Indiana

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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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Kelter Applauds Indy Airport EV Shuttle Bus Expansion

At Indianapolis Airport, Electric Shuttles Making Holiday Travel a Little Cleaner
By Kari Lydersen

Shuttling between airport terminals on noisy, smelly buses can be one more headache for weary passengers.

It can also be a source of air pollution when fleets of diesel-powered shuttles run around the clock.

At the Indianapolis International Airport, the situation for passengers and the environment has improved with a fleet of electric airport shuttles that officials say will be the nation’s largest — at nine — once three new shuttles arrive next year. There are already six electric shuttles working the airport, and airport executive director Mario Rodriguez said an additional four will be ordered and put into service around 2020, bringing the total to 13.

An electric shuttle bus can cost several hundred thousand dollars more than a traditional diesel bus. Federal grants under the Zero Emissions Airport Vehicle (ZEV) program totaling $3.6 million over two years have helped the airport buy the shuttles. The ZEV program, created under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, allows airports to use federal airport improvement dollars to buy zero-emissions vehicles.

Rodriguez is hopeful the airport will receive more ZEV grants, and he said they will continue buying electric shuttles regardless.

While the up-front cost difference is large, electric vehicles yield significant savings over time in fuel costs and maintenance, as electric vehicles are much simpler and cheaper to maintain than engines using liquid fuel.

In fact, Rodriguez said the airport expects to save $2 million in maintenance costs and avoid buying 66,000 gallons of diesel over the 10-year lifetime of the buses. Or rather the lifetime of their batteries — buses can usually be refurbished or outfitted with a new battery for a longer life.

“If they prove to be as solid as we believe they are, we probably could use the same buses for years to come, and just change the batteries,” Rodriguez said. “Most of this technology is completely proven. The electric motor is beautiful. It will last forever. The only thing we have to do is change the battery packs.”

Rodriguez considers the shuttles to be largely powered by solar energy since the airport boasts a solar farm capable of generating more than 20 megawatts that sends energy back to the grid.

While there may not seem to be a large amount of consumer choice involved in what airports people pass through, Rodriguez thinks the airport’s ambitious sustainability projects actually influence passengers and local residents enough to affect the bottom line. Among other things, Indianapolis was the first U.S. airport to win LEED certification for an entire terminal campus.

“What do you want out of your public enterprise?” asked Rodriguez. “Do you want them to be good stewards of the environment, do you want them to provide a high level of customer service, do you want them to treat the environment and people who live around the airport correctly? We want to elevate our public value — our stockholders are the public at large. Part of treating them respectfully is making sure we don’t hurt their environment.”

The electric shuttles specifically are also a selling point, he added.

“The passengers, they love it,” he said. “It’s quiet, it’s comfortable, it improves customer service. There’s no jerkiness with acceleration like you would get with a normal bus. It really is an improvement in customer service, it is an improvement for our drivers — our drivers love these buses. You don’t have to start it up, warm it up, do a bunch of things to it, it just starts.”

Many clean energy and transportation experts think it is only a matter of time before electric is the default power source for vehicles large and small. Electric cars are becoming increasingly popular and affordable, Tesla and other companies are developing electric semi-trucks, and school districts and transit authorities are increasingly eyeing and buying electric buses.
Rob Kelter, senior attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the Indianapolis electric shuttles are a good example of how federal supports like ZEV grants can help accelerate an electric vehicle transition that will eventually have its own momentum.

“This is what good government programs do,” Kelter said. “They help get something like this started, and as the market develops and the price comes down, these incentives aren’t needed. This is a great new program and we hope it catches on in airports around the country and also that other people who have an opportunity to electrify their buses will take a look at this.”

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Indianapolis Star: ELPC Pushing Indiana Agency to Allocate Portion of $41M VW Settlement Funds to Electric School Buses

IDEM’s unusual comment process for spending $41 million Volkswagen settlement
September 25, 2017
By Emily Hopkins

Indiana is poised to receive $41 million, its share of a $2.7 billion settlement federal regulators reached with Volkswagen after it was learned the German automaker cheated emissions tests for over half a decade.

