Governor Rauner

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.

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Under Rauner, penalties sought against Illinois polluters have plummeted

Well before the Trump administration began shifting responsibility for enforcing environmental laws to the states, Illinois already had slowed down the policing of air and water pollution under Gov. Bruce Rauner.

A Tribune analysis of enforcement data shows that since the Republican businessman took office in 2015, penalties sought from Illinois polluters have dropped to $6.1 million — about two-thirds less than the inflation-adjusted amount demanded during the first three years under Rauner’s two predecessors, Democrats Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich.

Rauner’s enforcement record during the past three years also pales in comparison to the final year in office of the state’s last Republican governor, George Ryan. Adjusted for inflation, the penalties sought since Rauner took office are less than half the amount demanded as Ryan wrapped up his four-year term in 2002.

One of the main reasons enforcement is on the decline statewide is the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has cut back sharply on using its most powerful tool: referring cases to the state attorney general’s office for civil or criminal prosecution.

During Rauner’s first year as governor, the EPA referred 73 cases to the attorney general — by far the lowest number since 1991. The annual average during his tenure is 80.

By contrast, the EPA sent 198 referrals a year on average during Blagojevich’s first three years in office and 144 during the same time period under Quinn, the Tribune analysis found.

“I have been dismayed by the sudden dropoff in the number of IEPA referrals to my office,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement. “The failure to thoroughly investigate and refer violations of the laws has dangerous consequences for people’s health and the environment.”

. . .

Federal enforcement actions nationwide have declined significantly since Scott Pruitt took over as EPA administrator, the Environmental Integrity Project and others have found. Veteran staff at the U.S. EPA’s Chicago office said it has become more difficult to file cases under Pruitt, who as Oklahoma attorney general repeatedly challenged federal clean air and water regulations.

Pruitt’s new pick to lead the agency’s Chicago outpost, Cathy Stepp, is a former Wisconsin state official who rolled back enforcement of anti-pollution laws while serving in the administration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Howard Learner, president of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, said cutbacks at the federal and state level threaten to erase hard-fought victories that led to cleaner air and water.

“If you don’t have enforcement, the good guys who follow the law are put at a competitive disadvantage,” Learner said. “It sends a message to polluting industries that the cop on the beat is looking the other way.”

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Illinois Times: ELPC’s Learner Says Federal Court Ruling on Illiana Should Finally End Proposed Toll Road

Illinois-Times-Logo

End of the Road for Illiana?
Controversial Toll Road Loses Second Court Battle
November 10, 2016
By Patrick Yeagle

A federal court struck down last week an environmental study used to justify a new tollway in northern Illinois.

It’s the second such loss in court for the controversial project, which was already suspended but still clings to life.

The Illiana Expressway is a proposed 50-mile, east-west toll road which would connect Interstate 55 south of Chicago to Interstate 65 in northwestern Indiana. The project is intended to relieve congestion on Interstate 80, 15 miles to the north.

Controversial from the start, the Illiana proposal has long been a priority for the Illinois Department of Transportation. Gov. Bruce Rauner says Illinois won’t spend more money on the project, but opponents say IDOT has continued to pursue it anyway.

The controversy is twofold: whether the road is actually needed and what effect it may have on Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, a nearby national nature preserve.

IDOT has projected population growth of more than 170 percent by 2040 in the area surrounding the proposed road, but that estimate is contradicted by two other planning agencies which control federal funding in that area.

Meanwhile, the potential environmental effect of the project was the basis for a lawsuit filed in 2013 by the Midewin Heritage Association, the Illinois Sierra Club and environmental group Openlands. The groups sued IDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, saying the required environmental impact statement used to justify the project was flawed.

A federal court agreed in June 2015, ruling that the study overestimated the consequences of not building the expressway and failed to adequately consider the potential effects on the surrounding area.

While that lawsuit was pending, IDOT and the FHA continued pursuing the project, releasing a second “tier” of the environmental study which built on the first. On Oct. 31, another federal judge ruled that the second tier was invalid because it relied on a first tier which had already been found faulty.

Just before the first federal court decision in June 2015, Rauner vetoed funding for the project, saying that because of the “current fiscal crisis and a lack of sufficient capital resources, the Illiana Expressway will not move forward at this time.” A spokeswoman for Rauner referred a reporter to IDOT.

Still, IDOT continued to defend the environmental study in court, filing a document in October 2015 saying IDOT and its counterpart in Indiana would continue to revise the study.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, calls Illiana a “fiscal folly” which should have died long ago. ELPC represented the environmental groups for free in the lawsuit against the state.

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Learner Op-Ed in State Journal Register: Don’t Stick Illinois Taxpayers with Peabody’s Mine Reclamation Costs

Doesn’t Illinois already have enough fiscal problems? Now, here comes another $92 million mess if Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Office of Mines and Minerals doesn’t start paying attention and make sure that Peabody Energy commits real money now to fulfill its mine reclamation responsibilities.

