Illinois

Crain’s Chicago Business: Michigan Offers to Pay Millions for Illinois Asian Carp Project, but Rauner Balks

 

Michigan Offers to Pay Millions for Illinois Project, but Rauner Balks

Greg Hinz On Politics

It’s an unusual plan: A neighbor state would pick up most of the tab for efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. What’s keeping Rauner from signing up?

States nowadays have trouble paying for the stuff within their borders that’s important, much less offering to pick up the tab for a project in another state. And when they do, you’d think the recipient would say yes.

But not Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. Though the state of Michigan is offering to pony up millions of dollars a year to pay the costs of operating new Asian carp-blocking locks along the Illinois River at Brandon Road near Joliet—with seven other states and the Canadian province of Ontario chipping in, too—Rauner is not saying yes, at least so far.

The usual offer to pay costs for a project located in Illinois comes from outgoing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder—like Rauner, a Republican.

In a phone interview yesterday, Snyder strongly pushed a “fair share” plan in which Illinois would pay just $132,700 a year of the estimated $8 million needed to operate the Brandon facility. Michigan itself would pay $3.3 million a year, based on its share of the total Great Lakes coastline, and legislative leaders in that state are committed to pay that amount for at least five years, more than $16 million total.

“We’re interested in (protecting) the Great Lakes,” which scientists say could suffer enormous losses to native fish if the voracious carp make it that far, Snyder said. “Why wouldn’t Illinois be excited about sharing project costs?”

Snyder said that regular discussions have been occurring for months among officials from the various states and provinces, including Wisconsin, New York, Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Indiana. Now, it’s time to act, he said.

“We’d just as soon quit dating and get married,” Snyder quipped. “We’d like to get an agreement with Illinois.”

Michigan is so interested that it will pick up any other state’s portion of the bill if they can’t pay it themselves, he said.

Rauner, in an interview after he appeared before the Crain’s editorial board yesterday, indicated some interest. But he didn’t offer to sign up, either.

“The idea certainly has merit. We’ve been talking to (Snyder) about it,” Rauner said. But “we’re not committed to it.”

Rauner declined to elaborate, but there has been considerable back and forth lately about who will pay for construction costs that could hit $200 million or more.

Since I last wrote about this in May, the Rauner administration has dropped its request to double the width of locks to 1,200 feet to help the barge industry. Officials say barge needs can be accommodated in other locations.

In addition, Congress is in the final stages of passing legislation that directs the Army Corps of Engineers to finalize its Brandon Road study and put a specific proposal on the table by early next year. The legislation also would require the feds to pay at least 80 percent of construction costs.

That still would leave Illinois with a capital bill, but according to local environmental leader Howard Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, other states are willing to pick up part of the construction costs, too.

“Rauner needs to find a way to say yes,” Learner said.

Snyder’s comments came as Michigan released results of a public opinion poll that indicate 80 percent of Great Lakes residents want action soon on the Brandon Road proposal.

READ COLUMN HERE

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Daily Herald: In Transit: App for Route 53 Extension Feedback Takes Flak

September 3, 2018

In Transit: App for Route 53 Extension Feedback Takes Flak 
By Marni Pyke

If the Founding Fathers had used Poll Everywhere at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia — would the final result be a better Constitution?

It might have depended on how fast they could type.

Illinois tollway consultants are using Poll Everywhere, a web-based audience participation system, at meetings with a group of local officials and others advising the agency on whether to extend Route 53 into Lake County.

The question has roiled Lake County for years, dividing residents over weighty problems like right of way, traffic, pollution and cost.

At a meeting Thursday, those divisions extended to use of the smartphone app to conduct the meeting, with some opponents of the new highway saying the technology is silencing their voices.

“I am extremely frustrated with how the tollway has engaged the stakeholders overall,” said Mayor Joseph Mancino of Hawthorn Woods, which could be bisected by a Route 53 extension. “Not only is the application unstable at best, it severely limits our input and quite frankly is a bit insulting to the stakeholders who are forced to use it.”

The tollway “wants to be able to parse through and say, ‘this is what people said,’ but that’s not what you do at a meeting where you want to have stakeholder participation,” stakeholder and Environmental Law and Policy Center chief Howard Learner said.

