Big Wins

Since our founding in 1993, ELPC has built a strong track record of success creating climate change solutions, advancing clean energy, protecting public health, and preserving the Midwest’s wild and natural places.

Our work has significant impact and we have the results to prove it.

Accelerated Clean Energy

About one-third of our nation’s carbon pollution comes from generating electric power. How we produce that power, and how much we generate, has a profound impact on our environment and our economy. ELPC is helping the Midwest unlock the power of renewable energy, use energy more wisely, and reduce pollution.

Renewable Energy Grid Connection

ELPC has helped to streamline interconnection standards in states across the region, making it easier to connect renewable energy to the grid safely and reliably. By reducing bureaucratic paperwork, we can make renewable development less expensive and less difficult to complete. We helped to establish the states’ first interconnection standards in Illinois (2007), Iowa (2008), Michigan (2009), and South Dakota (2009) and since then have helped update and improve standards in Illinois (2015) and Minnesota (2018). We’re working to further improve Michigan and Illinois’ standards in current cases.

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Fair Opportunities for Local Solar

In order to reduce the worst impacts of climate change, we have to shift to a clean energy grid, and we need solutions from all parts of the grid. Distributed energy resources like rooftop and community solar panels are critical to helping get us there quickly and affordably. However, some utilities are trying to slow down this transition by imposing unwarranted penalties and unfair compensation for the clean energy that their customers generate. But ELPC is there to fight back. ELPC has intervened in dozens of utility rate cases over the past ten years to fight increased utility fixed charges and other unfair fees that undermine distributed generation and energy efficiency. We’ve established and defended net metering policies in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan. We’ve litigated cases to clarify the legality of third-party financing in Iowa (2014) and Illinois (2019). We’re now working on cutting-edge “value-of-solar” policies in Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. Overall, we’re fighting to ensure that customers receive fair value for their investments in clean energy, without utility interference.

Read about our Iowa solar victory

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Clean Energy in Rural America

Rural communities play an important role in our visionary roadmap for renewable energy in the Midwest. To translate that vision into law, ELPC led the charge to create the Farm Bill’s first-ever clean energy programs in 2002. The programs that year included more than $400 million for clean energy development in rural communities. Over the years, these programs expanded into the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), spurring energy efficiency and renewable energy development in all 50 states and many agricultural sectors. ELPC has continued to provide a national leadership role in these efforts, and the 2019 congressional budget once again passed on a bipartisan basis, appropriating funding for the popular program. In total, REAP will provide more than $800 million for clean energy development in rural communities nationwide over the next 18 years, leveraging over $5 billion in private investment.

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Wind Energy Across the Midwest

ELPC considers wind energy to be a critical part of the Midwest’s future. We helped to implement Renewable Electricity Standards (RES/RPS) in Michigan and Illinois, which have been enormously beneficial for the growth of wind energy. Illinois is planning for 25% renewables by 2025, and Michigan is now moving beyond its 15% RPS through “integrated resource plans” (IRPs) that rely heavily on wind and solar power. In 2013, ELPC worked in North Dakota to extend tax exemptions for wind energy generation facilities through 2017. We also promoted the state’s Industrial Commission budget that provides up to $3 million every two years for the Renewable Energy Development Fund. In 2019, we passed a bill to clarify that the power to zone wind farm siting in Illinois rests with county and municipal governments, not townships. In Iowa, we’ve supported ratemaking principles that have allowed Iowa utilities to invest heavily in new wind projects. Whether we’re fighting large cases or small, ELPC is dedicated to a clean energy future for the Midwest that includes wind energy.

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Energy Efficiency Options

The fastest and most affordable way to reduce our environmental impact is to simply use less energy. ELPC makes sure energy efficiency is properly valued and calculated in rate cases, utility mergers, and long-term energy planning. We also pass policies and programs to make our homes and businesses more efficient, including: the Illinois efficient building codes of 2004 & 2009; the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) program (2002-today); the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing programs that allow homeowners to pay for energy investments through their property taxes; and the smart thermostat partnerships with ComEd (IL) and Dominion Energy (OH) utilities.

Read more about our recent work here.

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Solar Energy to Illinois

ELPC led the charge to pass the Illinois Renewable Electricity Standard in 2016, which will drive 3,000 MW of new solar energy projects and 1,350 MW of wind power by 2030. In order to jumpstart a diverse solar market with the widest possible range of benefits, ELPC is also working to roll out targeted programs within that legislation, promoting solar energy on farms, university campuses, and in low-income communities.

