Lake Michigan

Chicago Tonight: How Healthy is Lake Michigan? A Checkup on the Great Lakes

How Healthy is Lake Michigan? A Checkup on the Great Lakes
By Nicole Cardos

When it comes to the health and maintenance of Lake Michigan, some environmentalists, property owners and even surfers have expressed their concerns.

Some of those concerns: toxins, the Foxconn deal in Kenosha and rising lake levels.

“Last year, the amount of water released from Lake Superior into lakes Michigan and Huron was the highest in 32 years,” the story states.

But that transfer of water is also due to the fact that Lake Superior is geographically higher than lakes Michigan and Huron, said Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. On top of that, Lake Michigan is self-contained.

“Huron has an outlet and water makes its way to Erie,” Learner said. “Michigan is a big bathtub.”

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ELPC 2015: What We’ve Achieved, and What’s Next

This is a transformational year for the environment. ELPC is seizing strategic opportunities for progress on the big issues. We’re achieving strong results in these politically gridlocked times.

First, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan caps two decades of sustained advocacy by ELPC and many environmental and public health colleagues backed by sound scientific findings. The U.S. is now stepping up as a global leader advancing clean energy solutions to reduce carbon pollution.

Second, solar energy, wind power and innovative energy efficiency technologies are poised to transform the electricity market just as wireless transformed telecommunications, changing the ways that we live and work. ELPC is driving new policies to accelerate distributed Midwest solar energy installations and install one million new smart thermostats in Illinois.

Third, ELPC’s successful litigation to stop the fiscal folly Illiana Tollway, protect the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and promote sound regional planning is transforming transportation policy to prioritize public transit and modern regional rail instead of politically clouted boondoggles. ELPC attorneys are winning in both the court of law and the court of public opinion.

ELPC is effective. Our teams of expert public interest attorneys, M.B.A.s, policy advocates and communications specialists, combined with the ELPC Science Advisory Council, play to win and know how to get things done.  ELPC is truly making a difference for a better world.

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Your support has helped ELPC advance a cleaner renewable energy mix for the Midwest, accelerate cleaner transportation, and clean up the rivers and great lakes that we all care about. Please consider ELPC’s results and make a financial contribution to support our successful program work in 2016:

 

Ditching the Illiana Tollway Boondoggle and Protecting the Remarkable Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Midewin_Illiana_250x330The proposed new Illiana Tollway is a fiscal folly, undermines sound regional planning and would harm wildlife and ecological values in the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. On June 16th, Federal District Court Judge Jorge Alonso granted Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and declared that the federal and state transportation agencies’ approval of the Tier 1 final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision “for the proposed new Illiana Expressway was arbitrary and capricious and in violation of NEPA.” This is a tremendous litigation victory for ELPC’s public interest attorneys on behalf of our clients Midewin Heritage Association, Openlands and Sierra Club.

More than a dozen newspapers across Illinois have editorialized against the Illiana “road to nowhere” during the state’s fiscal crisis and when there are much higher priorities for limited transportation infrastructure funds to enable badly-needed fixes for transit and commuter rail, intercity higher-speed rail, and highway and bridge repairs.

ELPC’s legal, economic and media advocacy and our clients’ public engagement have changed the proposed new boondoggle Illiana Tollway from a “done deal” to “terminal life support.” It’s time for Governor Rauner and Illinois’ political leadership to finally ditch the Illiana once and for all. ELPC is working hard in the federal and state courts, and in the courts of public opinion, to bring the proposed Illiana Tollway to its well-deserved end.

 

Installing One Million Smart Thermostats in Illinois – A National Model

NestThermostat_250x330ELPC and Commonwealth Edison worked together creating an ambitious new program to install one million new smart thermostats in Illinois homes and small businesses over the next five years. U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy joined us for the October 8th public announcement. This leading-edge initiative provides rebates up to $120, using the consumer-funded Energy Efficiency Performance Standards program resources, for the new generation of Ecobee, Nest and Honeywell thermostats that learn customer behavior and adjust cooling and heating without complicated programming. These “smart thermostats” can save consumers 15%-25% from their heating and cooling costs and reduce pollution. Once the Illinois program is off the ground, ELPC plans to replicate it in more Midwestern states. This innovative technology is a winner.

 

Accelerating Solar Energy in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota

SolarShedd_250x330Solar energy installations in the Midwest grew by 70% last year, creating jobs, new businesses and economic growth. However, the coal industry and some electric utilities are seeking to impose regulatory barriers to protect their polluting power plants and their electricity monopolies. ELPC is working to advance sound policies that drive clean solar energy forward and remove regulatory barriers to development.

