Clean Transportation

How environmental NGOs are shifting conversation on climate and energy

How environmental NGOs are shifting conversation on climate and energy

Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I’m Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Howard, it’s nice to see you again.

Howard Learner: Good to join you.

Monica Trauzzi: So Howard, with President Trump making some big news on energy and environment issues in his first 100 days, in many ways seeking to reverse a lot of what we saw the Obama administration do. How has your work and your focus shifted over the last six months?

Howard Learner: There’s an interesting combination of what I’ll call both defense and offense. Clearly at the Environmental Law and Policy Center we’re seeing some of the moves by the Trump administration as being in the wrong direction. We’re pushing back. We’re fighting back and we hope that President Trump will reassess and move in a better direction.

On the other hand, clean energy development is moving forward at a rapid pace in the Midwest states. When it comes to places like Iowa, tremendous amount of wind power development. Illinois just passed the strongest renewable energy standard in the region; one of the best in the country. That will lead to 2,500 megawatts of new solar energy. Minnesota’s stepping up. Other states in the Midwest are moving forward.

So what we’re seeing is while the federal government is stepping back, cities and states in the Midwest are stepping up and moving forward with clean energy jobs of the future, solar energy, wind power and storage that works.



Milwaukee Business Journal: Study to consider adding more round-trips on Amtrak Hiawatha line

The state this summer could hold hearings on the proposal to add three more round-trips a day to the Hiawatha passenger rail line between Milwaukee and Chicago.

The rail service run by Amtrak currently has seven round trips each weekday, and has seen strong ridership. It logged 804,861 rides in 2014, an 8.5 percent increase over 2009. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is preparing a study of increasing the number of daily trips to 10, said Arun Rao, Wisconsin DOT passenger rail manager.

A draft of the study could be made public this summer, prompting public hearings in late summer and potential federal sign-off later this year, Rao said. If federal officials approve that plan, the state will become eligible to apply for federal money for the additional routes, which likely would be operated by Amtrak.

Daily Herald: ELPC’s Learner Baffled by Gov. Rauner & IDOT Mixed Message over Proposed Illiana

Thought dead by many, the Illiana Expressway still clings to life in court, despite Gov. Bruce Rauner’s booting it off IDOT’s radar last year.

And that worries foes of the 50-mile proposed toll road linking I-55 near Wilmington with I-65 in Indiana.

“When the state of Illinois doesn’t have a budget and is under severe financial distress — when core programs for kids and schools are being cut — why is IDOT trying to push this boondoggle?” asked Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

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ELPC’s Howard Learner Discusses Amtrak Blue Ribbon Panel, Solving Rail Gridlock in Chicago with Railway Technology

Blighted with severe bottlenecks across its freight and passenger railway lines, Chicago has been dubbed “America’s rail traffic speed bump”. After an Amtrak investigation revealed that the city’s congestion problem could cause up to $799bn yearly losses to the US economy, what are the new solutions that could solve Chicago’s problem once and for all?

Located at the crossroads of four major Eastern and Western railroads, Chicago is the hub of the United States’ passenger and freight rail networks. Carrying a third of all rail freight traffic in the US valued at over $1tn, the city is the most important freight rail hub in North America. Chicago also holds the second largest commuter rail ridership of any US city, representing 11% of total ridership. As such, almost every major North American industry is dependent on the smooth running of Chicago’s rail operations.

But despite its national importance, Chicago has earned its nickname of “America’s rail traffic speed bump” after its services were blighted by severe, debilitating gridlocks and delays.

Although delays reached a critical point in winter 2014, the gridlock began much earlier and is still present today. Between 2013 and 2014, six of the eight worst performing long-distance passenger routes originated and terminated in Chicago. The situation only worsened during the current fiscal year, when Chicago was the source and end point of seven of the country’s worst performing trains.

As a result, on 24 October 2014 president of US passenger service operator Amtrak, Joseph Boardman, set up the Chicago Gateway Blue Ribbon Panel, a board of rail experts, attorneys, professors and former mayors tasked with identifying the critical infrastructure and operational improvements Chicago needs to relieve its rail congestion.

The panel’s findings, published on 1 October 2015, revealed that if left unchecked, Chicago’s rail gridlock will end up costing the US economy almost $800bn each year, due to its effects on six key industries constituting 85% of US domestic product: agriculture, natural resources, automotive, manufacturing, retail and services.

“The congestion challenge in Chicago poses the largest potential economic vulnerability to the US economy of all the major rail hubs in the United States”, the panel concluded, urging immediate action in order to avoid “the next Chicago rail crisis”.

Chicago’s rail traffic problem has not been an ignored topic. Over the past 15 years, authorities have made efforts to address the issue, the most important of which is a yet unfinished $4bn investment programme called Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE).

Established in 2003, CREATE encompasses 70 different freight and passenger projects looking at improving rail line capacity. So far, only 29 of these projects have been completed or are currently under construction, at a cost of $1.2bn, while the rest have been stalled due to lack of funding.

With Chicago’s volume of rail freight projected to increase by 62% before 2040, Amtrak’s report lists seven key recommendations, from top-priority infrastructure investments to improved operating practices, which aim to tackle Chicago’s congestion once and for all.

Infrastructural developments: tackling Chicago’s biggest chokepoint

“Because of the centrality of Chicago to the national railroad system in the US, the importance of alleviating congestion and increase fluidity has national economic implications,” says Howard Learner, Chicago attorney and member of the Blue Ribbon Panel.

