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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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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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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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.

READ MORE

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.

READ MORE

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.

READ MORE

 

WGN Radio: ELPC’s Rob Kelter Talks about the Latest in Electric Vehicles

Wintrust Business Lunch

February 17, 2018

Jon Hansen is joined by Rob Kelter, senior attorney at Environmental Law & Policy Center, to talk about the latest in electric vehicles and the impact they had at the Chicago Auto Show.

LISTEN HERE

 

WTTW Chicago Tonight: Illinois Idling on Spending Plan for VW Settlement Money

Illinois Idling on Spending Plan for Volkswagen Settlement Money

By Alex Ruppenthal

February 16, 2018

Illinois is slated to receive $108.7 million in non-taxpayer money from a national settlement with Volkswagen over the German automaker’s emissions scandal. But unlike other states in the Midwest and across the country, Illinois continues to sit idling without a plan for how it will spend the money, which is intended for clean air projects.

Hoping to ignite that process, state Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, filed legislation this week that would give state officials a deadline for coming up with a plan. The bill would require the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which is responsible for administering the settlement funds, to set up a task force to hear public comments and provide recommendations on the state’s use of the money by the end of the year.

States must submit mitigation plans detailing how the money will be spent before they can receive any funds from the settlement, which sets aside $2.7 billion for states and U.S. territories to use to reduce nitrous oxides, the type of pollution masked by software VW impelemented to cheat on federal emissions standards.

“Here we are now, [more than] a year later, and there is no public process,” said Al Grosboll, legislative director with the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center. “No hearings have been scheduled, no outreach has occurred, and there is nothing to look at.”

Environmental groups have been urging IEPA officials to jump-start the state’s mitigation plan for much of the past year. In May, a coalition of advocacy groups met with IEPA Director Alec Messina and offered suggestions on how the money should be spent.

During the meeting, Messina committed to holding multiple public input sessions in both Chicago and the St. Louis metro area, along with other locations throughout the state, according to an email the groups sent to Messina recapping their discussion.

As of Friday, no such sessions had been scheduled.

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Great Lakes Now: ELPC’s Learner Tells US Army Corps to Stop Fiddling, Act Fast on Asian Carp Report

Pace of Asian Carp Plan “taking far too long”
Michigan Senators Critical of Timetable

by Gary Wilson

The debate about how to stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes hit another milestone last week as the Army Corps of Engineers’ extended comment period on a potential solution came to a close.

The controversy is now in its second decade.

The opportunity to comment was expanded to accommodate a previously unscheduled session in New Orleans. The extension angered Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters who say the “process is taking far too long.”

The Corps has been seeking public input on its plan, known as the Brandon Road Lock study, since September. If implemented, the plan would provide a suite of options to keep carp out of the Great Lakes.

in a letter to the Corps, Stabenow and Peters questioned why the New Orleans meeting wasn’t scheduled earlier.

The Brandon Road Lock, 50 miles from Lake Michigan, near Joliet, Illinois, is thought to be a choke point for stopping Asian carp.

But the final Army Corps report isn’t due until August of 2019, and Stabenow and Peters want that date moved up by eight months to January.

The senators expressed frustration that the Trump administration had delayed release of the report early in 2017.

Illinois Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti called for the report to be delayed in a column published in the Chicago Tribune in early 2017. Shipping interests in Illinois have lobbied against the Army Corps plan.

In their letter, Stabenow and Peters also questioned the Corps’ economic analysis of the impact of Asian carp on the Great Lakes.

“The (Army Corps) should not ignore the impact of Asian carp on several important industries – including recreation and tourism – or the economic impacts to the other Great Lakes besides Lake Erie,” the senators wrote.

Lake Erie’s fishery is the largest in the Great Lakes and thought to be the most vulnerable to an Asian carp invasion.

In a similar letter to the Army Corps, 28 members of the U.S. House from the Great Lakes region called for the original project timeline to be followed.

“Fiddling”

Input from environmental groups followed previously held positions but also sought to spotlight economic impacts.

Howard Learner said in a statement released to Great Lakes Now that the Army Corps’ proposals are a “starter.”

But Learner said they are “short of what’s needed to avoid the economic and ecological disaster if our public officials don’t prevent Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes.”

He accused the Corps of “fiddling,” which would lead to additional delays.

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