Posts tagged "Media Center News Clips"

Chicago Tribune: Environmental Groups File Suit to Stop $1.3B Illiana Toll Road Proposal

Friday, April 18, 2014

By Richard Wronski

Tribune reporter

Three environmental groups filed a lawsuit today to block the proposed $1.3 billion Illiana toll road that would serve primarily as a trucking corridor linking interstates in Illinois and Indiana.

The lawsuit challenges the Illinois Department of Transportation’s authority to build the toll road running through Will County, saying the Illiana’s approval violated state law.

The Illiana would be state’s first major public-private partnership, in which private investors would build and operate the highway.

The lawsuit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court by the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, representing the Sierra Club and Openlands.

“IDOT has been trying to use its political clout to circumvent the process and force the Illiana toll road to jump ahead of … higher priority projects,” said Howard Learner, the center’s executive director.

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Howard Learner Talks Midwest Energy Markets on EETV’s OnPoint

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Howard Learner joined EETV’s Monica Trauzzi to discuss improving the Midwest’s electricity grid. Howard explores a  range of energy market topics including proposed lines to support mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, lines that would carry wind power from the Great Plains to the Midwest, MISO’s recent peak demand forecast, and the role of distributed generation solar in creating an affordable, reliable grid.

Take a look!

Public News Service: Could a “Car-Lite” Chicago Be a Model of the Future?

Monday, February 17, 2014

CHICAGO – With a growing number of residents not owning automobiles, and the increase in bicycle and transit use, business and policy experts are brainstorming ways to make Chicago a “car lite” city.

According to Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, there will always be vehicles on the road, but it’s time to rethink the way cities can be designed to better serve cars, buses, bicycles and pedestrians.

“We’re at the beginning of a time of very significant change and opportunities to do things better and different, improve people’s mobility with less pollution, and make the way we get around in Chicago’s economy work better,” he declared. At an event last week, community members and business and policy leaders shared ideas and visions on how to improve the safety and effectiveness of the city’s transportation infrastructure. An estimated 28 percent of Chicago residents do not own cars.

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Midwest Energy News: Illinois raises the bar on energy efficiency

Monday, February 10, 2014

What happens when the “low-hanging fruit” of energy efficiency runs out?

Illinois is about to find out.

After years of heavy reliance on lighting upgrades and other programs, the state’s two largest utilities, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) and Ameren Illinois, are now coming up short on meeting state-mandated efficiency goals.

However, Illinois Commerce Commission orders released last month show there are still plenty of opportunities to further cut energy consumption, according to clean energy advocates who are part of the stakeholder group involved in the proceedings.

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Think Progress: What The New Farm Bill Means For Energy And The Environment

Monday, February 3, 2014

House and Senate negotiators unveiled a new five-year Farm Bill on Monday, a $956 billion piece of legislation that’s been worked on for the past two years and, if passed, will be in effect for the next five.

The House is expected to vote on the bill on Wednesday, with the Senate voting sometime after. The bipartisan bill has gained attention from some liberals for its cuts to food stamps — a program that makes up about 79 percent of the Farm Bill’s cost — and from some conservatives, who think the current bill doesn’t save enough compared to the current funding. But there’s also several energy and environmental implications in this Farm Bill, especially in the realm of conservation, which at $56 billion makes up 6 percent of the bill’s total funding.

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From AP: Pollution Board Rejects Emergency Petrocrud Rules, Fight Continues

Friday, January 24, 2014

AP News

Pollution board denies Quinn’s petcoke regulations

By Tammy Webber January 24, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) — An Illinois pollution panel on Thursday rejected proposed emergency rules to control piles of petroleum coke along Chicago shipping channels, saying Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency failed to prove there was an imminent threat to public health and safety.

Instead, any new ordinances must go through the regular rulemaking process to provide more time to consider what protections are needed, the Illinois Pollution Control Board said.

Residents on Chicago’s southeast side have complained about growing piles of petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” saying they fear it can cause respiratory and other health problems and pollute waterways. Their complaints gained attention from city and state officials in August, after petcoke blew into a neighborhood and a park.

The grainy black substance is a byproduct of oil refining, used as fuel in coal and cement plants or in products such as bricks and cement. The piles have been growing as nearby refineries process more oil from Canadian tar sands.

Quinn proposed rules last week to require terminals that store the petcoke to immediately install dust-suppression systems and prevent storm water runoff. He also wanted operators of petcoke and coal terminals throughout Illinois to fully enclose piles within two years.

But industry officials called Quinn’s action “regulatory overreach” because Chicago’s health department and aldermen already have proposed rules and petcoke handlers have taken steps to prevent the material from blowing around again. Plus, at least one handler already has said it’s willing to build structures to enclose its piles.