For too long, Peabody Energy has been allowed to “self-bond” — promise that it will provide funds to pay in the future — instead of purchasing a surety bond or creating an independent trust fund to cover the costs of cleaning up its mines, avoiding contamination and reclaiming the lands that the mining has marred. Peabody is now teetering on bankruptcy.

Illinois officials need to act decisively to make sure that our taxpayers aren’t left holding the financial bag.

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Daily Herald: ELPC’s Learner Warns of Impact of Budget Impasse on Clean Air and Public Health

Could the state’s budget chaos increase air pollution?

It’s not a stretch, environmental experts say, given that drivers aren’t receiving reminders in the mail about vehicle emissions tests and won’t be penalized for skipping checkups starting Tuesday.

And without a stick to force everyone to get their cars tested, lungs breathing air tainted by thousands of vehicles emitting smog could be the next collateral damage from feuding between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic lawmakers.

“There’s a reason for inspections and maintenance requirements — they’re a fundamental building block of the Clean Air Act,” Environmental Law and Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner said. “Illinois should and must comply with the Clean Air Act because it’s important to protect public health.”

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Chicago Transportation Journal: ELPC’s Learner Warns of “Devil in the Details” in Rauner’s Proposed I-55 Tolls

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s efforts to end the political bottleneck in Springfield have stalled so far, but he might have better luck with a new proposal to ease the chronic traffic jams on the Stevenson Expressway (Interstate 55).

Flanked by state legislators from both parties, Rauner on Thursday announced support for a plan to widen 25 miles of I-55 with so-called “managed lanes.”  Under the concept known as congestion pricing, these lanes would be tolled, depending on the amount of traffic, and could be used by carpoolers.

Rauner called for exploring a so-called Public Private Partnership, or P3, between the Illinois Department of Transportation and private investors to develop the project.  The investors would provide the funding, estimated at $425 million. In return, the investors would recoup toll revenue for construction, operations and maintenance.

“By using existing resources to leverage private investment, we can build the type of infrastructure that allows Illinois to better compete in the 21st century,” Rauner said. “This is an innovative project that will create jobs, improve the region’s quality of life and show that Illinois is open for business.”

Plans for adding tolled lanes to I-55 are not new. Transportation planners have advocated the managed-lane concept for years. In December, Rauner’s transportation secretary, Randy Blankenhorn outlined the project at a public hearing in Countryside.

Still, Rauner’s announcement drew immediate praise from officials and experts, who called the idea long overdue.

“Although new to our region, congestion pricing has been used successfully in the U.S. since 1995, with more than two dozen instances where it is being deployed to give drivers better choices for getting around,” said Joe Szabo, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which Blankenhorn previously headed.

It’s also possible that instead of private investors, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority could end up being IDOT’s partner to finance, build and operate the managed lanes, experts say. Although the Tollway is a state agency and under Rauner’s control, it is separate from IDOT and uses only toll revenue for its projects. Either way, tolling on I-55 would be need to be compatible with the Illinois Tollway’s I-Pass.

The Tollway is in the midst of its own 15-year, $12.1 billion expansion and improvement project called Move Illinois. The Tollway’s current projects include rebuilding and widening the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) and construction of the new Elgin-O’Hare tollway.

In a statement, the Tollway on Thursday said it is “committed to working with IDOT wherever necessary” for a “seamless transition from roadway to roadway.”

P3s have become more common in states as federal highway funds have dried up. Former Gov. Pat Quinn had pushed hard for a P3 to finance his would-be pet project, the Illiana Toll Road, linking I-55 near Wilmington with I-65 in Indiana. The federal government has since withdrawn its approval for the Illiana.

Rauner’s plan prompted a cautious response, however, from Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, which filed a lawsuit to help block the Illiana.

“When it comes to these types of P3 deals, the devil is in the details,” Learner said. “We need to make sure that the public is truly receiving its fair share of the benefits, and that the private investors are assuming their fair share of financial risks as well as potential rewards.”

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Crain’s: Howard Learner Warns “Devil in the Details” of Rauner’s New I-55 Toll Lane Plan

Gov. Bruce Rauner today floated a plan to add a pair of lanes, likely with tolls, to crowded Interstate 55 (the Stevenson Expressway) between I-355 (Veterans Memorial Tollway) and I-90/94 (the Dan Ryan Expressway).

Though the proposal needs approval by the highly polarized General Assembly, one key Democratic lawmaker threw his backing behind the plan, perhaps a sign that something actually will occur.