But just how the state plans to spend that money is a mystery thanks to what some contend is a process that thus far has been neither transparent nor open to public input.

In at least 38 states, residents can find information about the settlement on their government’s website. In some cases, they may even be able to submit their own suggestions into whether the funds should be used for electric transit, hybrid vehicles, or any of the 10 ways the Environmental Protection Agency has identified to fight pollution.

But Hoosiers who want a say in how Indiana spends its share of the pot might want to try to snag a meeting with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Commissioner Bruno Pigott.

“While other states have chosen to accept public comment in a web-based manner, Indiana has chosen to reach out to stakeholders in a more personal way with one-on-one meetings with interested parties and presenting on meeting agendas of interested parties,” IDEM’s Deputy Director of Communications Tara Wolf told IndyStar via email. “[Pigott] has been meeting one-on-one with many interested stakeholders since he came into office in January.”

If that seems like Hoosier Hospitality to some, others see it as a series of closed-door talks outside of the public’s view.

To be clear, there is no requirement for states to solicit public comment before the legal process to get the funds has begun. And Wolf assured that the time will come when Hoosiers can comment on a draft plan.

Still, some are concerned that Indiana is behind several states who have chosen to be proactive. Some states solicited public feedback as early as last fall, and a handful of states have already published drafts of their proposals online. Minnesota, for example, has received hundreds of comments and responses to an online survey and held more than a half dozen public meetings to discuss how the funds should be spent.
“We just thought it was the right thing to do,” said Rocky Sisk, State Program Administrator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. He said that many people have different perspectives on the issue, but that the meetings have been instrumental in shaping their plans.

“Those are the things we feel very confident about doing now that we’ve had public input,” Sisk said.

Before states submit their plans, they’ll have to take part in a legally technical process determined by the settlement. First, states will have to announce which agencies will manage the funds in their respective states. Many states have already done this, often choosing one of their environmental departments.

Indiana has not formally announced which agencies will handle the funds. According to those familiar with the issue, it could be a group of three to five agencies, and the general assumption is that IDEM will take the lead. IDEM’s Wolf said that the Indiana agency handling the funds will be announced once the “trust effective date” is finalized, which will set deadlines for states to have their plans drafted. It’s at that point that the state will ramp up its public outreach.

“A draft Beneficiary Mitigation Plan for public comment will be posted on our website and the public will have ample time to submit comments,” Wolf said. IDEM would not disclose which groups or individuals the agency had met with, but Wolf said that it “has spoken to any group or individual who has requested information.”

The money being paid to states by Volkswagen is one of a series of criminal and civil penalties levied against the automaker. The company was found to be in violation of the Clean Air Act when it came to light that Volkswagen had cheated on emissions testing of some of its diesel vehicles. About half a million cars in the U.S. were allowed to emit pollutants “at levels up to 40 times the standard” set by the EPA. Nitrogen oxides, or NOx gases, are a byproduct of burning diesel fuel and have the potential to cause asthma and other respiratory health issues. The mitigation trust fund is meant to address those NOx emissions.

At least one organization is not waiting on IDEM to start promoting its plan. This summer, the Environmental Law and Policy Center conducted an electric bus tour across four states where they hope settlement money could be used to replace diesel school buses with electric ones.

“Children are especially vulnerable [to diesel fumes] because their lungs are not yet developed, and the particles make their way through the nose, into the blood stream and cause all sorts of problem,” said Susan Mudd, Senior Policy Advocate at ELPC, noting that more than half of public school children in Indiana are transported by bus.

Mudd has been impressed with efforts by other states in the region. She remarked on the several public meetings held in Minnesota, and the “priority county” map produced by Ohio’s EPA.

“Indiana has not stepped forward yet,” Mudd said, “but we’re hopeful.”