 

READ FULL ARTICLE

ELPC Supports Specific Components of Illinois EPA Volkswagen Settlement Fund Plan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Al Grosboll, Environmental Law & Policy Center, AGrosboll@elpc.org (217) 652-3866

 

ELPC Supports Specific Components of Illinois EPA Volkswagen Settlement Fund Plan

STATEMENT BY AL GROSBOLL LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR & SENIOR POLICY ADVOCATE ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency today released its final plan for spending the state’s $107 million share of the $2.7 billion Volkswagen Mitigation Trust funds. The Environmental Law & Policy Center has been active in discussions about the plan. Al Grosboll, ELPC’s Legislative Director and Senior Policy Advocate, said in response to the final plan:

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center is supportive of specific components in the Illinois EPA plan,” Grosboll said. “While ELPC will continue to raise some questions about the Agency’s plan, we are pleased the IEPA included funding for electric school buses and electric charging stations for light-duty vehicles. The inclusion of these programs reflects the Agency’s responsiveness to citizen requests and environmental concerns.”

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Press Release: Solar Industry and Illinois Farm Bureau Collaborate to Guarantee Tax Revenue for Rural Communities and Protect Farmland

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Solar Industry and Illinois Farm Bureau Collaborate to Guarantee Tax Revenue for Rural Communities and Protect Farmland

New law will protect farmland and help ensure $250-350 million in tax revenue for rural Illinois

Springfield, Illinois – August 13, 2018 – Governor Rauner has signed two bills that will help ensure solar development benefits farmers and rural communities in Illinois.  The state’s solar industry worked with the Illinois Farm Bureau, local authorities and other stakeholders to shape SB 486, which creates a standard tax assessment value for solar farms in Illinois, and SB 2591, which sets standards for the construction and deconstruction of solar farms on agricultural land. The Illinois House and Senate passed both bills unanimously and Governor Rauner signed the final piece of legislation on August 10th.

The solar property tax legislation (SB 486) sets a standard tax assessment value for large solar installations, creating certainty around the property tax revenue that solar farms will pay to local taxing bodies, helping to fund schools, roads and other critical services. Under the legislation, each megawatt (MW) of ground-mounted solar installed in Illinois will generate an average of $6,000-$8,000 per year in property tax revenue. The industry expects to install up to 2,000 MW of ground-mounted solar farms by 2021, which will create a total $250-$350 million in property tax revenue over a 25-year lifespan. Under Illinois’ funding formula, approximately 70% of this revenue will be dedicated to funding schools.

“Solar energy is a rapidly growing industry in Illinois, and it’s good not only for the environment but also for the economy,” said Illinois Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), sponsor of SB 486. “It is my hope that the revenue generated from this industry can benefit local schools and communities and encourage the continued growth of solar power in our state.”

“Solar businesses are ready and willing to create new jobs, clean energy and tax revenue to support Illinois communities. This bill provides a framework for us to move forward,” said Lesley McCain, executive director of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. “The solar industry was proud to work with the Farm Bureau, county tax assessors and school districts to develop smart solar legislation that benefits all Illinoisans.”

The solar industry worked in partnership with Environmental Law & Policy Center and other advocates to support smart solar policy in Illinois.

“ELPC has helped drive clean energy development in Illinois, and we are pleased that Governor Rauner has signed the solar energy legislation that the General Assembly passed this spring,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.  “The stage is set even better to accelerate solar energy development that is good for job creation and good for a cleaner energy future in Illinois.”

The farmland legislation (SB 2591) ensures that solar farms can coexist with agriculture in Illinois while providing long-term benefits to soil and water quality. SB 2591 requires that solar developers enter into an Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement (AIMA) with the Illinois Department of Agriculture prior to solar farm construction. The AIMA will set standards for solar construction and deconstruction and require financial assurances from developers that land will be restored to its prior use at the end of a solar farm’s life.

Governor Rauner signed SB 486 on August 10th and SB 2591 on June 29th. These bills will help Illinois reach its statewide goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025 while also driving economic development, new jobs and reducing pollution from electric generation.

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Ohio Nuclear Plant Decommissioning, Clean Car Standards, Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County, IL., & EPA Ozone Non-Attainment Standards

ELPC Breaking News – Actions and Decisions on Multiple Fronts – Ohio Nuclear Plant Decommissioning, Clean Car Standards, Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County, IL, and EPA Ozone Non-Attainment Standards

To ELPC Colleagues and Supporters:  There is a lot happening – fast – at ELPC.  Four important actions yesterday on different fronts.  ELPC’s talented staff is drinking out of a firehose and playing to win.

