Howard Learner

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.


ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner Named to Crain’s “Who’s Who in Chicago Business”

Among the trailblazers profiled in Crain’s Chicago Business’ annual “Who’s Who in Chicago Business” is ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner.

“Who’s Who” comprises a comprehensive directory of 600+ Chicago leaders, offering information about each person’s business and professional endeavors as well as civic engagements. The list is divided by sector, and Learner appears alongside 33 non-profit standouts.

Learner’s profile includes his work with numerous environmental and legal organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Law Institute, as well as his service to organizations like Citizens Action of Illinois and the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce. Below is the profile that appears in the September 4th issue of Crain’s Chicago Business.

Howard_250x330dHoward A. Learner

President, Executive Director

Environmental Law & Policy Center, Chicago

Age: 62

Business: Environmental progress, economic development advocacy organization

Professional: Economic Club; Chicago Bar Association; Chicago Council of Lawyers; Environmental Law Institute

Civic: Leadership Fellows Association; Forest Preserves Foundation; Citizens Action of Illinois; Friends of Israel’s Environment; Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers & Commerce

Undergraduate: University of Michigan

Graduate: Harvard University

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: ELPC’s Howard Learner Talks Peabody’s End to Self-Bonding

Peabody Emerges From Bankruptcy; Stock Trading Resumes Tuesday
April 4, 2017
By Bryce Gray

With $5 billion less in debt and a new stock set to begin trading, Peabody Energy emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy Monday, 10 days shy of one year after starting the reorganization process.

The shares will be listed under the ticker BTU — a reference to the British thermal unit, used to measure the potency of energy sources.

“We believe that ‘The New BTU’ is well positioned to create substantial value for shareholders and other stakeholders over time,” Peabody President and CEO Glenn Kellow said in a statement. “Peabody is the only global pure-play coal investment, and we have the scale, quality of assets and people, and diversity of geography and products to be highly competitive.”

When it filed for Chapter 11 last April, St. Louis-based Peabody was one of many bankruptcies in the coal industry. Competition from cheap natural gas had driven down coal prices, but Peabody officials insisted that a badly timed $5.2 billion acquisition of Australian mines in 2011 was a primary reason the company had to file Chapter 11.

“Investors had said to us, we didn’t have an operating problem but a debt problem,” said Vic Svec, a Peabody spokesman.

Now, company executives say the geographic reach of the company’s assets positions it to serve both the U.S. and burgeoning Asian economies.

“Coal remains an essential part of the energy mix, and Peabody is the largest U.S. coal producer while our Australian platform has access to the higher-growth Asia-Pacific region,” Kellow said.

Peabody did face some sticking points in its reorganization process.

Environmental groups voiced concerns about the company’s practice of self-bonding instead of posting a cash bond to cover future cleanup costs. Those groups were appeased when Peabody agreed to replace $1.2 billion in self-bonds with surety bonds.

“This is bringing self-bonding to an end for the world’s largest coal company,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “That sends a message across the industry.”

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ELPC Statement on Proposed Rollback of Fuel Economy Standards


March 15, 2017


Judith Nemes

David Jakubiak

Trump Administration’s Rollback of Fuel Economy Standards Is Misguided

Rolling back common sense fuel efficiency standards will cost people more at the gas pump, increase pollution, and reduce America’s technological innovation leadership and global competitiveness


Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to President Trump’s announcement that his administration will reverse the schedule in place for U.S. automakers to adopt improved fuel economy and pollution reduction standards by 2025:

“The misguided rollback of the CAFE fuel economy standards moves America in the wrong direction. The Trump rollback will force consumers to pump gas more often, result in more pollution that harms public health, and weaken American technological innovation leadership and competitiveness. The U.S. will import more foreign oil, which weakens our national security.”

“The Phase 2 CAFE fuel efficiency standards drive automakers to accelerate technological innovation and supports American manufacturing jobs. This is smart, common sense policy that has been adopted after many technical studies and input from a wide range of stakeholders. The United States should not voluntarily cede our technology innovation leadership to Asian and European automakers.”


The State Journal-Register: Learner Says ELPC will Stand Up for Citizens’ Rights to Clean Air and Water

State_Journal-Register_logoEnvironmentalists Preparing to Battle Trump, GOP in Court
January 29, 2017
By Tammy Webber and John Flesher

CHICAGO – The night before Donald Trump’s inauguration, five environmental lawyers filed a federal court brief defending an Obama administration clean-water rule that the new president and his Republican allies have targeted for elimination, considering it burdensome to landowners.

The move served as a warning that environmentalists, facing a hostile administration and a Republican-dominated Congress, are prepared to battle in court against what they fear will be a wave of unfavorable policies concerning climate change, wildlife protection, federal lands and pollution.

Advocacy groups nationwide are hiring more staff lawyers. They’re coordinating with private attorneys and firms that have volunteered to help. They’re reviewing statutes, setting priorities and seeking donations.

“It’s going to be all-out war,” said Vermont Law School Professor Patrick Parenteau. “If you’re an environmentalist or conservationist, this is indeed a scary time.”