Kellie Walsh, executive director of the Greater Indiana Clean Cities Coalition, said that when the mitigation trust fund was announced, her phone was ringing off the hook.

“Folks were like, ‘When is money going to be on the street?'” said Walsh. “Sorry guys, that’s not how this works.”

 

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WVIK (NPR) INDIANA: ELPC’s Janet McCabe Part of Indiana Climate Leadership Summit

WVIK 90.3 FM  Indiana (NPR)

Public Officials, Environmental Advocates Talk Climate Change

By Nick Janzen

Mayors and public officials from 18 Indiana communities, as well as environmental advocates, business leaders, and young people met in Indianapolis Wednesday to talk about ways Indiana can adapt to impacts from climate change at the second annual Climate Leadership Summit.

Jim Poyser, the executive director of Earth Charter Indiana and the event’s organizer, says he sees bipartisan support on the local level for action on climate change.

“Now, that makes me happy, because I’m tired of thinking about party. I’m tired of wondering what somebody’s ideology is,” says Poyser.

Poyser says since the first Climate Leadership Summit last year, three Indiana towns have passed youth-led climate resolutions: Carmel and Lawrence, which have Republican mayors, and Indianapolis.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett says how well cities prepare for climate change will determine their future success.

“We are not exempt from the impacts our changing climate bring,” Hogsett says. “No one is.”

Scientists from Purdue and Indiana Universities said during presentations that those impacts include the number of days Indiana experiences above 90 degrees jumping from 20 to 74 by 2050; and that the Indiana climate could look more similar to that of east Texas by 2070.

Sixteen-year-old Cora Gordon helped pass the Indianapolis climate resolution, which calls for carbon neutrality in the city by 2050. She says the climate resolutions adopted around the state are a message directly from Hoosiers.

“Once we go up higher, once we talk to state people and show them that all these cities have passed climate resolutions, what the people of the state want, it’s what the people of the country want, and so I think that’s definitely something that politicians should keep in mind,” Gordon says.

Logansport Mayor Dave Kitchell says unlike Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, many small communities in Indiana don’t have the resources to invest in big, climate-friendly projects.

“We’re the crossroads of America,” Kitchell says. “But until we’re going to be the crossroads of fiscal sustainability and climate sustainability, we’re not going to convince the majority of the people in this state that this is what we have to do.”

Janet McCabe, a senior law fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center and a former Environmental Protection Agency assistant administrator under President Barack Obama, says clean energy and energy efficiency are two areas where municipalities can get the most bang for their buck on climate investments.

“It makes your houses more comfortable, it increases their value, it creates local job opportunities that can’t be imported,” she says.

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NW Indiana Times: Feds Agree with ELPC & Reject Great Lakes Basin Rail Application

By Andrew Steele

The federal Surface Transportation Board has rejected Great Lakes Basin Transportation’s application to build and operate a 261-mile freight railroad from LaPorte County to southeast Wisconsin.

“GLBT has failed to provide the board with accurate financial information upon which the board can rely to make a determination on the transportation merits of the project,” the STB stated in its decision, dated Wednesday.

Financial statements that GLBT provided in June show the company had $802,000 in accounts payable as of Dec. 31, and investors owned $473,573 in common stock.

But, the STB observed, “The balance sheet … contains an unexplained line item for ‘net income’ (amounting to negative $1,203,545) that appears to account for a substantial difference between its assets and its liabilities and stockholders’ equity.”

Further, “GLBT’s current assets of $151 are so clearly deficient for purposes of constructing a 261-mile rail line that the board will not proceed with this application given the impacts on stakeholders and the demands upon board resources,” the STB ruled.

Company attorney Michael Blaszak said Thursday that GLBT “is assessing its options with respect to the board’s decision today and will have no further comment on the decision.”

Railroad officials have said in the past they can’t secure funding commitments from investors without STB approval of the project, hence the limited amount of current resources.

Plans for the Great Lakes Basin Railroad call for 244 miles of mainline track and 17 miles of branch lines, including one connecting with the Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad at Kingsbury. The railroad would have 26 connections to other railroads, including two in Lake County and six in Porter and LaPorte counties.

