ELPC Events

Howard A. Learner

ELPC Gala 2024: What a Night!

What an amazing evening celebrating ELPC at our 2024 Gala on the Rooftop of Navy Pier

What an incredible night celebrating with several hundred of our friends on the rooftop of Navy Pier. I’m still buzzing about the excitement in the room for moving forward together to protect the Midwest’s environment. For those of you who couldn’t join us in person, I wanted to share my speech and the video of my conversation with Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. I’m incredibly proud of the ELPC team and the impact we’ve collectively made this year, and the continued impact we will make next year.

Bravo to all!

My Speech

Good evening.  It’s great to see everyone tonight joining together to celebrate ELPC’s successes.  Take a look at our beautiful Lake Michigan and the City of Chicago. That’s why ELPC works every day to protect our Great Lakes and improve the Midwest’s environment for people and our communities.

ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner & Illinois Governor JB Pritzker

Thank you, Governor Pritzker, for joining us tonight.  We greatly appreciate your leadership and all you’re accomplishing for Illinois.  We’ll have a fun and interesting conversation together in a few minutes.

Although Tom Skilling could not join us this evening, thank you, Tom, for delivering the beautiful weather you promised. Tom is recovering well and in good health.

I was recently with Vice President Kamala Harris, who said something that really struck me.  The Vice President said: “This is not a moment to throw up our hands.  Instead, let’s roll up our sleeves.”

Every day, the talented ELPC team rolls up our sleeves and protects vital natural resources, promotes sustainable transportation, and advances clean energy and climate solutions across the Midwest. I could talk all evening about ELPC’s incredible work. But, don’t worry. I won’t.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Every four years, we hear this is the most important election ever. But truly this time, the choices are stark. We have a presidential candidate who’s a convicted felon, asking oil executives to donate a billion dollars to his campaign with the promise he’ll deregulate the industry if elected. We have a Supreme Court majority hostile to our values. But we also have leaders like Governor Pritzker, Governor Whitmer, and Governor Walz stepping up with policies to accelerate renewable energy, and create jobs building cleaner vehicles.

Let me assure you – ELPC is strategically planning for this. We’re ready to keep fighting for our environmental values and keep winning. We’re developing a “Plan A” strategy, and a “Plan B” strategy. ELPC will be prepared for whatever November brings. Because ELPC works in nine Midwest states and Washington DC, we can shift our attention to state opportunities when the federal government is hostile, and vice versa. ELPC has demonstrated that we and our partners can build bipartisan support in Congress to protect and restore the Great Lakes even when the executive branch is hostile.

Here’s some good news, and, indeed, some great news.

Four ELPC project highlights:

First, ELPC’s innovative Power Plants to Parklands + Renewable Energy Project. Coal plants are retiring throughout the Great Lakes region and all are on lakes and rivers. That valuable lakeshore and riverfront property has long been hidden behind utility gates and fences.  ELPC envisions a once-in-a-generation opportunity to regain these Great Lakes shorelines for public parks and greenways – for beaches, hiking and biking, boating and fishing, and just playing in the outdoors. And, we’re working with the utilities to develop solar energy and battery storage on these plant sites that are already hard-wired into the electricity grid.

We call this Power Plants to Parklands + Renewable Energy or P2P + RE.  It’s a new vision for these historic coal plant sites.

We’re about to announce the first deal with utilities and community partners in Michigan. Bravo to the ELPC team of Jill Geiger, Rebecca Lowy, Kelly Thayer, and former US Congressman Andy Levin!

This is a win-win-win formula for new public parks, clean energy, and sustainable economic development together. It is a national model that can be replicated along lakes where hundreds of coal plants are shutting down.

Second, take a look down the Lake Michigan shoreline to the Southeast Side. That’s where the Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to build a towering toxic dredged waste dump.  On the lakefront. In an environmental justice community already overburdened by toxic pollution.

This lakefront site was promised to be restored into a park for people to enjoy.  When the community asked for our help, ELPC filed a lawsuit to stop the Army Corps’ misguided plan. We’ve won the first battle in federal court: Forcing the Army Corps to hold off its build-first, permit-later plans. The title of a recent Chicago Tribune editorial says it all: “Stop this proposed tower of toxic waste on Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline.”

Let’s recognize our terrific clients and community partners, Amalia Nieto-Gomez of the Alliance of the Southeast and Gin Kilgore of Friends of the Parks! Bravo to ELPC attorneys Daniel Abrams and Alana Reynolds, Judith Nemes, and David McEllis. The lakefront is for people and parks, not for toxic waste.

Third, you might not know about the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. It covers 21,500 acres and is a vital stopover for migrating birds on the Flyway. It’s been designated a Globally Important Bird Area and a Wetland of International Importance.

Last November, the Refuge Manager tried to evade a protective statutory requirement in order to allow big carbon pipelines to run through this National Wildlife Refuge. ELPC challenged this action. In January, the agency’s Regional Director reversed course, thanked ELPC for our engagement, and withdrew the illegal proposal.

Some ELPC battles take years. This victory took less than three months. Bravo to ELPC attorney Nick Wallace!  Kudos to ELPC’s South Dakota Board member Scott Heidepriem!

Fourth and finally, ELPC attorneys and technical experts are engaged before Public Utilities Commissions across the Midwest. Picture a hearing room only slightly more charming than the New York courtroom where Donald Trump spends so much time.

These utility commission rooms are where the arcane “rules of the road” are set to modernize the distribution grid for more solar energy, set fair rates, and accelerate climate solutions. The rules set in one—or two-year hearings impact how our energy system works for decades. Bravo to ELPC’s Clean Energy Team, led by attorneys Brad Klein and Rob Kelter.

Let me wrap up….

Hundreds of our friends and supporters joined us to celebrate 31 years of protecting the Midwest environment

Whether these cases, issues, and opportunities take several months or several years, ELPC is here to do the right thing. We don’t throw up our hands. We roll up our sleeves. We develop sound strategies. We play to win, and we get things done that make a real difference.

Our Great Lakes, our treasured Midwest landscapes, and the future of our planet deserve nothing less.

Thank you for all you have done to partner with and support ELPC and for all that you will continue to do. Let’s work together to make a difference for people, our communities, and our planet.


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Howard A. Learner,

Chief Executive Officer & 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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