Read more about our current work here.

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Expanded Clean Transportation

Transportation is the leading source of climate change pollution, but ELPC is working to change that, with cleaner cars, wiser infrastructure investments, and better transit. We also fight for people who don’t drive to have options, like safe pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, clean electric school buses, and abundant electric public transportation. The Midwest is at the crossroads of the nation’s rail, road, and air traffic networks, and we can be central to a sustainable future with clean transportation.

Electric School Buses in the Midwest

Diesel school buses are in nearly every community in the Midwest, emitting 40 different pollutants into our air like soot and smog. By eliminating these dangers from harming our children, electric school buses could result in 14 million fewer absences from school each year. While expensive up-front, electric school buses can save municipalities over time in maintenance and fuel costs, in addition to the incalculable benefit of saving our children’s health. ELPC is creating financial support from both public funds and private partnerships. We secured carve-outs for electric school buses from the VW emissions scandal settlement: $11 million in Illinois, $4 million in Michigan, $3 million in Ohio, and $2.75 million in Indiana, bringing buses to towns like East St. Louis, IL, Three Rivers, MI, and Carmel, IN. We are now building partnerships with utilities to invest in their local school districts, and we hope to see this important technology reach cities and towns across the Midwest.

Read the full story.

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Highway Boondoggles

Transportation infrastructure can be incredibly expensive and environmentally destructive. Not only can new highways damage critical natural resources, but they can encourage sprawling development that causes further damage while eroding the urban tax base. In 2012, we stopped the Prairie Parkway, thereby protecting farmland and reducing sprawl in Illinois’ Kane, Kendall, & Grundy Counties. In 2002 and 2004, respectively, we blocked highways near Petoskey & Traverse City to protect Northern Michigan’s woods, wetlands, and vibrant downtown areas. After nearly a decade of struggle, we have successfully blocked the expansion of Route 53 in Chicago’s northern suburbs to protect wetlands, prevent flooding, and save drivers on expensive tolls.

Read about our Victory on Route 53

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Midwest Passenger Rail

Just as buses and trains are cleaner and more efficient than cars for daily commutes, intercity passenger trains provide a safe, clean alternative to cars and planes. With increased speed, frequency, and comfort, high-performance rail can increase mobility while decreasing pollution. Through ELPC’s tireless advocacy, more than $3.5 billion has been invested in new trains, smoother track, and station improvements in the Midwest, especially along the Detroit-Chicago-St. Louis corridor in anticipation of 110 mph service. ELPC has also gone to court to protect Amtrak’s right to priority dispatching over freight railroad tracks.

Read Full Victory Story

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Protected the Great Lakes and Clean Water

Clean water is essential our health and livelihood. Here in the Midwest, we have a special obligation to protect the Great Lakes – the largest body of freshwater in the world. ELPC attorneys and advocates have spent decades working across the Midwest and in D.C. to uphold the Clean Water Act. We stop pollution from sources like industry, agriculture, transportation, urban runoff, and municipal treatment plants.

Lake Erie & Toxic Algae

Lake Erie has struggled with pollution for years. Nutrient pollution fuels the growth of toxic green algae each summer, harming the region’s fishing and recreation industries. Algae even choked out Toledo’s water supply for days in 2014. In 2017, ELPC sued the EPA to take action, and after a judge agreed, they officially declared Lake Erie an “impaired waterway.” After state and federal officials continued to drag their feet, ELPC sued again, and EPA agree to take the next step: establishing a pollution diet, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

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Bipartisan Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

The Great Lakes face many challenges, with outdated infrastructure, threats of invasive species, and eroding habitat. Since GLRI was instituted in 2010, a key study showed that each dollar spent in restoration nets $3.35 in additional economic activity through 2036. Yet President Trump’s budgets have proposed zeroing-out or cutting GLRI funding by 90%. Thanks to ELPC’s vocal support and our Midwestern allies, Congress has rejected these presidential cuts and reauthorized critical Great Lakes funding each year.

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Coal Ash Water Pollution

Coal doesn’t just cause air pollution when it is burned; coal mining and the handling of coal ash are both major sources of water pollution. ELPC has won major campaigns to protect Midwest water from these dangerous toxins. In 2013, we won a case to stop the Bear Run Mine in Indiana from polluting our waterways. In 2015, we stopped the coal-burning S.S. Badger, a Lake Michigan ferry boat, from dumping about 1 million pounds of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan each year. In 2019, we won a comprehensive coal ash law in Illinois, and we continue to work to see this law roll out effectively. Also in 2019, we obtained a big legal win when the Illinois Pollution Control Board found four coal plants in Illinois liable for over 9 years of coal ash groundwater pollution, and we continue to advocate for remedies to fix the groundwater pollution and big penalties for the pollution.