The railroad would be able to handle as many as 110 trains per day for various-length trips along its three-state path, according to the GLBT application.
The construction cost was estimated at $2.8 billion.

The line would allow trains passing through Chicago to avoid congestion there, an opportunity GLBT officials said ensured its viability.

“A freight train can take 30 hours — more during periods of severe weather — to pass through the Chicago area, resulting in added inventory cost for shippers, suboptimal equipment utilization, air pollution, delayed passenger trains and billions of dollars in wasted productivity,” GLBT stated in its application.

Frank Patton founded Great Lakes Basin Transportation in 2011. An environmental review process, overseen by the STB, began last year, but was suspended in December at the request of GLBT so it could concentrate on completing the application. The STB decision officially discontinues the environmental review.

Opponents of the freight rail project expressed their satisfaction in the hours after the the decision was published.

Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said cooperation among elected officials and organized citizens was key.

“(U.S. Rep. Pete) Visclosky ensured all residents had scoping meetings in their counties, our state legislators updated our antiquated eminent domain laws creating a level playing field, various local governments including the Porter County Commissioners passed resolutions stating concerns, and our citizens banded together to create a strong grassroots effort and the best decision for the most people was made,” she said via email.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said “the board made a very sensible, very clear decision.”

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PRESS RELEASE: Midwest Environmental Groups Sound Alarm on Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Cuts & Line 5 Issues

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                          Contact: Judith Nemes

July 6, 2017                                                                      

 

Midwest Environmental Groups Sound Alarm on Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Cuts & Line 5 Issues

ELPC & Groundwork Gathering in Traverse City Urge Attendees to Fight Back Against Trump Administration’s War on the Great Lakes 

TRAVERSE CITY, MI. – Michiganders gathered in Traverse City today to hear two Midwest environmental leaders present strategies to push back on threats to the progress of restoring the Great Lakes and safe clean drinking water. They focused on countering the Trump Administration’s proposed complete elimination of $300 million in funding for the bipartisan-supported Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the FY 2018 budget, which has provided $2.2 billion for about 3,000 projects since its inception, and persuading Michigan policymakers to decide on an alternative to the dangerous Line 5 pipeline.

“President Trump won his election in the pivotal Great Lakes states, but his misguided policies and practices amount to a War on the Great Lakes,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Midwest-based Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The Trump Administration is eliminating funding for the sensible and successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, rolling back Clean Water standards and reconsidering the additions to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron. The Trump Administration doesn’t seem to understand how much Michiganders care about protecting the Great Lakes where we live, work and play, and which provides safe clean drinking water for 42 million people.”

Hans Voss, Executive Director of Traverse City’s Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and a leader in the campaign to protect the Great Lakes from an oil spill from the Line 5 pipeline, urged attendees to comment this month on safer alternatives proposed by the State Pipeline Safety Advisory Board.

“The time for state decision-makers to study and debate what to do about the Line 5 pipeline is over,” said Voss. “Now is the time for citizens to speak up and push for lawmakers to shut down the pipeline once and for all.”

The gathering took place at the Bluewater Event Center in Traverse City.

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Trains News Wire: ELPC’s Brubaker Comments on Great Lakes Basin’s $151 Net Worth

Trains News Wire
Great Lakes Basin’s Net Worth was $151 in 2016
Railroad Promoter has Accumulated Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars in Expenses with No Income
June 26, 2017
By Richard Wronski

CHICAGO — Officials with the private corporation seeking to develop a new $2.8-billion railroad to bypass Chicago congestion said it had a net worth of $151 at the end of 2016, according to a filing with federal regulators.

Great Lakes Basin Transportation Inc. listed $802,000 in accounts payable for its current liabilities in 2016. Equity included $473,573 in stockholder investment but a negative $71,878 in retained earnings and net income of a negative $1,203,445, according to the statement.