In Illinois, ELPC was instrumental in helping enact and then design the state’s first $30 million distributed solar generation procurement.

In Iowa, ELPC successfully repelled Interstate Power & Light’s attempt to impose new barriers to solar development after we won a major case before the Iowa Supreme Court to remove utility-imposed barriers to conventional third-party financing arrangements for solar energy development projects.

In Minnesota and Michigan, ELPC is making steady progress with our state-based partners to design new distributed solar programs and strategies. We’re moving forward at this transformational time to accelerate solar energy development for a cleaner energy future. ELPC is pro-technological innovation, pro-competition and pro-removing regulatory barriers to solar.

 

Keeping the Great Lakes and Midwest Rivers Clean

LakeMichiganMichigan-sidebarThere are two main types of water pollution – from a single, identifiable “point” source and the “non-point” flows from farms, ranches and streets. ELPC is working on both.

This is the first year that the SS Badger car ferry did not dump about 1,000,000 pounds of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan. The ship now has a new coal ash containment system thanks to an effective advocacy campaign led by ELPC with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and our good colleagues. ELPC’s work to stop the SS Badger from polluting the drinking water supplies for 42 million people is a strong precedent that reinforces that it’s no longer acceptable to dump toxic pollution in our Great Lakes.

ELPC also brought together more than 60 scientists and policymakers for our second annual Great Lakes Science-Policy Confluence Conference to discuss solutions to mitigate “nutrient pollution” – agricultural runoff that helped cause toxic blue-green algae blooms in Western Lake Erie. In summer 2014, 500,000 people in the Toledo area were without safe drinking water supplies for 72 hours. That’s not acceptable. ELPC is stepping up our advocacy for the necessary actions to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from agricultural operations that caused the toxic algae and contaminated water supplies.

ELPC continues our Mississippi River protection legal leadership, and we convened a new collaboration of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia groups for coordinated multi-state action to help clean up the Ohio River, considered by some to be America’s most polluted waterway.

 

ELPC Is Accelerating the Next Generation of Sustainable Transportation

AmtrakELPC is a recognized leader in advancing the Midwest high-speed rail network, which will improve mobility, reduce pollution, create jobs and pull together the regional economy. We are working to accelerate new clean cars and trucks, which use modern technologies to increase fuel efficiency and reduce pollution.

This year, I was honored to be asked by Amtrak’s CEO to serve on a four-member Blue Ribbon Panel analyzing and recommending strategies and better practices to increase fluidity and reduce congestion for higher-speed passenger rail and freight rail in the “Chicago Gateway” leading to St. Louis, Detroit and the East Coast.

 

 

Making the Clean Power Plan Standards Work Well

coal_250x330This is the federal cornerstone for America’s commitment to climate change solutions. ELPC is working with many business, environmental, health and faith-based allies to overcome the coal industry’s and certain politicians’ litigation efforts to stall progress, and to effectively implement state climate solution action plans in the Midwest states. Overall, ELPC is advancing new policies to drive energy markets with technological innovations that can change the world.

 

 

 

 

ELPC believes in the core principle that environmental progress and economic growth can be achieved together, and we put that sustainability principle into practice every day. ELPC’s solutions-focused strategies engage diverse partners and seize opportunities to accelerate clean energy development and clean transportation technologies, protect clean air and clean water, and preserve the Midwest’s wild and natural places.

ELPC’s multidisciplinary staff teams of public interest attorneys, M.B.A.s, policy experts and communications specialists are fully engaged across the Midwest, and we’re making progress. It isn’t easy; real change never is. We don’t give up. Let’s keep working together to win.

Thank you for engaging and making a contribution to support ELPC’s work to harness this change and achieve a brighter future.

 

Chicago Tribune: Winnetka shelves $81.3M stormwater tunnel project

Pushback on a Willow Road stormwater tunnel project went as far as the ballot box and the courthouse, but it was a pricetag that eventually prompted the Winnetka Village Council to decide recently to shelve the controversial proposal.

After a new cost estimate raised expected costs from $58.5 million to $81.3 million, council members said that because of the dramatic price increase, they would pursue options for routing stormwater westward rather than eastward into Lake Michigan.

“From my standpoint, that’s a lot of money and we have not determined if the village can cover this kind of debt,” said Village President Gene Greable. “I’m really strong on this westward solution. We have to find a solution to the water problems we’ve had in this village.”

