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Howard A. Learner

Effective Advocacy in an Unprecedented Year

This past year will likely go down as one of the most difficult and extraordinary years of our lives. Despite the challenges, ELPC achieved strong results for the environment in the courtrooms, boardrooms, and legislative rooms across the Midwest.

The global COVID-19 pandemic, a national reckoning over historic racial injustice, and the Trump administration’s full-tilt attempts to dismantle core environmental protections. Then, a national election further exposing America’s social, political and geographical divisions and the fragility of the electoral system. Whew. Through it all, ELPC has been fighting back against the Trump administration’s rollbacks of environmental safeguards for healthy clean air, safe clean water, and climate change solutions.

ELPC advocates, innovates, and litigates to protect the Midwest’s environment from the Great Lakes to the Great Plains. We are effectively fighting back and winning. Please consider a contribution to support ELPC’s strategic legal and policy advocacy in the Midwest.

President-elect Biden’s and Vice-President-elect Harris’s election lifts up hope and unity, democracy and decency. The New Year brings new hope and new opportunities for environmental progress and climate actions. Pres.-elect Biden has committed to rejoining the Paris Climate Accord on Day One and to reversing many of the Trump administration’s anti-environmental actions. He’s made climate change solutions a top priority and plans to engage all federal agencies in advancing climate solutions and environmental justice. ELPC is working with the transition team to reverse the Trump rollbacks, accelerate climate change solutions, and build a sustainable future for all. It’s a breath of fresh air!

Healthy clean air, safe clean drinking water, and the right to live in communities without toxic threats are basic human rights. ELPC has been dedicated to protecting these rights for more than 27 years. Here’s a snapshot of ELPC’s progress and accomplishments over the past year:

1. Protecting the Great Lakes and Safe Clean Water for All

ELPC’s groundbreaking Clean Water Act lawsuit to clean up Lake Erie from recurring severe toxic algae blooms is reaching a critical next stage. Agricultural runoff pollution of manure from CAFOs, and fertilizers from crop fields, contaminates Lake Erie in ways that impair drinking water, harm fisheries, prevent outdoor recreation activities, and cause billions of dollars of economic loss. ELPC’s summary judgment motion and proposed remedies would require the U.S. EPA and the state of Ohio to live up to their commitments under Annex 4 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to reduce phosphorus pollution by 40% by 2025. We’re looking ahead to a court decision soon.

Also, ELPC is expanding our strategic legal and policy advocacy and innovative monitoring tools to reform CAFOs and reduce manure pollution in Michigan and Wisconsin. 42% of the wells sampled in the SW Wisconsin Driftless Area were contaminated by E. coli and nitrates. Yuck. Ann Selzer’s (pre-COVID-19) polling for the ELPC Action Fund found that clean water is the top issue for many Midwesterners. ELPC will work to protect safe, clean water in both rural and urban communities.

Two more big 2020 wins for the Great Lakes: First, following 5+ years of advocacy by coalition partners, Gov. Whitmer stepped up to withdraw Enbridge’s easement for its aging Line 5 oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. The unacceptable risks of a tragic oil spill in the Great Lakes should finally end soon. Second, ELPC’s long-term sustained advocacy for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has paid off in effective clean water projects across Lakes. Pres. Trump 3 times tried to cut funding. We fought back, and Congress maintained funding at $300 million. This year, Congress increased funding to $335 million with a pathway to $475 million by 2026. Pres.-elect Biden held the “Blue Wall” electoral votes. Watch for him to focus resources on protecting the Great Lakes where we live, work and play.

2. Advancing Climate Change Solutions – More Solar Energy + Storage, Shut Down Coal

Solar and Energy Storage is accelerating as technologies improve and costs drop so that utility-scale projects are power market winners in the Midwest. ELPC is effectively advocating at the state public utilities commissions – where the proverbial rubber hits the road – to remove market barriers and advance policies to incentivize solar energy acceleration. We’re advancing net metering and better solar valuation policies for distributed rooftop solar and community solar generation to achieve “solar for all.”

More Coal Plants Close Down: ELPC’s and our partners’ sustained advocacy in federal courts and before state environmental agencies is making a difference as Vistra announced it will close nine coal plants in Illinois, including the old, highly polluting Edwards coal plant in Peoria, plus two more coal plants in Ohio. In Iowa, Alliant Energy will close its Lansing coal plant in 2022, and in Indiana, the Rockport coal plant will retire by 2028. It’s time to end subsidies for uneconomic coal plants.

3. Saving the Midwest’s Vital Natural Resources

ELPC attorneys represent the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation in challenging an unneeded, costly high-voltage transmission line and 17-story high towers, which would cut a wide, damaging swath through scenic Wisconsin’s Driftless Area vital natural resources, family farms, landscapes and communities, including the protected Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. We are in two federal courts and Wisconsin state court to protect the Driftless Area and advance better, less costly, clean energy alternatives. Likewise, ELPC attorneys represent Friends of the Headwaters in challenging the relocation of the Line 3 oil pipeline through sensitive wetland ecosystems in the Mississippi River Headwaters in Northern Minnesota.

ELPC is all in for the environment. Please donate and join ELPC in advancing positive environmental solutions for people, our communities and our planet.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year!

Howard A. Learner,

President and Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

Howard Learner is an experienced attorney serving as the President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. He is responsible for ELPC’s overall strategic leadership, policy direction, and financial platform.

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