Trump’s first week in office only heightened their anxieties. He moved to resume construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines that the Obama administration had halted, while signaling intentions to abandon his predecessor’s fight against global warming, vastly expand oil and gas drilling on public lands and slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, introduced measures to overturn a new Interior Department rule barring coal mining companies from damaging streams and to remove some wolves from the endangered species list.

“They’ve wasted no time in doing bad things,” said Pat Gallagher, director of the Sierra Club’s 50-member legal team, which he said is likely to grow as environmentalists increasingly regard the courts as their best option, even though success there is far from certain.

The Department of Justice, which represents the federal government in environmental lawsuits, declined to comment, while the White House did not respond to emails seeking comment. Doug Ericksen, communications director for Trump’s transition team at EPA, said of the environmentalists that he’s “not sure what they think they’re preparing for” but suspects they are stoking fear of Trump as a fundraising tool.

“They’re more concerned about raising money than protecting the environment,” Ericksen said.

Jim Burling, litigation director for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit property rights group that sues regulators on behalf of businesses and landowners, also contended environmental groups were exaggerating the Trump administration’s threat for political and financial gain.

The government bureaucracy is entrenched, Burling said, and, “who happens to occupy the White House hasn’t made that much difference.”

Environmentalists say their fears are justified by the new administration’s antagonism toward government’s role in keeping air and water clean and the planet from overheating.

Donations began increasing after Trump’s election, “even before the fundraising letters were sent” asking for support to fight the administration’s actions, said David Goldston, government affairs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Earthjustice, which has represented the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in its fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, has about 100 staff attorneys and plans to bring more aboard, said Tim Preso, who manages the group’s Northern Rockies office.

The Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center is adding four attorneys to its pre-election staff of 18 and is coordinating with more than a dozen outside attorneys who would file citizen suits against polluters for free if agencies fail to enforce existing rules, said Executive Director Howard Learner.

“We cannot fully substitute and replace the EPA doing its job,” Learner said. “But on the other hand, we’re not going to default to zero if the EPA steps backward when it comes to clean air and clean water enforcement.”

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Greenwire: ELPC’s Learner Says Peabody Energy Reorganization Plan Dodges Self-Bonding Issue that Risks Shifting Mine Reclamation Costs to Communities


Peabody Sends Chapter 11 Plan to Bankruptcy Judge
December 23, 2016
By Dylan Brown

The nation’s top coal producer published yesterday its plan for escaping bankruptcy.

Peabody Energy Corp. delivered its Chapter 11 reorganization plan to Judge Barry Schermer of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The plan needs Schermer’s approval.

St. Louis-based Peabody joined many of its competitors in bankruptcy earlier this year in the wake of an unprecedented industry slump caused by plummeting coal prices, withering foreign demand, skyrocketing domestic natural gas production and increased regulation (Greenwire, April 13).

Industry debt is also a factor. Much of Peabody’s $10 billion or so debt stems from its 2011 expansion into Australia with the $5.2 billion purchase of Macarthur Coal Ltd.

In August, Peabody requested more time to draw up a restructuring plan, but President and CEO Glenn Kellow said his company and its creditors have now reached “a proposal that has broad consensus, maximizes the value of the enterprise and paves the way for a sustainable future.”

“Eight months ago, we set out on a path to strengthen the balance sheet and position the company for long-term success amid historically challenged coal industry fundamentals,” Kellow said in a statement.

According to Peabody, the plan would reduce its debt by more than $5 billion, lower regular payments and offer up $750 million in stock “backstopped” by a third party along with the issuance of new common stock to appease certain creditors. The company is also selling the Metropolitan mine in Australia if the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission approves the deal.

Peabody expects to emerge with “substantial liquidity to satisfy near and long-term needs” as a public company. It is also preparing updated financial statements that show its recent performance

“While we still have outstanding issues to resolve prior to emergence, this plan demonstrates that Peabody retains an unmatched asset base, leading U.S. platform, substantial Australian thermal and metallurgical coal business, and a team of skilled employees,” Kellow said.

Peabody’s critics are skeptical of the plan’s handling of mine cleanups and $16.2 million in bonuses that the court approved for executives who hit performance targets.

Peabody has more than $1 billion in self-bonds, corporate promises that fulfill mine cleanup insurance requirements — more than than any other company (E&E News PM, Aug. 16).

“The company’s first proposed reorganization plan dodges the issue and unfairly risks shifting the costs for Peabody’s environmental cleanup responsibilities onto the public,” Howard Learner, an attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in a statement. “A ‘feasible’ reorganization plan for Peabody to emerge from bankruptcy should not include continued self-bonding of mine reclamation costs.”

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Midwest Energy News: Learner Calls IL, Mich., & Ohio New Clean Energy Bills Passed a “mixed bag”

Midwest-Energy-News-LogoA ‘Mixed Bag’ for Clean Energy as Midwest Legislatures Close Out 2016
December 20, 2016
By Andy Balaskovitz

Lawmakers in three Midwest legislatures closed out their 2016 lame-duck sessions with plans to both expand as well as slow clean energy development. The proposals in Ohio, Michigan and Illinois came under three Republican governors and, aside from Illinois, Republican-held legislatures.