What’s more, they said, Quinn’s regulations would have applied to all bulk storage areas — including downstate coal terminals — that haven’t drawn complaints and could force some to temporarily shut down.

Industry officials also complained they had only a few days to respond to the proposal.

“You hardly have time to get your arms and your head around what the issues could be,” said Tom Wolf, executive director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce’s energy council. “Put facts on table and let’s go through (the rulemaking) process.”

Quinn’s office issued a statement saying it was disappointed with the board’s decision but is “reviewing alternative options (to) ensure that nobody has to live with harmful dust blowing into their community,” but did not say what those options are.

A Quinn spokesman did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking details on the options.

Environmental groups and residents, some of whom wanted a halt to all petcoke operations until the piles were enclosed, said petcoke continues to blow around and endanger residents.

Though drafted quickly, the rules were needed “to address what we do believe is an emergency situation, so we’re disappointed that the board chose not to address them that way,” said Jennifer Cassel, an attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

But she said she’s glad that there eventually will be permanent rules; emergency rules would have expired after 150 days.

Chicago officials have proposed city-specific regulations that include calling for storage facilities to enclose materials like petcoke. Proposed ordinances pending before the City Council include a ban on the substance, although Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said such a step isn’t likely.

Quinn said the pollution board’s process would help inform whether a ban on storing petcoke was necessary.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, which helped file lawsuits against the companies, has said it is drafting statewide legislation on petcoke regulation, which could be taken up later this year.

Trib Local: Environmental groups hint at fight on Willow Road tunnel

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

With Winnetka officials expected to hire a firm this month to design a tunnel under Willow Road to discharge stormwater into Lake Michigan, three environmental advocacy organizations recently have expressed concerns that the $34.4 million project might fall short of federal requirements and regional guideposts.

A letter obtained by the Tribune sent on Oct. 31, 2013, by the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Natural Resources Defense Council to Winnetka Village President Gene Greable stated: “We have serious concerns about whether pollution discharges into Lake Michigan from the proposed Willow Road Tunnel will meet Clean Water Act requirements.

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Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: We Energies, Wolverine cancel U.P. power plant upgrade project

Friday, December 27, 2013

ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner asked the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “Why should residential and small business customers in Wausau, WI, subsidize the electricity costs for two mines in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan?”  Read the article.

From Midwest Energy News: Q&A with Howard Learner on Recent EPA Clean Air Cases

Friday, December 13, 2013

Reposted from Midwest Energy News. Original available at

Q&A: Reading the tea leaves as EPA rules go to court

Posted on  by 

Howard Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago.

Howard Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago.

This week the U.S. Supreme Court heardoral arguments regarding the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which was struck down by a 2-1 decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last year.

Two judges had ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its bounds in ordering states to significantly reduce their air pollution because of the impact on neighboring states – namely the impact of Midwestern coal plant emissions on Eastern states. An evenly split 4-4 Supreme Court ruling on CSAPR – since Justice Samuel Alito recused himself – would mean the appeals court’s decision is upheld.

The CSAPR arguments are pegged to two joined cases filed against a Homer City, Pennsylvania coal plant owned by EME, the same parent company of Chicago’s now-closed coal plants. (See the Supreme Court blog’s coverage of the cases here.)

On the same day, the EPA defended its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) in front of a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The court is expected to look more favorably on the MATS rule than it did upon CSAPR last year, and a decision is expected within several months.

We talked with Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, about the significance of the arguments and his predictions about the outcome (the ELPC is a member of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News).

Midwest Energy News: How did you feel about the oral arguments on CSAPR, and how do you think the Supreme Court will ultimately rule?

Learner: Forecasting Supreme Court decisions based on oral arguments can be hazardous to one’s health, but there are some directional indications here in light of precedents and the overall case before the court. I think the Supreme Court Justices seemed to be impressed with the analogies that the deputy solicitor general was presenting on behalf of the EPA.

When we’re dealing with ozone problems in the eastern states and the physical reality that pollution moves across state lines, it is difficult to determine exactly how much of the pollution, for example, affecting New Jersey’s airshed came from New Jersey sources versus Ohio sources versus Missouri sources. The EPA came up with its reasoned judgment about how to allocate responsibility among the states. Supreme Court precedent has accorded the EPA considerable respect for and deference to its scientific and technical expertise and judgment.

Look for a potential 6-2 decision in which the Justices would uphold the EPA’s CSAPR standards, based on leanings from the Justices’ questions and case law precedents.