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Chicago River Cleanup

For years, Chicagoans tolerated their namesake river being unsafe and unhealthy for recreation and enjoyment. Chicago was one of the few major cities in which wastewater was not disinfected prior to discharge into the river. After six years of persistent and effective advocacy, ELPC and colleagues succeeded in 2011. The U.S. EPA and Illinois Pollution Control Board directed the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to install modern pollution control equipment to disinfect wastewater. Since then, the river has grown dramatically in popularity. From the new boat houses in Roscoe Village and Chinatown, to the flourishing Riverwalk downtown, Chicagoans and tourists have come to embrace the river as an asset rather than a smelly eyesore. The Chicago Riverwalk generated $16.5 million in business revenue in 2019 alone. ELPC hosted the inaugural Chicago Fishes event in 2016, raising funds to support regular Chicago Park District fishing programs for all ages, and this annual event continues to raise awareness for the now-growing ecosystem that lies amid the urban jungle.

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Illinois Fracking Protections

In 2013, ELPC worked with allies, industry, & legislators to ensure fracking could only be done in Illinois with very strong environmental and public health protections. The result is one of the most protective laws on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the nation. The law included precedent-setting provisions to protect water quality and the public’s right to know.

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State Anti-Degradation Standards

Anti-degradation standards help keep clean water clean by requiring a strong showing of need before allowing new sources of pollution. ELPC helped establish strong anti-degradation standards in Illinois in 2002, Kentucky in 2008, Iowa in 2010, and Indiana in 2012. We have also won numerous court cases to enforce these standards when facilities went beyond their permit limits, to protect clean water across the Midwest.

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Safeguarded Clean Air

As both a manufacturing and transportation hub, the Midwest has long struggled with many sources of air pollution. ELPC works to reduce pollutants like mercury, smog, diesel, and particulate matter. We have shut down many of the region’s dirtiest coal plants, while working to shape strong air laws and fighting in court to make sure those laws are enforced. ELPC is committed to protecting our communities because we know every Midwesterner deserves to breathe free.

Illinois Mercury & Air Toxics Standards

ELPC worked closely with the Illinois Governor’s office to establish mercury pollution standards that required coal plants to reduce mercury pollution by 90% or more. The standards made Illinois a national leader in mercury reduction and protected our children’s health. The Illinois helped inspire the Obama-era federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule, which was effective in reducing mercury pollution from Great Lakes states by up to 95%.

Read About our Work on Federal Standards

 

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Robbins & Ford Heights Incinerators

In 1999, ELPC successfully repealed the sweetheart legislative deal that gave generous tax subsidies to a mammoth garbage incinerator in the impoverished Chicago suburb of Robbins, Illinois. As a result, local residents breathe cleaner air and taxpayers have saved nearly $360 million in subsidies to the plant. When another incinerator proposal emerged in 2010 in Ford Heights, IL, ELPC worked to defeat legislation that would have given a tire-burning incinerator renewable energy tax credits.

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Shutting Down Dirty Coal

ELPC public interest attorneys and advocates work with partners across the Midwest to take on dirty coal plants, requiring them to clean up or shut down. In 2005, ELPC settled a multi-year lawsuit with Baldwin Coal plant in Illinois, requiring long-overdue pollution controls and funds for environmental projects. In 2010, we won victory after a four-year battle against a proposed coal plant in Rogers City, Michigan, where the Michigan Public Service Commission found that increasing energy efficiency and renewable resources would be more cost effective than the new plant. After we helped pass a strong air quality standard for Illinois in 2006, Chicago’s Fisk & Crawford plants found they were unable to clean up and faced increasing pressure from community groups, so they shut their doors in 2012. In 2013, ELPC represented 11 citizen groups in a suit against American Electric Power (AEP), that led to a settlement to shutter three coal plants in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio by 2015 and brought more clean energy online. In 2016, ELPC ended Peabody Energy’s flawed self-bonding, thereby reducing the risk that the company could evade financial responsibility and leave taxpayers holding the bag for clean-up costs. In 2018, when Dynegy coal plants struck a back-door deal with Governor Rauner’s Illinois EPA to double allowances for pollution emissions at their dirtiest downstate plants, ELPC shone a light on this corruption to protect the public. In 2019, ELPC and allies secured a consent decree in an opacity citizen suit against Illinois’ Edwards coal plant, resulting in the retirement of the plant and an $8.6 million fund for community projects in the Peoria area. Coal is a threat to public health and our environment, and coal is less competitive than clean alternatives like wind and solar. The Midwestern economy depends on positioning ourselves to develop the energy of the future, not the past.