Specifically, Rauner announced his legislative allies have filed legislation to allow the Illinois Department of Transportation to negotiate a deal with an as-yet-unspecified private group, known as a public-private partnership, to study options for the Stevenson. Among those options are tolls that would go up or down depending on the time of day, a strategy known as congestion pricing.

Interstate-55-toll-lane-plan.jpg

The goal is to add at least one lane in each direction on a 25-mile stretch of road that now carries an average of 170,000 vehicles a day. Not yet determined is whether the lanes will be tolled or free, or express toll lanes. But it’s hard to imagine a private company would be interested in fronting the hundreds of millions of dollars likely needed without the promise of a revenue stream.

For the state, a public-private partnership could allow it to do work that Illinois can’t afford, with lawmakers reluctant to raise gasoline or other taxes for the state’s road construction fund.

“Managed lanes are truly an expressway within an expressway, one more option that will make travel more convenient,” said IDOT Secretary Randy Blankenhorn.

Blankenhorn previously headed the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, a government group which has strongly backed the idea of using the Stevenson as a public-private partnership model. CMAP’s current executive director, Joe Szabo, promptly endorsed Rauner’s idea, saying in a statement, “Although new to our region, congestion pricing has been used successfully in the U.S. since 1995, with more than two dozen instances where it is being deployed to give drivers better choices for getting around.”

Such systems are common in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in particular, with freeways and tollways running parallel to each other.

But CMAP has been a vigorous opponent of another public-private partnership project, the proposed Illiana Corridor, saying the expressway would be an economic boondoggle.

That suggests that though Rauner’s plan got some immediate backing from Illinois Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, legislators ought to ask some tough questions.

A 2011 state law allows IDOT to build, finance, operate and maintain highway projects using a public-private partnership model, so long as the Legislature adopts a resolution in favor of the project. The General Assembly’s two GOP leaders, Sen. Christine Radogno and Rep. Jim Durkin, appeared with Rauner at a news conference today and are backing such a resolution.

IDOT says using a public-private partnership model could allow it to save up to $425 million in construction costs. Work could begin as soon as next year and be completed by 2019.

Update, 4 p.m. — A sign that Rauner’s proposal might face some headwinds is coming from Howard Learner, head of Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“When it comes to these types of P3 deals, the devil is in the details,” Learner says in a statement. “We need to make sure that the public is truly receiving its fair share of the benefits, and that the private investors are assuming their fair share of financial risks as well as potential rewards. The Illiana Tollway is an unfortunate example of a poorly designed P3 that imposes much too much financial risk on the public.”

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ELPC’s Learner and The Daily Herald Editorial Board Say It’s Time to End the Illiana Tollway

Seven months ago, we were extremely pleased with Gov. Bruce Rauner who had just announced that he was withdrawing any more funding for the unnecessary and expensive Illiana Expressway.

Yes, we acknowledged at the time there were administrative steps needed to completely end the proposal, which would connect I-55 in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana.

Unfortunately, not all the steps have been completed and the Illiana Expressway apparently is still alive and we must question again why that is.

Daily Herald transportation writer Marni Pyke reported Monday that the Illinois Department of Transportation filed court documents in late 2015 — months after Rauner said the plan would not move forward — saying the state agency was committed to addressing problems in the environmental report and will hire consultants to conduct more analyses.

Huh?

“No decisions have been made at this point on next steps. No funding has been identified or spent. No consultants have been hired,” said IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell.

With the state budget stalemate ongoing, that’s not surprising. There’s not enough money for things that matter, much less for items that don’t. Our question and the question others have is why is Illiana still on IDOT’s radar in the first place?

“Why is IDOT trying to push this boondoggle.” asked Howard Learner, the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “It’s hard to read that any other way than saying they’re looking for money,” Learner said. “It’s baffling”

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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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The News-Gazette: Defeats take toll on road plan

If they keep driving nails into the coffin of the proposed Illiana Expressway, one day they’re going to have to bury it.

At least one would think so. But while the proposed expressway intended to link Illinois and Indiana has proved hard to kill, it is, at best, on life support.

The latest blow to this ill-conceived, unaffordable project came Tuesday when the Federal Highway Administration announced that it will not appeal a federal judge’s decision putting the plan on ice.

U.S. Judge Jorge Alonso ruled in June that environmental impact studies for the project were fatally flawed.

Alonso’s decision came about the same time that Gov. Bruce Rauner announced that the state did not intend to proceed on the Illiana because of “the state’s current fiscal crisis and a lack of sufficient capital resources.”

In addition to the lack of funds to build the Illiana, there was a distinct lack of need. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning estimated that too few motorists would use the Illiana by 2040 to meet the financial guarantees to the private developers, leaving taxpayers to make up the difference.

Because of that shortfall, the agency predicted the Illiana could end up costing taxpayers “from $440 million to $1 billion.”

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