In March 2014, a voters in Winnetka rejected a non-binding referendum request on the tunnel. At that time, the projected cost was $34 million. Greable said at that time that the referendum, which was advisory, would not be able to fairly express to voters the complexities of the village’s flooding issues.

Before the 2014 referendum, many residents and some environmentalist groups, including the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Natural Resources Defense Council, had expressed concerns about the tunnel’s potential to carry stormwater pollutants into Lake Michigan. In February, one resident filed a lawsuit – later dismissed by a Cook County judge – against the village of Winnetka disputing a utility fee imposed on property owners to pay for a stormwater management project that included the tunnel’s construction.

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Detroit Free Press: S.S. Badger cleared for sailing by EPA

Two years after striking a deal to keep the last coal-fired ship on the Great Lakes operating, federal regulators this week declared the S.S. Badger in compliance with an order that it stop dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan, clearing it for a new sailing season beginning today.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said an inspection of the Badger — a historic carferry which makes about 450 trips between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wis., during a 6-month season each year — showed it had “taken all the steps necessary” to stop discharging coal ash into the lake.

“Victory!” said a statement today by the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, which had pressured the government to address the hundreds of tons of coal ash the 63-year-old Badger was dumping into Lake Michigan each year. “All bad things should come to an end, and this water pollution is. … Step-by-step, our Great Lakes are getting cleaner.”

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Victory for Great Lakes Protection: SS Badger Car Ferry Forced to Stop Dumping Toxic Coal Ash into Lake Michigan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 15, 2015

 

Contact:

Judith Nemes

JNemes@ELPC.org

312-795-3706

 

Victory for Great Lakes Protection:  SS Badger Car Ferry Forced to Stop Dumping Toxic Coal Ash into Lake Michigan

Environmental Law & Policy Center and Partners Declare Victory

 

Chicago – The Environmental Law & Policy Center and partners declared a victory for cleaning up the Great Lakes following the successful campaign and federal court consent decree to require the SS Badger car ferry to stop dumping 1,000,000 pounds of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan each summer. Today, the SS Badger car ferry is scheduled to go across Lake Michigan from Manitowoc, WI, to Ludington, MI, with a new coal ash containment system in place. Step-by-step, our Great Lakes are getting cleaner.

 

“This is a victory for a cleaner Lake Michigan and a step in the right direction for reducing toxic pollution of the Great Lakes,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “It reaffirms the principle that no business, including the SS Badger, should be permitted to use the Great Lakes as a dumping ground for pollution.”

 

This victory follows a strong campaign led by the Environmental Law & Policy Center with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and partners at the Alliance for the Great Lakes, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and others.

“All bad things should come to an end, and this water pollution is,” said Learner. “This summer, the SS Badger will not be dumping nearly 1,000,000 pounds of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan.”

The 60-year-old SS Badger is the last coal-burning ship on the Great Lakes. For too many years, the resulting coal ash – containing toxic materials – was moved from the ship’s boilers to an on-board retention area, where it was mixed with Lake Michigan water and then discharged into the lake as toxic slurry. Public pressure and the SS Badger’s continued pollution led to an action by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that resulted in a binding consent decree filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Following the public campaign and consent decree, SS Badger operators installed new digital combustion controls that enable the ship to run more efficiently, burning about 15% less coal on its trips from Manitowoc, WI, to Ludington, MI. The new system will now move the coal ash along a conveyor belt between the ship’s boilers and four containment bins. Those bins will later be moved to an appropriate land-based site, possibly for re-sale as a cement filler. This kind of “encapsulated reuse” is one of the better scenarios for handling toxic coal ash.

“While the SS Badger still burns coal and emits it into the air, stopping the dumping of coal ash into Lake Michigan is a very good step in the right direction,” Learner added.

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Victory! No More SS Badger Toxic Coal Ash Dumping into Lake Michigan

Victory!  Today, the SS Badger car ferry is scheduled to go across Lake Michigan from Manitowoc, WI to Ludington, MI with a new coal ash containment system in place. All bad things should come to an end, and this water pollution is.  This summer, the SS Badger will not be dumping nearly 1,000,000 pounds of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan.  Step-by-step, our Great Lakes are getting cleaner.

This is a significant step in the right direction for reducing toxic pollution of the Great Lakes. It reaffirms the principle that no business should be permitted to use the Great Lakes as a dumping ground for toxics.

