June 01, 2023
Midwest State Legislature Update Spring 2023
ELPC’s legal and policy advocates have been working hard across the Midwest this season to advance environmental solutions and protect natural resources and public health.
There was a lot of action around the Midwest this past legislative season. Some positive, some not so positive. Here are a few updates from across the region.
We won’t sugarcoat it. The 2023 Illinois Legislative Session was largely a disappointing one for environmental progress. While there were significant losses and many good bills were delayed, there were a few positives to take away.
Let’s start with the positive.
Pesticide Protections for Farmworkers: For the last three years, ELPC and our partners with Legal Action Chicago and Illinois Environmental Council have been working to increase fines for human exposure to harmful pesticides. Senate Bill 203 (Sen. Villa – Rep. Avelar) stemmed from a set of incidents that harmed more than 20 farmworkers in central Illinois, with minimal repercussions in state law. In that incident the State was limited to a $750 fine, with no increased fine for multiple harmed people. Under the new penalty structure, if 1-2 humans are exposed, the penalty will be $500 per person. For 3-4 humans exposed, the penalty will be $750 per person. And, if 5 or more humans are exposed, the penalty will be $1,250 per person. We are pleased this legislation passed this year and will soon go to the Governor’s desk for final approval.
Safer Intersections: Senate Bill 2278 (Sen. Simmons – Rep. Buckner), a bill granting communities the authority to construct safer intersections for pedestrians and cyclists successfully passed both chambers. Currently, every intersection must accommodate the turning radius of 65-foot trucks, leaving no room for incorporating design features that prioritize the safety and convenience of bikes and pedestrians. ELPC supported this legislation, an initiative of Active Transportation Alliance, to support alternative modes of transportation throughout the state.
Polystyrene Foam: ELPC is a member of the Coalition for Plastic Reduction and this year the coalition successfully passed Senate Bill 58 (Sen. Fine – Rep. Gong-Gershowitz). This legislation prohibits the procurement of polystyrene foam food ware containers by the State of Illinois and its affiliated contractors and vendors. The ban encompasses major state venues, including the Illinois State fair, state universities, the Illinois State Capitol, and other facilities. This is a positive step toward a statewide foam ban.
And now the challenging news.
Peotone Airport and Highways: The environmental community fought several misguided proposals that will have lasting impacts on the environment, public health, and taxpayers in Illinois. In an unfortunate move, the legislature approved a measure that would pave the way for the Peotone Airport in the south suburbs of Chicago. This unnecessary cargo airport would exacerbate sprawl and hurt wild places. Additionally, two bills passed during the final days of session that would exacerbate highway traffic and pollution. A resolution passed to expand I-55 through Chicago’s southwest side would harm communities already overburdened by air pollution and also increase sprawl (HJR23). Another bill passed which will skirt regional planning processes to expand highways through public-private partnerships (HB2878). ELPC and our allies fought back but were ultimately unsuccessful in blocking these proposals.
Environmental Justice Act Failed to Pass: On top of those bad transportation actions that will negatively impact environmental justice communities, the legislature also did not pass the Environmental Justice Act (HB2520). This bill was written by environmental justice leaders in communities that have historically borne the burden of industrial pollution. The EJ Act would require a cumulative impact assessment for new pollution sources. The EJ Act would also give communities a greater voice in air permitting matters. Unfortunately, the EJ Act did not pass during the Spring legislative session, failing in the House. The legislature failed to protect Black and Brown citizens in some of Illinois’ most polluted areas, instead expanding highways in these neighborhoods.
Energy Legislation Features a Utility Giveaway: Late in session, the legislature introduced a bill directing the Illinois Power Agency to study the costs and benefits of energy issues like offshore wind in Lake Michigan and battery storage. Added to that legislation was a “right of first refusal” provision for Ameren to build transmission projects in their territory. This anti-competitive clause would increase rates for customers and give Ameren a potential transmission monopoly. ELPC and partners fought back against this proposal. While the bill passed both chambers, Governor Pritzker has stated he will veto the bill.
Water Quality: The big win this year for water quality was HF 828, which adds “soil health” and “watershed” best practices to the powers and duties of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The foremost responsibility for conservation districts has been historically focused on soil erosion and how many tons per acre is tolerable to lose annually. Adding soil health with watershed best practices will decrease nutrient pollution into the watershed and improve climate resilience.
Energy: There were several undesirable energy bills moving this year, but ELPC and allies stepped up in a team effort. We were able to play defense and stop several of the worst bills, including onerous restrictions for wind and solar projects and runaround rate-making proposals that would hurt everyday consumers. We were able to pass HF617 to secure important utility oversight for long-term energy decisions. Additionally, we had a number of non-legislative wins in Iowa this season, which could help the state to shift away from coal.
For other states that ELPC works in
- Major wins in Minnesota! Huge kudos to our partners up there for securing funding for passenger rail to Duluth, $13 million in the budget for electric school buses, clean energy commitments, public transit investments, e-bike rebates, and big steps towards reducing vehicle miles traveled by 20% by 2050.
- Ohio and Michigan are still in session and still in flux.
ELPC and our allies won’t give up when it comes to fighting for climate solutions, protecting clean water, and ensuring communities are free from toxic threats. The fight continues.