Read Edwards Victory Story Here 

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Defended Wild & Natural Places

From the Great Lakes to the Great Plains, the Midwest is full of rich beauty and natural resources, but these special places are threatened by logging, mining, sprawl, and more. ELPC has worked at the local, state, and national levels for years to protect the Midwest’s wild & natural places. We have fought to uphold the laws that protect fragile ecosystems, challenging unlawful permits or permit violations. We have also shaped new policies to protect essential resources, because we know that the heartland is worth fighting for.

Shawnee National Forest

Bell Smith Springs is a beautiful part of the Shawnee National Forest of Southern Illinois, where streams have carved out interesting rock formations and natural springs form large pools of pristine water. In the 1990s, the U.S. Forest Service proposed a large clear-cutting of this popular area, which would accelerate soil erosion and undo decades of previous restoration work. ELPC rushed to the Federal Courthouse and won an emergency injunction to halt the logging. The court agreed to halt logging until the forest service conducted a thorough environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which further revealed how damaging the logging would have been. The project was permanently shelved, and Bell Smith Springs was saved.

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Savanna Sand Prairie

On the shores of the Mississippi River in northwestern Illinois lies the largest remaining unfragmented sand prairie in the nation. It is home to numerous endangered plants, birds, and other species. When the State of Illinois proposed to build a “prison on the prairie” on the site, local conservationists sounded the alarm. ELPC worked with them to bring attention to this valuable ecosystem, and in July 1998, Governor Edgar pulled the plug on the prison, announcing he would support its relocation to a more appropriate site. In 2003, the majority of this former Army munitions depot became the Lost Mound Unit of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

Read more about this victory here.

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Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Northern Wisconsin is one of the “10 most endangered national forests.” In 2003, ELPC was asked for help in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service to stop accelerated logging in the Chequamegon-Nicolet. The Forest Service had authorized six timber sales in 2003. ELPC appealed three of the six sales. In a stunning victory, a federal judge ruled that the Forest Service failed to consider the cumulative impacts of all current timber sales when it approved each of the three timber sales. The Court further granted injunctions halting the timber sales. In total, ELPC’s emergency legal work protected 22,000 acres of forestland in this national treasure. However, the threats continue, with a new proposed logging project, which could be the largest ever if we don’t stop it.

Read more about our current work here

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Lake Calumet

ELPC attorneys helped stop an ill-conceived 1,000-slip boat marina in Lake Calumet, which was then set to be restored to an ecological gem and wildlife habitat near the Illinois-Indiana border. ELPC’s legal intervention in Illinois led to the best “anti-degradation” standards in the country, which will lessen pollution and help keep the cleanest rivers clean.

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Sugar Creek

After 10 years of persistent and effective legal advocacy, ELPC stopped a destructive new dam on Sugar Creek in Marion, Illinois. The City of Marion agreed to connect to an existing pipeline to obtain water supplies – exactly the alternative that ELPC urged. This avoided the destruction of 6.2 miles of one of the last free-flowing streams in Illinois.

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Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie was the first ever designated in the U.S., home to significant wildlife habitats for bison, birds, and endangered species, about 50 miles south of Chicago. When development plans threatened to choke out this prairie gem with suburban sprawl and transportation pollution, ELPC stepped up to protect the prairie. It began with a proposed south suburban airport near Peotone, IL, which airlines don’t want given the existing options in the region: Gary, Midway, O’Hare, and Milwaukee airports. Then in the early 2010s, Illinois and Indiana began plans for a 47-mile tollway at $1.5 billion. It would waste taxpayer money, conflict with long-term regional development plans, and threaten the prairie ecosystem. ELPC engaged in a multipronged legislative, legal, and media campaign with our allies in 2014 and 2015 to stop these boondoggles. In 2015, the Illinois Department of Transportation removed the proposed tollway from its multi-year transportation plans, a major win for Illinois’ environment and economy. Unfortunately, the idea resurfaced again in the 2019 state budget, but ELPC will continue to fight to protect the taxpayers and the Illinois prairie. In addition to this big-picture work, ELPC supports Midewin directly with an annual intern trip to volunteer and help with prairie restoration.

Read more about this victory here.

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