakes on its high-speed spending plan and make the process more transparent to taxpayers.

“Clearly, they’re in a hurry to spend the money,” said Al Grosboll, legislative director for the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. “We certainly appreciate the administration wants to begin moving money out the door but it’s really important that we get this right.”

Others are more pointed about the politics.

“They realize this is a fall election opportunity,” said Jennifer Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, a coalition of dozens of advocacy organizations.

Messina’s EPA has put together a draft plan that must be blessed by a national trustee overseeing the VW settlement to make sure the state is spending the money to fight air pollution and not for unrelated purposes.

The draft has led to a philosophical fight with environmental and health groups that argue too much of the money is going toward trains, boats and other so-called off-road projects, and not on cutting air pollution from cars.

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Fighting Back against the EPA

by Ann Mesnikoff

It’s no secret that the Trump administration is hostile to protecting our air, our water, the climate and, it seems, even ensuring we collect revenues from oil and gas extracted from public lands rather than wasting resources. But April ended with a bang when it comes to the administration rolling back important protections for public health, our climate, and clean water.

Just last week ELPC weighed in rollbacks for rules to cut the waste of methane from oil and gas operations on public lands, guidelines to cut down on air pollution from the oil and gas industry, protections from toxic coal ash, and the Clean Power Plan.

Last Monday, ELPC submitted comments to the Department of Interior opposing the Bureau of Land Management’s repeal of a 2015 rule to limit the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas the oil and gas industry can vent or flare on public lands. Not only did this rule cut emissions of dangerous methane emissions, it would have actually raised the amount of royalties the industry pays to federal, state and tribal governments.

ELPC has long been involved in efforts to reduce venting and flaring in North Dakota, especially to protect public health and special places like the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. North Dakota alone accounts for 16% of oil production on federal public lands. Over the past decade North Dakota has had the highest volumes of flared natural gas in the United States raising concerns about impacts on public health and the climate. BLM estimates that over a 10 year period less natural would be produced and sold because of its repeal of the 2016 rule and $26.4 to 32.7 million less royalties collected.

You can check out our comments here and we greatly appreciated the support of 177 of our members who also told BLM to keep its methane waste prevention standards in place.
The Department of the Interior isn’t the only agency doing favors for the oil gas industry. On Monday, ELPC also joined a coalition partners opposing the US Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to repeal common-sense and cost-effective measures states can implement to reduce toxic air pollution from the oil and gas industry in areas that do not meet health standards for smog, or ozone, pollution. EPA had issued these guidelines in 2016, but the Trump EPA, under Administrator Pruitt is determined to undermine public health at every turn.

Last Tuesday Tuesday and Thursday, we turned to opposing the EPA’s efforts to let coal fired power plants off the hook when it comes to polluting our water and our climate. The Midwest is not only home the Great Lakes. It is also home to a significant percentage of highly-polluting and aging coal plants. Illinois is second only to Texas in its consumption of coal for electricity; Indiana and Ohio are also in the top five.[1]  The continued prevalence of coal-fired electric generation means our residents bear the full range of harms from dirty generation, including toxic coal ash, pollution to air, climate, land, and water.

On Tuesday the focus was coal ash – the toxic residue left from burning coal in power plants across the country. Pruitt’s EPA proposed to weaken the first ever standards directly targeting coal ash, which power plants store in ponds. At a public hearing on Tuesday in Virginia, I testified opposing EPA’s rollback noting that the Midwest is home to more than 250 on-site coal ash impoundments, with forty-four in the Great Lakes watershed, either directly on one of the Lakes or on watercourses that flow into them. Specifically, these are impoundments in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Coal ash contains arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury, radium, and other hazardous chemicals that present serious risks to human health, particularly children, and the environment. I was just one of nearly 70 voices that urged EPA to keep its 2015 standards in place and focus instead on protecting our lakes, rivers, and groundwater.

And on Thursday, it was EPA’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan! ELPC was joined by Alliance for the Great Lakes, Hoosier Environmental Council, Illinois Environmental Council, Iowa Environmental Council, Michigan Climate Action Network, Michigan Environmental Council, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, and Ohio Environmental Council in opposing EPA’s repeal of these first ever climate pollution standards for dirty coal plants.

Our comments considered the threats of climate change to the Great Lakes and the region. But we also recognized the opportunities across the Midwest to invest in clean, renewable energy and create jobs. More than 500 of our members also sent in comments to EPA opposing the repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

Today, on the last day of April, we are submitting our written comments on EPA’s rollback of the Coal Ash Rule and get ready for EPA’s attack on Clean Car Standards – the biggest single step toward reducing dangerous climate pollution, saving consumers at the pump and cutting our dependence on oil and EPA’s attack on the use of sound science in its rulemaking process.