This victory follows a strong campaign led by the Environmental Law & Policy Center with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and our good partner colleagues at the Alliance for the Great Lakes, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and others.

The 60-year-old SS Badger is the last coal-burning ship on the Great Lakes. For too many years, the resulting coal ash – containing toxic materials – has been discharged into Lake Michigan. Pressure from ELPC, our allies and the public led to an action by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that resulted in a binding consent decree requiring SS Badger operators to capture and then lawfully dispose of the toxic coal ash without dumping any into Lake Michigan.

Following the consent decree, SS Badger operators installed new digital combustion controls that enable the ship to run more efficiently, burning about 15% less coal on its trips from Manitowoc, WI to Ludington, MI.  They also installed a new retention system that moves the coal ash along a conveyor belt between the ship’s boilers and four containment bins. Those bins are later moved to an appropriate land-based site, possibly for re-sale as a cement filler. This kind of “encapsulated reuse” is one of the better scenarios for handling toxic coal ash.

This has been tough sledding. Working together, we have brought to an end the SS Badger’s dumping of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan.

Press Release: Groups Appeal Water Pollution Permit for Waukegan Coal Plant on Lake Michigan

Groups Site Unlawful Permit Provisions that Give Coal Plant a Free Pass to Pollute

Click Here to View Appeal filed at the Illinois Pollution Control Board

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 29, 2015

Judith Nemes, JNemes@elpc.org, 312-795-3706

 

WAUKEGAN, Ill. – Today, the Sierra Club, Environmental Law & Policy Center and other environmental organizations appealed Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s (IEPA) water pollution permit for NRG’s Waukegan coal plant. The permit, the groups argue, falls far short of implementing necessary protections for Lake Michigan.

The current permit allows NRG to continue running the 57-year-old Waukegan coal plant as-is rather than making long-overdue upgrades to the plant’s intake and discharge system. The plant has been operating with a permit last issued 14 years ago.

“By allowing NRG to skirt the issue of real technological upgrades to this old plant, IEPA is permitting the Waukegan plant to pollute at the same high rate for at least another five years,” said Greg Wannier, attorney with the Sierra Club. “IEPA has no legal authority to extend NRG’s variance, which avoids a law designed to protect the delicate and critical ecosystem found in Lake Michigan. As Lake Michigan adapts to even more stressors brought on by climate disruption, IEPA has an obligation to implement the law in a way that best protects the lake.”

In the appeal, the organizations call for the IEPA to revoke the final permit and to reissue with limits necessary to protect Lake Michigan in compliance with the Clean Water Act. Through its permitting process, the IEPA is responsible for ensuring the Waukegan plant minimizes Lake Michigan fish kills caused by its intake structures like the one used at the Waukegan plant. New limits would require “closed-cycle” cooling, which would almost eliminate those impacts to aquatic life.

The Waukegan coal plant currently operates using an outdated system known as once-through cooling. The system consists of a large pipe that draws freshwater into the plant for cooling, cleaning and moving coal ash out of the plant’s boiler. According to a 2011 Chicago Tribune report, the intake pipe at Waukegan is responsible for killing 5.2 million fish per year

Massive heat transfers occur as the lake water passes through the plant, and it is then discharged back into Lake Michigan at significantly elevated temperatures. The permit allows 5 million gallons of Lake Michigan water to go through this “once-through” process every day. Technology can reduce this impact by 98 percent, yet despite its widespread use, IEPA and NRG passed on the technology in favor of continuing a 37-year old variance allowing the plant to continue discharging piping hot water into Lake Michigan.

“Every year, the Waukegan coal plant kills millions of fish and other aquatic life from Lake Michigan.  No fishing license would allow such an abuse of this resource, but IEPA has given NRG a license to kill, without even requiring the application that’s required by law,” said Jessica Dexter, staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “NRG is a relatively new arrival to our shores, so we urge them to take more seriously their responsibility to be good stewards of Lake Michigan.”

“Over 100 community members from the Waukegan area came out to testify in 2013 on the IEPA’s draft permit for this plant, and I’m proud  that our engagement won some improvements,” said Mitch Siegel, Waukegan resident with the Clean Power Lake County Campaign. “However, the permit still falls short of what’s needed to protect Lake Michigan and NRG Energy is avoiding long-overdue upgrades to the plant that its predecessor Midwest Generation also avoided. With a new company, we expect a new approach.”