In each case, major utilities played significant roles — either prominently lobbying or behind the scenes — in getting policies adopted in their favor.

In Ohio, this meant a concerted effort toward what critics say further weakens the state’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. On Dec. 8, lawmakers sent a bill to Gov. John Kasich that makes those standards voluntary for the next two years. Advocates and others have since called on Kasich to veto the plan.

However, a different story played out in Illinois and Michigan, where clean energy was just part of broader statewide energy plans. In Illinois, Exelon pushed lawmakers for subsidies that would help keep open two uneconomic nuclear plants there at $2.4 billion over the next 10 years. Clean energy advocates supported the legislation, though, because it would update the state’s renewable energy standard in a way that will lead to more in-state solar and wind investment. In the past, Exelon had opposed such a measure out of fear that renewables would compete with its nuclear fleet.

In Michigan, major utilities DTE Energy and Consumers Energy supported a two-bill package that Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign that expands renewable and efficiency standards. But for the past two years, the state’s partially deregulated electricity market was in the crosshairs, with major utilities leading a push that critics said would have ended the state’s electric choice market. In the end, Michigan’s bills received widespread support from both sides of the electric choice debate as well as from clean energy groups.

“It’s plainly a mixed bag. Illinois and Michigan are stepping up to accelerate solar energy and wind power in ways that help build jobs, economic growth and environmental progress for the future,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“Unfortunately Ohio is taking a step back by reverting to voluntary standards and taking other actions that weaken energy efficiency in the state. … We hope Gov. Kasich will step up and show leadership and put Ohio on a much stronger path for clean energy development.”

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Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Learner Says 75th Street Project to Fix Freight Congestion Essential for Freight & Passenger Rail


IDOT Seeking $160 million to ‘Untangle’ Freight Congestion at 75th Street
December 15,
By Mary Wisniewski

The Illinois Department of Transportation is applying for a $160 million federal grant to help pay for a project that aims to clear up rail congestion around 75th Street, cutting delays for Metra, Amtrak and freight railroads.

The $476 million project has funding commitments from Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads, the city of Chicago, Cook County, Metra and IDOT. IDOT applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday for the $160 million funding through the Fastlane program. If granted, it would amount to a 34 percent federal match.

“Everyone felt that now was the time to make the application and try to leverage some federal dollars,” said Randy Blankenhorn, IDOT secretary. The deadline was Thursday.

The 75th Street improvement project, near the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago, is intended to eliminate train backups at three rail junctions and one rail-roadway crossing.

It involves flyover structures, new track and new bridges. The project would eliminate the most congested rail chokepoint in the Chicago terminal district, at Belt Junction, near 75th Street and Racine Avenue, where more than 80 Metra and freight trains cross each other’s paths daily.

One of the advantages of the project would be that it would connect Metra’s SouthWest Service to the Rock Island Line around 74th Street and Normal Avenue, which would allow the service to terminate at the underused LaSalle Street station rather than at clogged Union Station — eliminating delays and freeing capacity for more intercity rail service, according to IDOT.

“The 75th Street improvement project is an important step in the right direction in untangling freight congestion in Chicago,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, who served on an Amtrak panel reviewing various rail projects. “This is an important project principally for freight but also for passenger rail and improving mobility in Chicago.”

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Greenwire: ELPC’s Howard Learner Says Pruitt Wrong for U.S. EPA

GreenwireTRANSITION: Pruitt Has Mixed Court Record in EPA Showdowns
December 8, 2016
By Jeremy P. Jacobs and Amanda Reilly

As Oklahoma attorney general, Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead U.S. EPA, built a record of filing politically charged lawsuits against the agency.

Almost all of those lawsuits failed.

Since Pruitt became attorney general in 2011, the Republican has used the office to launch an offensive against EPA as well as other major Obama administration policies, including the Affordable Care Act.

But a review of those lawsuits by E&E News shows Pruitt lost the majority of those cases, some of which were quickly tossed by federal judges.

Pruitt’s most significant win was the Supreme Court’s decision to put President Obama’s landmark greenhouse gas emissions program on hold. But legal experts say his primary argument — that EPA was overstepping constitutional limits and trampling states’ rights — is unlikely to prevail.

Yet Pruitt has drawn a significant following on the right for his tenacity in challenging the Obama administration. And Pruitt’s legal strategy appears in line with Trump’s strong statements on the campaign trail about rolling back Obama administration regulations that he views as threatening the economy.

The president-elect commented along similar lines in announcing Pruitt’s nomination today.

“For too long, [EPA] has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn,” Trump said in a statement. “As my EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, the highly respected Attorney General from the state of Oklahoma, will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.”

Pruitt’s critics, however, say the Republican is more interested in scoring political points than advancing sound legal theories.

“He clearly files politically motivated lawsuits aimed at protecting polluters,” said Bill Snape, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “And he’s done some odd things legally.”

Howard Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center was more direct in assessing Pruitt’s record.

“Look, as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Mr. Pruitt consistently challenged EPA clean air and clean water standards,” Learner said. “And mostly, he did not achieve success.”

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