[1] Ohio State Energy Profile, U.S. Energy Information Administration, https://www.eia.gov/state/print.php?sid=OH (last visited Jan. 24, 2018).

The Times: Bill Passes IL Senate to Help Monarchs, Honeybees

April 27, 2018
Bill Passes Senate to Help Monarchs, Honeybees
By The Times Staff

The Illinois Senate passed legislation that will help stop the loss of monarch butterfly and honeybee habitats.

Senate Bill 3214, filed by State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, creates standards that will allow the Department of Natural Resources to score how friendly a solar site is to pollinators.

The standards will focus on the use of native perennial vegetation and habitat beneficial to pollinators, game birds and songbirds, as well as reducing storm water runoff and erosion at the solar site. The scoring will allow sites that meet the requirements to designate themselves as “pollinator friendly.”

“Increasing the amount of habitat for honeybees and butterflies is good for the environment, for farmers and other growers, and for economic growth,” Barickman said in a press statement. “We have an opportunity to add substantial habitat acres by creating guidelines that will assist interested solar site owners and operators to convert otherwise wasted space into natural habitat.”

A single 10-acre solar site offers more total habitat than 5,000 6-by-12 feet backyard pollinator gardens. As solar generation increases in the state, the total amount of potential pollinator habitat will soon become quite large.

“This is a completely voluntary program. There are no new zoning requirements or mandates placed on anyone,” Barickman said. “We have solar sites that are interested in and have asked for this program. This is a situation where we can offer a boost to our businesses while helping improve our environment. That’s a true win-win.”

The legislation is an initiative of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Proponents believe the new program could also provide a boost to economic development, as site owners purchase seeds, plants and hire workers to develop pollinator habitat, according to a press release issued by Barickman.

Senate Bill 3214 passed the Senate unanimously and is now headed to the Illinois House of Representatives for consideration.

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WGN Radio: ELPC’s Susan Mudd Talks VW Settlement Fund & IL EPA on Earth Day Show

Amy Guth’s Earth Day Extravaganza 

April 22, 2018

In honor of Earth Day, ELPC Senior Policy Advocate Susan Mudd was invited on-air to discuss how ELPC and other  environmental and public health organizations are calling on Illinois EPA to use $108 million in Volkswagen settlement funds for electric vehicles and EV charging infrastucture. Not everyone — including IEPA — agrees that’s the best use of those dollars.

LISTEN HERE begining at minute 35:00.

Chicago Tribune: Solar Farms Set to Sprout Across Illinois

Solar Farms Set to Sprout Across Illinois

by Robert Channick

A new crop is ready to sprout on Illinois farms, with gleaming solar panels supplanting rows of corn and soybeans.

Drawn by new state requirements and incentives, renewable energy developers are staking out turf on the rural fringes of the Chicago area and beyond, looking to build dozens of solar farms to feed the electric grids of Commonwealth Edison and other utilities.

It’s a potential sea change in the Illinois energy landscape that proponents say is long overdue and will provide customers with a green power alternative. But the rise of solar power also has generated opposition from some residents over everything from changing landscapes to toxicity concerns.

The fledgling solar energy boom is driven by the Future Energy Jobs Act, which took effect last year and requires Illinois utilities to get 25 percent of their retail power from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2025.

Solar power, which has been growing in other parts of the U.S., has yet to make much of a dent in Illinois. The state is looking to change that with a call to add 2,800 megawatts of new solar energy over the next few years — enough to power about 450,000 homes, experts say.

Earlier this month, the Illinois Commerce Commission approved an update to the state’s plan for utilities to buy renewable energy credits. The plan includes a blueprint that specifies production by new large-scale solar farms, community solar gardens and rooftop solar installations to meet the state’s renewable energy goals.

“This is an inflection point for Illinois where we’re going to start seeing rapid renewable energy growth,” said Brad Klein, a senior attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago. “It’s a huge ramp-up of the amount of solar in the state. It really put Illinois on the map as a leader.”

Just outside the Chicago metro area, Kankakee County is becoming a hotbed of solar development thanks to its relatively inexpensive farmland and ready access to the ComEd grid. There are 25 proposed solar farms in the pipeline, said Delbert Skimerhorn, the county’s planning department manager.

“It seems like we’re going to become the renewable energy capital of Illinois,” Skimerhorn said.

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