The outdated cooling system is just one of the concerns regarding water pollution linked to the Waukegan coal plant. In 2012, Sierra Club, ELPC, Prairie Rivers Network and CARE filed an enforcement case for groundwater contamination at all of NRG’s coal plants, including Waukegan.  At Waukegan, samples taken by the coal plant’s previous owner, Midwest Generation, indicate that coal ash waste from the coal ash impoundments has seeped into groundwater, contaminating the water with pollutants such as arsenic, boron and sulfate at levels above primary Safe Drinking Water Act Maximum Contaminant Limits. In March, the groups updated the complaint after previously undisclosed ash dumps were discovered on the site.   The proximity of the ash ponds to Lake Michigan makes many community members concerned about preventing further seepage.

Additionally, from 2002 through 2010, Midwest Generation reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it released more than 1,000 pounds of toxins into surface waters surrounding its Waukegan coal-fired power plant. There are no federal protections that limit discharged toxins from coal plants into bodies of water. The US EPA is currently reviewing new standards to set such limits which are expected to be finalized in August of 2015.

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Close to Victory: Ending the SS Badger’s Dumping Toxic Coal Ash into Lake Michigan

We’re on the verge of victory in stopping the SS Badger’s longstanding dumping of 1,000,000 pounds of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan each summer. The car ferry’s owners are now moving to comply with a federal court consent decree by capturing and then lawfully disposing the toxic coal ash. This is a significant step in the right direction for reducing toxic pollution of the Great Lakes. It reaffirms the principle that no business should be permitted to use the Great Lakes as a dumping ground for toxics.

This progress follows a strong campaign led by the Environmental Law & Policy Center with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and our good partner colleagues at the Alliance for the Great Lakes, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and others. Here’s what happened and what comes next:

The 60-year-old SS Badger is the last coal-burning ship on the Great Lakes. For too many years, the resulting coal ash – containing toxic materials – has been moved from the ship’s boilers to an on-board retention area, where it’s mixed with Lake Michigan water and then discharged into the lake as toxic slurry. Public pressure and the SS Badger’s continued pollution led to an action by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that resulted in a binding consent decree filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Following the consent decree, last year, SS Badger operators installed new digital combustion controls that enable the ship to run more efficiently, burning about 15% less coal on its trips from Manitowoc, WI, to Ludington, MI. The SS Badger operators are now scheduled to install a new system that will move the coal ash along a conveyor belt between the ship’s boilers and four containment bins. Those bins will later be moved to an appropriate land-based site, possibly for re-sale as a cement filler. This kind of “encapsulated reuse” is one of the better scenarios for handling toxic coal ash.

This has been tough sledding. Working together, we’re on the verge of finally stopping the SS Badger’s dumping of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan. Polluting the Great Lakes this way should not be tolerated. We’re expanding ELPC’s Great Lakes protection work and achieving progress. For more information on ways that you can help ELPC to protect our Great Lakes, please visit www.ProtectOurLakes.org.

Chicago Tribune: SS Badger, last of coal-fired steamships in U.S. waters, gets new lease on life

The last coal-fired steamship operating in U.S. waters is undergoing a makeover to meet the terms of a deal with the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate pollution from the disposal of coal ash.

Work on the 62-year-old SS Badger began last week in Ludington, Mich. at its operator, Lake Michigan Carferry. The 410-foot ferry, launched in 1952, travels between Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and Ludington and can carry 600 passengers and 180 vehicles.

A new conveyor system will transport ash from the Badger’s boiler to retention units being built on its car deck 180 feet away. Ash will be stored in four containment bins.

Chuck Cart, who has been chief engineer of the Badger for 19 years, said the conveyor will be in place in time for the start of sailing May 15 and will allow the Badger to operate in compliance with the EPA’s mandate to stop discharging coal ash.

The conveyor system was designed and built for the Badger by Hapman Conveyors of Kalamazoo. Installation is expected to take six weeks.

Previously, ash was transported from the boiler to an onboard retention area, mixed with Lake Michigan water and discharged in a slurry into the lake.

The ash will be sold for use in cement-making, said Chuck Leonard, vice president for navigation of Lake Michigan Carferry.

Together with an improved combustion system added last winter, the projects represent about a $2.2 million to $2.4 million investment in the Badger over the past two years, Leonard said.

According to Leonard, the Badger used 15 percent less coal during the 2014 sailing season than in 2013.

The Badger, Cart said, was built to the standards of its day, which once allowed trash and sewage of all lake vessels to be jettisoned overboard. As those standards have changed, the Badger has been modified to meet the new standards, he said.

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