“The CREATE programme received input and support by a wide range of democratic and republic politicians, policy makers across the board, transportation companies, labour unions, planners, environmental groups and others. One of the things the panel did here was prioritise two of the infrastructure improvements that have been highlighted in the CREATE programme.”
The first top priority project highlighted in the report is the 75th Street Corridor, located south of the city, identified as “Chicago’s biggest chokepoint”.

On a daily basis, 90 freight trains and 30 commuter trains have to squeeze through the same crisscross of tracks on a two-mile radius, forming long waiting queues around three major chokepoints. The Panel thus identified four separate CREATE projects which should be prioritised in order to alleviate this severe congestion.

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Tesla Unveils Superchargers in Normal, IL

June 26, 2013 — Tesla unveiled a new charging station that can charge up to four Tesla Model S vehicles at the Normal, IL, Uptown Station parking garage. This station is part of a nationwide charging station network that Tesla announced in May 2013 and that the company is fully funding. According to a company spokesperson, the aim of the network is to make chargers available on well-traveled routes, every 80-100 miles in between metro areas.

The Tesla Model S has an EPA-estimated range of 200+ miles, and “super-chargers” like those unveiled in Normal this week can re-charge the cars in about 40 minutes — or, if preferred, about 3 hours worth of driving in just 20 minutes. The direct-current, or DC, charge is much more powerful than typical 120- or 240-volt outlets found in most homes.

Read more about Tesla’s Superchargers.

Normal’s Uptown Station, like other super-charger locations, is strategically located near shopping and dining opportunities to encourage drivers to spend time and money at local businesses while their car is “at the pump.” While only the Tesla Model S can use these new chargers, there are more than 50 chargers in the Bloomington-Normal area — including 6 in the same parking structure — that can be used by any electric vehicle. According to the Bloomginton Pantagraph, there are more than 200 electric vehicles registered in the Twin Cities. Statewide, there are more than 500 Tesla owners.

To learn more about electric vehicles, visit ELPC’s dedicated website,


Howard Learner in National Journal: What Should Obama Administration Do on Climate Change? Advance Policies that Spur Innovation!

JANUARY 28, 2013 1:31 PM

Advance Policies that Spur Innovation

By Howard A. Learner

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

Advancing climate change solutions is America’s economic growth opportunity to lead global investment and advances in clean energy development and technological innovations. It’s also our moral obligation for the next generations’ vitality. Here are five key ways that the Obama Administration and Congress can move solutions forward:

First, Congress should extend the federal wind power production tax credit (PTC) for a reasonable period of time (with phase-down) in order for America to continue capturing the job creation, economic growth and greenhouse gas pollution reduction benefits from modern wind power development. The short-term PTC extension in the fiscal cliff deal will spur manufacturing orders and project development. However, stability and predictability is needed, as wind power blade and turbine technologies and better siting techniques improve operating capacity factors. The on-again, off-again PTC uncertainty discourages investment, costs jobs and weakens American clean energy leadership.

Second, solar PV and battery storage technological advances are energy market game changers that can accelerate greenhouse gas pollution reductions. Federal R&D and commercialization support for breakthrough renewable energy technological innovations is vital for America’s economic future and global leadership. The Federal government should not shortchange R&D that can spur solar and battery improvements, which can both modernize America’s energy grid system and be exported to developing countries to help solve global climate change problems while upgrading living conditions for many.

Third, energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest solution to addressing energy needs and pollution problems. The “quiet revolution” in energy efficiency is holding down electricity demand and reducing pollution, saving residential and business consumers money on their utility bills, creating good installation jobs, and boosting local economies as people spend their energy savings at Main Street businesses across the nation. The Obama Administration and Congress should keep advancing the U.S. DOE appliance efficiency standards and the U.S. EPA’s Energy Star program, which are working well in spurring progress, along with billions of dollars of energy efficiency program investments in the states and the private sector’s efficiency technology advances. LED lighting improvements over the next few years are another energy market game changer that can significantly reduce electricity demand and carbon pollution, while saving consumers money.

Fourth, let’s seize transportation sector opportunities for climate change solutions. The federal clean car and truck standards adopted during President Obama’s first term are a big step forward. Modernizing the rail system to accelerate high-speed rail development can improve mobility, reduce greenhouse gas pollution, create jobs and spur economic growth. Modernizing public transit for urban, suburban and rural communities requires investment in Congress’ next transportation reauthorization legislation. Improving transportation mobility and accessibility can be achieved together with reducing carbon pollution.

Fifth, the U.S. EPA has proceeded thoughtfully and carefully with its responsibilities for the important greenhouse gas pollution reduction standards. It’s now more than five years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. It’s now time for EPA to fully move forward in advancing and accomplishing all of the necessary rulemakings in a fair, legal and balanced manner. The EPA must also have sufficient funding to effectively implement and enforce its Clean Air Act (and Clean Water Act and other statutory) responsibilities. Elections have consequences. The partisan attacks on EPA did not persuade a majority of American voters and electors. Unless Congressional opponents can muster the votes – unlikely, it seems, for now – to change the Clean Air Act or enact a replacement carbon tax mechanism, then EPA must move forward and be appropriated sufficient resources to do its job fairly, reasonably and well to achieve cleaner air, cleaner water and greenhouse gas pollution reductions for public health, safety and welfare.

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