What do you think of the industry argument that under CSAPR an upwind state could be forced to reduce its emissions more than the amount it is contributing to downwind states?

The difficulty here is that we’re dealing with a physicality problem – pollution moves in the atmosphere and doesn’t stay strictly within state lines. Air over New Jersey is being affected by pollution from upwind states.

There’s no way to perfectly allocate responsibility for pollution among the states, and there are different reasonable approaches. The question isn’t whether the agency’s approach is perfect, it’s whether among competing approaches, the agency is within the zone of reasonableness.

Some of the Justices seemed to recognize that in order to protect public health, the EPA has to have some room to reasonably interpret broad statutory terms such as “substantial contribution.” There was an indication that at least a majority of the Justices seem to be viewing the agency’s approach to be within the zone of reasonableness.

Do you think cost should be considered in demanding emissions reductions from different states?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Some parts of the Clean Air Act consider cost and some don’t. The section dealing with non-attainment for ozone transport and “substantial contribution” does include a benefit-cost element. By contrast, sections dealing with mercury and air toxics don’t really require consideration of costs.

The pre-eminent goal of the Clean Air Act is to protect public health and remove endangerments. In the parts of the Act dealing with toxic air emissions that have very serious impacts on public health, cost is not a pre-eminent consideration.

What the EPA is attempting to do is look to those places, such as ozone transport, where it’s most cost-effective to reduce emissions. So for those who are concerned with economics and cost, the EPA’s approach is very effective. Some of the states challenging the ozone transport rules are essentially arguing that cost should not be a pre-eminent part of the decision.

What do you think of the MATS hearing before the appeals court, and do you think the court will uphold that rule?

The MATS case is different than CSAPR. First of all it’s before the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, not the Supreme Court, and it has a cluttered history. The EPA went through an extensive notice and comment rule-making period, issuing a draft rule, getting comments from many groups and, indeed, after moving to finalize the rule, then took it back and tweaked it in early 2013 to adjust for some particular concerns raised by some industry groups.

Keep in mind that industry is divided on this one. Some companies that own coal plants are strongly opposing these standards. There are other energy companies that own coal plants that have already installed mercury pollution reduction equipment and they’d like to see a level playing field of everyone complying so they don’t face a competitive disadvantage. The natural gas and nuclear industry have generally been supportive of the MATS as they see a competitive advantage to be gained.

There comes a time for finality, predictability and consistency for how mercury and other air toxic pollution are to be reduced by coal plants and others by installing modern pollution control technologies. The mercury standards have been battered about for a number of years. The EPA has devoted considerable scientific and technical analysis to these public health rules.

The challenges brought by industry are somewhat arcane. The fact is some of the critics don’t want the rules altogether, while some others want them tweaked or skewed in their favor.

The Supreme Court’s opinion in American Electric Power vs. Connecticut (2009) recognizes the EPA’s scientific and technical expertise to which courts should defer in reasonable cases. Reading the tea leaves here and reading what was said in oral arguments, there seems to be at least some inclination among the judges on the D.C. Circuit that they recognize that this mercury pollution standards case is appropriate for deferring to the agency’s expertise.

If MATS and CSAPR are upheld, what will that mean for coal plants in the Midwest?

If the CSAPR and MATS standards are upheld by the courts, that will clearly force many Midwestern coal plant owners to invest in more modern pollution control equipment and further retrofit their plants in order to achieve cleaner air. That will affect the ongoing economic viability of some of the coal plants in the highly competitive power markets in the Midwest. Some of the owners will choose to invest in modern pollution control equipment and be part of the solution, and some will choose to shut down the plants because of the market economics — they’ll conclude it’s not worth throwing good money after bad.

For many years, these older coal plants have been shifting costs onto the public in terms of their pollution and resulting harmful public health and environmental impacts. The coal plant owners have been externalizing their costs onto the public. The Clean Air Act implementation standards will force polluters to internalize their costs and reduce the shifting of pollution costs to the public.

What does the situation with MATS and CSAPR say about the regulatory and political climate now compared to the Bush years when the predecessor to CSAPR was struck down by the D.C. Circuit federal appeals court because it was too lenient?

There have been attempts in Congress by some to improve the Clean Air Act standards and others to weaken its standards. Since 1990, however, the Act has not been amended in any serious way.

We live in a divided country when it comes to overheated partisan politics. President Obama was elected by a significant margin in 2012, and elections have consequences. During the campaign, some industry opponents blasted President Obama for his so-called “war on coal” – a misnomer – but they lost.

The EPA is now moving forward with long-delayed Clean Air Act standards that were called for by legislation passed by Congress in 1977 and 1990. The courts will, hopefully, now confirm the EPA’s authority to issue these standards.

