ELPC 30 years celebration

Day Lake Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin

Howard's Blog

Howard A. Learner

2022: What a Year!

ELPC's 2022 Year in Review

What a year! A last-minute global deal on “loss and damage” at COP27 provides some daylight while progress is stalled on other necessary collective global actions to hold down greenhouse gas pollution. The midterm election results are almost finalized, and, looking forward, ELPC and our partners have strong strategic opportunities for Midwest environmental progress.

People mostly voted for competence, stability, and problem-solving, instead of chaos and disruption. People didn’t vote for change, they voted for calm nationally and in the Midwest states. There are some real opportunities for the re-elected Midwest governors to work together for environmental progress. The governors can advance effective bipartisan regional coordination for EV charging infrastructure on the interstate highways, and Great Lakes protection and restoration. They can accelerate the Midwest higher-speed passenger rail network, and advance energy efficiency. These are key climate change solutions.

As ELPC looks ahead to 2023 and our 30th Anniversary, we’re proud of our strategic mission and the results we’re achieving. ELPC’s accomplishments over the past year demonstrate progress for improving the Midwest’s environmental quality, preserving our vital natural resources, and protecting our core environmental and public health values of clean air, safe clean drinking water, and people’s right to live in communities without toxic threats. Here are some highlights of ELPC’s impacts achieved with your support and our effective advocacy engagement with ELPC’s clients and coalition partners.

ELPC Is Making a Difference Protecting the Great Lakes and Midwest’s Great Places

In 2019, Cleveland-Cliffs’ Burns Harbor, Indiana steel mill dumped excessive ammonia and cyanide into the Little Calumet River, which flows into Lake Michigan. That pollution killed 3,000 fish, forced beach closures and raised drinking water concerns. ELPC public interest environmental attorneys stepped up to file a citizen enforcement lawsuit on behalf of ELPC and the Hoosier Environmental Council. That successful litigation resulted in a consent decree this year requiring: (1) injunctive relief forcing the steel mill to clean up its operations; (2) payment of $3 million in civil penalties; (3) Cleveland-Cliffs transferring 127 acres to a local land trust and eventually to the Indiana Dunes National Park; and more. There’s no free pass for polluting the Great Lakes. ELPC attorneys are winning in the courts to hold polluters accountable.

ELPC attorneys represent four conservation organizations in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin to protect the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, which is the Midwest gem of the National Wildlife Refuges and the 4th most visited nationally. In 2022, ELPC won a major victory when the court held that three federal agencies’ approvals for the costly, environmentally destructive Cardinal-Hickory Creek high-voltage transmission line violated federal environmental and natural resources protection statutes. The court declared this huge transmission line is not compatible with refuge purposes and stopped it from cutting a wide swath through the refuge.

The ELPC-coordinated Keep the UP Wild campaign seeks to add federal Wilderness protection for 50,000+ acres in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. No new Wilderness areas have been designated in the UP since 1987. It’s time! In addition, ELPC and conservation group partners are working to add 12,000+ acres of Wilderness in four key areas of the Shawnee National Forest (Southern Illinois).

ELPC Is Accelerating Climate Change Solutions in the Pivotal Midwest Heartland

Our forward-looking leadership advocating for electric school buses was boosted by the new federal Clean School Bus Program. So far, 80 Midwest school districts received funds for ~400 clean electric buses. That means healthier air for kids going to school and better air quality outdoors for everyone.

ELPC’s longstanding leadership to accelerate the development of higher-speed rail across the Midwest reached a key progress point this year. Amtrak announced its ambitious Midwest regional rail development plan. All of the key federal, state and local transportation agencies, and 50+ mayors came together now to support the ambitious $850 million Chicago Hub Improvement Program to modernize Chicago’s Union Station, which is the hub of the Midwest’s passenger rail network. This will provide capacity for new routes, improve on-time performance for both Amtrak and Metra trains, and increase frequencies. Federal rail infrastructure funds are available, and this is moving forward – finally!

ELPC is engaged before seven state public utilities commissions to advance policies that accelerate solar energy and battery storage development and remove regulatory barriers that protect incumbent utility monopolies. ELPC attorneys and policy advocates are creating paths for more community-based distributed rooftop solar and storage to modernize and transform the electricity system.

The days of old highly-polluting coal plants should be over – ELPC is fighting the ones that keep hanging around. Cleaning up or shutting down old coal plants reduces greenhouse gas pollution. ELPC attorneys are intervening at the Iowa Utilities Board and state court to require coal plant retirement analysis in the resource planning process. ELPC and our “Clean Up MidAmerican” campaign partners call for the utility to finally retire and replace its uneconomic coal plants with clean, renewable energy.

What Will Be New for ELPC in 2023?

ELPC’s Michigan Power Plants to Parklands (P2P) Initiative is a “big-deal” strategic opportunity to help transition retired coal plant sites on Michigan lakes and rivers into public parklands, expanded wildlife refuges, and grid-connected solar energy generation and energy storage facilities. ELPC will work with Michigan partners and utilities to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to repurpose these coal plant sites in ways that are good for both the environment and the economy.

ELPC’s Northwest Indiana Air, Parks & Water Protector Project will focus on better implementation and enforcement of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act against the large steel mills, huge oil refinery, and chemical plants along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Northwest Indiana. ELPC’s legal and technical experts will help fill an important gap by working with community partners to engage in permit proceedings, review water and air quality monitoring data, and take legal actions when needed. The goals: reduce air and water pollution, protect public health, and protect Lake Michigan’s water quality and ecology, as well as the Indiana Dunes National Park, which is this diverse region’s environmental anchor.

ELPC will be representing two community clients challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed expansion of its toxic dredge waste dump on Chicago’s Southeast Side along the Lake Michigan shoreline. More than 20 years ago, the Corps promised its “Confined Disposal Facility” would be shut down, cleaned up and converted into a park for the community’s recreational enjoyment. Now, the Corps wants to expand the dump for another 20 years. This plan is misguided, especially in light of climate change-induced higher Lake Michigan water levels. The Corps should identify better alternatives.

Thank you for supporting ELPC’s effective strategic legal and policy advocacy, which achieves sustainable environmental progress and economic growth together. ELPC is making a difference protecting people, Midwest communities and our planet in this extraordinary time. Best wishes to all for a happy and healthy New Year!

P.S. We have a $25,000 MATCH! An ELPC Board Member will match donations until Dec. 31, 2022!

 

 

Howard A. Learner,

President and Executive Director

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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