In an accompanying statement, the Crete, Ill.,-based company said it had no net income in 2016. The company listed $401,544 in investment revenue from stock sales in 2016, but nothing was left after expenses. The largest category was $312,828 for consultants, followed by $66,360 for legal expenses.

The balance sheet and income statement was filed June 21 by Great Lakes Basin with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which had requested the information earlier this month.

Great Lakes Basin also filed a list of its 10 top shareholders, led by Frank Patton, the chairman, who controls slightly more than 87 percent. Patton founded and managed Portfolio Dynamics, a software company, according to a company biography on Great Lakes Basin’s website.

The next largest shareholder, with five percent, is James T. Wilson, the vice chairman. Wilson worked for 18 years for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, and 20 years as a railroad industry consultant, according to his biography.

The disclosure followed the board’s rejection of Great Lakes Basin’s claim that its list of principal stockholders was “highly confidential” and should not be released.

Great Lakes Basin officials seek authority from regulators to build and operate a 261-mile rail line around the Chicago area from southeast Wisconsin and northwest Illinois to northwest Indiana.

The line is intended to relieve Chicago’s rail congestion and would interchange with each major rail line operated by the six Class I carriers serving Chicago, along with six regional railroads, at 26 points.

The proposed project has drawn extensive grass-roots opposition, according to filings with the board. Opponents include at least six groups from at least four Illinois counties, the Illinois Farm Bureau and six county farm bureaus, and the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Kevin Brubaker, deputy director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, pointed to the disclosure that Great Lakes Basin claimed a net worth of $151.

“That’s enough to buy about ten used railroad ties,” Brubaker said in a statement to Trains News Wire. “It is hard to imagine how they will demonstrate financial fitness to the Surface Transportation Board.”

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Journal Gazette, Ft Wayne, IN: Environmental Advocates Make Electric School Bus Tour Stop In City

The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne, Indiana

Buzz About Electric Bus
Environmental Advocates Make Tour Stop in City

June 19, 2017

By Frank Gray

 

A partnership of environmental groups brought an electric school bus to Fort Wayne on Tuesday as part of a four-state tour advocating for electric vehicles.

There are only about 100 electric school buses on the road today, and they cost about $300,000 each, three times what a regular school bus costs. But as the buses become more common, the price is expected to come down, said Susan Mudd, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Indiana is getting $41 million from a settlement with Volkswagen for cheating on emission tests, and the center wants the state to use that money to subsidize the cost of electric school buses. The center also hopes that electric utilities will help subsidize the cost of the buses.

While advocates say electric school buses will keep children from being exposed to diesel fumes, they also point out that electric buses can save between $5,000 and $12,000 a year each in fuel and maintenance costs.

The buses also accelerate better and are quieter, which means children on the bus are also quieter, Mudd said.

An electric bus can get 60 to 80 miles per charge, Mudd said, meaning one can make a day’s run on one charge, or that they can be recharged during the school day if a bus route is longer.

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ABC News Ch 6 Indianapolis: ELPC & Charge Up Midwest Stop in Indy on 4-State 6-City Electric School Bus Tour

ABC News Channel 6
Indianapolis
June 19, 2017

Electric School Bus Midwest Tour Stops in Indy

WATCH IT HERE

 

Politico: ELPC Hires Janet McCabe, Obama-era Acting EPA Air Chief

Politico 

McCABE LANDS AT CHICAGO-BASED GREEN GROUP

Janet McCabe, the Obama-era acting EPA air chief who helped mastermind the Clean Power Plan and oversaw various other key regulations, will join the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center as a senior law fellow, she confirmed to ME. In an email to the ELPC staff yesterday, executive director Howard Learner notes McCabe will work part-time from her native Indianapolis starting May 15. Learner added: “These are extraordinary times, and we are adding top-rate talent to keep building ELPC’s ‘top of our game’ team to play both winning offense and defense. The best defense is a good offense. I am excited to be working together with Janet McCabe to play to win in the changed political circumstances.”

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