  1. Good News on ELPC petition to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission challenging First Energy Solutions’ nuclear decommissioning shortfalls as the company is in bankruptcy. We just received word that ELPC’s 2.206 citizen petition cleared the first step of the NRC review process. The NRC’s Petition Review Board (PRB) met and decided to accept our petition for review.   Notably, they accepted ELPC’s petition in entirety—no parts of it were rejected.  The next step is for the PRB to substantively review the petition and come up with recommendations for action, which it will send to the Director.  The Director ultimately makes the final decision on what actions, if any, the NRC will take against the licensee.   Kudos to ELPC attorneys Andrene Dabaghi and Margrethe Kearney.

 

  1. Bad News:  The Trump Administration announced its misguided attempt to rollback federal clean cars standards and (probably unconstitutional) attempt to constrain California’s and 12 other states’ “waiver” to adopt strong state standards.  As the transportation sector has passed the energy sector for carbon pollution in the United States, the federal and state fuel efficiency standards are vital to save consumers money at the gas pump, drive technological innovation in vehicle manufacturing to keep American manufacturing competitive, gain manufacturing jobs of the future for American workers, reduce American imports of foreign oil and avoid pollution.  ELPC will be among the lead groups nationally challenging the proposed new weaker DOT/EPA clean car standards in both the court of law (comments to US Dept. of Transportation and, then, likely litigation in the federal courts) and in the court of public opinion.  Please see ELPC press release criticizing this Trump Administration regulatory rollback.  (“Trump Administration Reboot of Fuel Economy and Pollution Standards is a Misguided Step Backwards While Global Competitors Keep Moving Forward”).   ELPC Senior Law Fellow Janet McCabe and ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner will be doing a “breaking news” briefing via conference call for ELPC colleagues, donors and friends today at 10:00 am. (Register to join the briefing if you’d like.)

 

  1. ELPC and ten environmental and civic group partners are fighting back and winning against the Illinois Tollway Authority’s attempt to short-circuit and play “hide the ball” on the NEPA Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process for the economically unsupportable and environmentally destructive Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County. As ELPC Board Chair Harry Drucker put it, this “zombie” bad tollway proposal keeps coming back.  While the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning is moving to put on the brakes by downgrading the proposed Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County from a priority project to non-priority status, the Illinois Tollway Authority is spending $25 million to accelerate the EIS process.  On Wednesday, ELPC attorneys Howard Learner and Rachel Granneman and partners sent a letter to the Illinois Tollway Authority challenging the legality of the EIS process, and yesterday, the Illinois Tollway Authority backed off, saying that would extend the comment period on the EIS scoping comments to late September.  Please see Greg Hinz’s good article in Crain’s Chicago Business here and pasted below.

 

  1. New ELPC Litigation to Protect Healthier Clean Air in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin:  ELPC and the Respiratory Health Association (RHA) yesterday sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the EPA’s final ozone air health standard rule, published in June 2018, that excluded certain areas in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis “non-attainment” areas that have smog levels above the 2015 ozone standard.  ELPC’s press release explains:  “EPA has sadly disregarded the plain facts and sound science in making these designations,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “EPA has not followed the letter or the spirit of the Clean Air Act and has excluded areas involving unhealthy air quality for millions of Midwesterners.  Cleaner air is essential to public health and a strong economy in our region.”   The Clean Air Act requires EPA to designate non-attainment areas in counties where air quality fails to meet federal health standards for ozone and where local air pollution contribute to unhealthy air quality. The states must then take steps to reduce emissions that cause smog.  In 2015, EPA issued a more protective ozone air health standard, which triggered a process to identify violating areas so that clean air planning could begin.  In the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis areas, EPA originally proposed more comprehensive non-attainment areas, but then excluded certain areas in its June 2018 final decision in response to opaque last-minute requests from Governors Rauner and Walker.  ELPC attorneys Scott Strand and Rachel Granneman are litigating this case with policy and technical engagement from Janet McCabe.  Please see Michael Hawthorne’s good article in the Chicago Tribune here.