How would CSAPR and MATS play out in Illinois, given that Illinois has its own rules and agreements with the major power companies mandating stricter reductions in mercury and other pollutants?

While Illinois’ mercury pollution reduction standards have been implemented, in some cases the federal standards might cover specific additional toxics emissions beyond mercury. Illinois was a leader in adopting mercury pollution reductions in 2006 and 2007, these are helping achieve significant public health benefits and cleaner rivers and Great Lakes.

However, Midwest Generation and Ameren (now Dynegy) have been given waivers of part of Illinois clean air interstate standards for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. The implementation of CSAPR is thus very important.

What will happen if the Supreme Court does not reinstate CSAPR?

Until CSAPR is reinstated in some form, then the Clean Air Interstate Rule (the Bush-era standards) will continue to apply. Presumably if the Supreme Court were to uphold the (appeals court decision shooting down CSAPR), it would do it in a way that provides guidance to the EPA. The Court would say what’s wrong here and needs to be fixed.

How would you feel if that happened?

There really does come a time for predictability and finality.

The Clean Air Act was passed by Congress many years ago, and its implementation has been long delayed while public health harms continue. Sooner or later these public health protections should be moved forward.

This transcript was lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

From Reuters: EPA Tells Court U.S. Mercury, Toxics Rule is Legally Justified

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

EPA Tells Court U.S. Mercury, Toxics Rule is Legally Justified

ELPC’s Howard Learner on Importance of MATS Case


WASHINGTON — (Reuters) The U.S. environmental regulator argued in court on Tuesday that its rule limiting mercury and hazardous air pollutants is “appropriate and necessary,” not an improper interpretation of the federal Clean Air Act as industry groups and some states contend.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the second most powerful court in the country behind the Supreme Court, heard two cases challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s first rules to crack down on mercury from the country’s fleet of electric generating units.

The EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) applies to 1,400 of the country’s largest power plants and would come into force in 2015, or in some cases, 2016.

The MATS rule was finalized in December 2011 but has been subject to several petitions for reconsideration from groups ranging from pollution control equipment vendors to power plant developers. The EPA has said that MATS could prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, and generate $90 billion in health benefits, each year.

The three-judge panel asked a number of detailed questions to the dozen or so lawyers representing the EPA, green groups, the energy industry and states. The judges appeared skeptical of industry’s argument that the agency did not take the proper steps to determine that it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate those pollutants.

Neil Gordon, Assistant Attorney General for the state of Michigan, which opposes MATS, said the EPA’s interpretation of the word “appropriate” was unlawful since the agency did not weigh regulatory costs in its decision to regulate the pollutants.

But Chief Judge Merrick Garland, a Democratic appointee, questioned Gordon’s argument, saying, “nowhere does Congress require (the EPA) to evaluate cost” in its determination for the need to curb mercury and other toxic substances to protect public health.

Arguments at the hearing, held even though the court was closed for a snow day in Washington DC, lasted nearly four hours. That was longer than planned and longer than arguments in similar regulatory cases, observers said.

“The panel was well versed in the case and thoroughly read the briefing. The questions were really probing around the salient issues,” said John Suttles, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center who represented the American Lung Association as an environmental intervener in the case.

He said the EPA made a strong case that it was within its rights in regulating the pollutants and that he “didn’t really see an indication that court disagreed with EPA.”

But Eric Groten, an industry lawyer specializing in the Clean Air Act for Vinson & Elkins, said he would be surprised if the MATS was affirmed in its entirety.

“There were so many issues argued that it increases the chance the EPA got something wrong,” he said.

Groten noted that some judges questioned whether the EPA “artificially skewed the data” used to set mercury limits by basing them on the best performing power plants rather than a wider sample.

The judges, which also included Democratic appointee Judith Rogers and Republican appointee Brett Kavanaugh, are expected to take a few months to deliberate and could reach a decision by February or March.

A conclusion to the case will end years of “pingponging” between the EPA and the DC Circuit court.

“If the EPA prevails in the MATS case, that moves this set of standards forward and brings finality, stability and predictability to the reduction of mercury and other air toxics for coal plants,” said Howard Learner, an attorney and executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Coal industry groups said they hope that the DC Circuit and the Supreme Court, which heard another air pollution case Tuesday, strike down both laws, which they claim hurts jobs and the economy.

“EPA’s overreaching and overzealous rulemaking is crippling the nation’s coal-fueled electric sector and is a threat to our nation’s economy,” said Laura Sheehan, a spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, editing by Ros Krasny and David Gregorio)