ELPC is fully engaged both on offense and defense to protect the Midwest’s environment, public health and vital natural resources.  Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Best wishes, Howard

Howard A. Learner

Executive Director

Environmental Law & Policy Center

 

Environmental & Public Health Groups Challenge US EPA’s Decision to Exclude Areas from Ozone Non-attainment List that Would Trigger Clean-up

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Environmental and Public Health Groups Challenge US EPA’s Decision to Exclude Areas from Ozone Non-attainment List that Would Trigger Clean-up

 

Washington, D.C. — On August 2, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and Respiratory Health Association (RHA) sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the EPA’s final rule, published in June 2018, that identified areas that meet and fail to meet the 2015 ozone air quality health standard.

ELPC and RHA are challenging the exclusion of certain areas in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis “non-attainment” areas that have smog levels above the 2015 standard.

“EPA has sadly disregarded the plain facts and sound science in making these designations,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “EPA has not followed the letter or the spirit of the Clean Air Act and has excluded areas involving unhealthy air quality for millions of Midwesterners. Cleaner air is essential to public health and a strong economy in our region.”

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to designate non-attainment areas in counties where air quality fails to meet federal health standards for ozone and where local emissions contribute to unhealthy air quality. The states must then take steps to reduce emissions of the air pollution that cause smog.

In 2015, EPA issued a more protective ozone air health standard, which triggered a process to identify violating areas so that clean air planning could begin. In the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis areas, EPA originally proposed more comprehensive non-attainment areas, but excluded certain areas in its final decision in June in response to requests from the states.

“We are very concerned that EPA would dial back these decisions,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association in Chicago. “Everyone deserves to breathe clean air, and EPA’s decision puts area residents at risk of more lung infections, asthma attacks, and hospitalizations for respiratory problems.”

Ozone is formed when pollution emitted by power plants, industrial facilities, motor vehicles and other activities reacts with sunlight to form ozone. Ozone, also known as “smog,” is a lung irritant and harms people with asthma or other respiratory diseases, older adults, children and other vulnerable people. It can drive kids and sensitive adults inside on hot sunny summer days  and put outdoor workers at risk.

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Chicago Tonight: How Healthy is Lake Michigan? A Checkup on the Great Lakes

How Healthy is Lake Michigan? A Checkup on the Great Lakes
By Nicole Cardos

When it comes to the health and maintenance of Lake Michigan, some environmentalists, property owners and even surfers have expressed their concerns.

Some of those concerns: toxins, the Foxconn deal in Kenosha and rising lake levels.

“Last year, the amount of water released from Lake Superior into lakes Michigan and Huron was the highest in 32 years,” the story states.

But that transfer of water is also due to the fact that Lake Superior is geographically higher than lakes Michigan and Huron, said Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. On top of that, Lake Michigan is self-contained.

“Huron has an outlet and water makes its way to Erie,” Learner said. “Michigan is a big bathtub.”

WATCH VIDEO CLIP

ELPC named the 2018 Regulatory Champion of the Year by Interstate Renewable Energy Council

 (San Francisco, CA) – During an awards ceremony at Intersolar North America, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) today honored its 2018 3iAward recipients, celebrating the nation’s best innovation, ingenuity and inspiration in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The winners are based on a prestigious annual national search.

“Today, we’re proud to recognize our 2018 IREC 3iAward recipients – among the nation’s most extraordinary people, projects and programs making a sustainable energy future a reality,” said IREC Board Chair Larry Shirley.

“Their work is setting new standards – creating solutions to today’s complex renewable energy and energy efficiency challenges – changing communities and our national energy landscape in the process,” added Ken Jurman, IREC board member and chair of the 3iAwards Committee.

“As we honor their achievements, IREC celebrates its 36th year,” Shirley said. “We are more proud than ever of our own history, leading transformative policies and practices that allow millions more Americans to benefit from clean renewable energy.”

Regulatory Champion of the Year
Environmental Law & Policy Center, Chicago IL

Where Midwest regulatory reform issues call for talented public interest environmental entrepreneurs, you’ll find the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Since 1993, ELPC has been improving the quality of life in Midwest communities, now with offices in nine states. Nowhere is ELPC’s handiwork more apparent than in the Illinois Future Energy Jobs bill and the Illinois Power Agency’s Long Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan, both of which will help usher in new wind and solar projects. ELPC has played a pivotal role advancing community solar and interconnection reform in Illinois, Iowa and most recently Minnesota, where consumers and communities experienced major backlogs, delays and costs to connect community solar projects to the grid. Along with IREC and Fresh Energy, ELPC successfully petitioned the Minnesota Public Utility Commission for more transparent, nationally consistent interconnection standards. New common-sense interconnection standards now lay the foundation for more Midwesterners to benefit from clean energy for years to come.

Chicago Sun-Times: Trump Heading to Wisconsin for Groundbreaking of Controversial Foxconn Factory

June 27, 2018
Trump Heading to Wisconsin for Groundbreaking of Controversial Foxconn Factory
By Stefano Esposito

President Donald Trump is heading just north of the Illinois border Thursday to break ground for a massive Foxconn electronics factory that could bring 13,000 jobs to Wisconsin, but also faces opposition from environmental groups and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Madigan is expected to file a lawsuit in the coming weeks challenging a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule change allowing the Taiwanese manufacturer to skirt air pollution standards for a plant planned for Racine County.

[…]

“We are concerned that air quality will get worse rather than better if the Foxconn facility is built as proposed and the EPA allows Wisconsin to weaken the clean air standards,” said Howard Learner, executive director of Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based environmental protection and economic development advocacy organization.

READ FULL ARTICLE

 

Chicago Tribune: Environmentalists Appeal Ruling on Illiana Toll Road

June 13. 2018
Environmentalists Appeal Ruling on Illiana Toll Road
By Susan DeMar Lafferty

Environmental groups filed a petition to ask the Illinois Appellate Court to reconsider its recent ruling against them regarding the proposed Illiana toll road.

According to the appeal this week, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Illinois Department of Transportation failed to comply with the language of the Illinois Regional Planning Act, which states that the CMAP Board “shall” provide its “prior” “approval” of a transportation project before final approval by the MPO.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, who is representing Openlands and the Sierra Club, cited several other court cases to support their claim that the word “shall” is mandatory, not discretionary, as the court ruled.

The Illiana, a proposed 47-mile toll road connecting I-55 in Wilmington to I-65 near Lowell, Indiana, has been a controversial road project that was shelved by Gov. Bruce Rauner when he took office in January, 2015.

Environmentalists have opposed the toll road project, saying it would harm the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie since the proposed route skirted its southern border, and calling it a “financial boondoggle” for the state.

In 2013 and 2014, IDOT sought to amend the “GO TO 2040” long range transportation plan to include the Illiana Tollway project and it had been debated by both CMAP and MPO at that time, with CMAP twice opposed to including the amendment in its 2040 plan and MPO supporting it.

Environmentalists filed the initial lawsuit in 2014, challenging the approval process for including the Illiana in the “GO TO 2040” plan.

According to the recent court petition, federal law requires that transportation projects must be approved by the MPO before they become eligible for federal funding.

CMAP was created by the Illinois General Assembly in the Illinois Regional Planning Act to ensure that transportation planning for the Chicago area is carried out in conjunction with comprehensive planning for land use, economic development, environmental sustainability and quality-of-life issues, the petition stated.

The act specifically states that the CMAP board “shall” first provide its “prior” “approval” of transportation projects and plans before the final approval by the MPO Policy Committee, according to the court document.

In the petition for a rehearing, Learner cited several cases in which the court ruled that “shall” means mandatory, not discretionary.

The Illinois Supreme Court is now hearing Oswald verse Beard, and that case should also define the meaning of “shall,” according to Learner.

“The Illinois General Assembly clearly intended to create a nondiscretionary, mandatory duty” when it wrote the Regional Planning Act, the petition stated.

On the other hand, the word “may” is used numerous times throughout the act, making the contrast “clear and easily discerned,” the document stated.

The appellate court “misconstrued the relationship” between CMAP Board and MPO and the nature of the GO TO 2040 Plan and the Illiana Tollway, it said.

“The entire purpose of GO TO 2040 as a regional comprehensive plan would be negated” if the MPO were able to push through projects “inconsistent with the other planning purposes of GO TO 2040,” the court document stated.

In the petition, Learner asked for a rehearing, or as an alternative, hold this request for a rehearing until after the state supreme court issues a ruling in Oswald verse Beard.

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