Quinn/Rauner Debate Climate Change

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During the October 8th Downstate Gubernatorial Debate in Peoria, candidates for Governor were asked about their position on climate change and whether they supported President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

The question came from Jamey Dunn at Illinois Issues magazine:

Q: States would play a large role in implementing the proposed federal role to cut carbon emissions. Do you believe that climate change is happening and is man-made and what is your take on the Obama administration’s plan to cut carbon given that the state derives most of it’s electricity from coal?

Bruce Rauner: “I believe we need a broad based portfolio of energy options in Illinois and in America. I do not believe that betting too much on any one sector is prudent- we need a broad base and we need energy independence for America and I’d like to see that also for Illinois. I believe we can have renewable energy resources here, we can have and should have further development of our wind farms, of our solar energy- renewable resources. But I also believe we can be prudent in our energy development from more traditional resources. We have incredible energy opportunity in southern Illinois with coal, with oil and gas, with hydraulic fracturing. It can be a massive job creator and tax revenue generator if we have a broad based portfolio of energy options and I would push every capability in that regard.”

Governor Quinn: “I think we have to reduce emissions and I do think we need to take on climate change. The winter we just had- terrible tornadoes this November here nearby and in Washington and other place in Illinois. I think the alarm signals told all of us that severe weather is something we all need to pay attention to and reducing emissions is part of the job for all of us. And since I’ve been governor, our state has erected many many wind turbines across Illinois. I believe in wind energy and solar energy. I’ve been in the roof of the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago where they have solar collectors at real cost. We also have to believe in energy efficiency and we’ve invested in that in Illinois. Our state is the only state not on a cost that is in the top 10 in energy efficiency states in the country and we’ve been able to do that in my time as governor. We’ve invested in energy efficiency- it’s one of the best ways to reduce emissions, help grow jobs. These are clean energy jobs that create good paying jobs for people by reducing the need for energy whenever possible and I think the state of Illinois can be a leader in this area. We have good workers who are well trained”

You can view the entire debate hereentire debate here The question on climate change is the second one in the debate.

Gov. Quinn Protects Key Illinois Wild Places

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn today is announcing major investments that protect some of Illinois’ last wild places for future generations, and make critical improvements at Illinois state parks.

Governor Quinn announced today that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is taking these steps to protect the natural heritage of the Prairie State and provide quality outdoor recreation at our state parks:

-a 51.47 acre addition to Starved Rock State Park, featuring steep bluffs and ravines located adjacent to a dedicated nature preserve
-121 acres in Edgar County, contiguous to the northern boundary of the 87-acre Willow Creek State Habitat Area near Paris. The property will be managed for pheasant hunting, other wildlife species and additional recreational activities.
– Jenkins Marsh, a 242 acre parcel of land adjacent to the Woodford State Fish and Wildlife Area. IDNR currently owns 5,425 acres at this location in Woodford, Tazewell and Peoria counties.
-4,400 acres of contiguous wildlife habitat north of Carbondale and contains floodplain forest along the Little Muddy River, deep-water lakes and ponds, and leased farm ground that could eventually be restored to grassland habitat.
-Improvements to trail, camping, playground, and other facilities at eight state parks across the state

We applaud Governor Quinn and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for acting to protect these beautiful places for future generations, and for all the work they have done to restore our state parks and Illinois’ ability to protect our natural resources.

These investments in conservation will ensure that future generations can enjoy these beautiful parts of the Prairie State, and that visitors to our state parks have a great experience. They are also the result of the bipartisan support in the Illinois General Assembly that Governor Quinn built to provide sustainable, long-term funding for the Department of Natural Resources.

Six years ago, the IDNR was on the brink of collapse. Biologists and other scientists that protect our environment worried for their jobs, and some state parks were shuttered. Those were dark days, but Governor Quinn has worked to rebuild IDNR and their capacity to protect our environment and provide outdoor experiences that are important for our quality of life, and for the local economy.

Fall is a wonderful time to get outside and enjoy Illinois’ great outdoors. We encourage everyone to find some time this autumn to explore an Illinois state park or conservation area, get some fresh air and see the fall colors, and celebrate what we’ve accomplished to protect beautiful parts of the Prairie State.

Statement on Draft Fracking Rules Before JCAR

Recently, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) issued revised rules to regulate high-volume horizontal fracturing for oil and gas, or “fracking.” The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) is now considering IDNR’s proposal, and the stakes couldn’t be higher for the health of Illinois residents facing threats to their drinking water, air, and communities.

It falls to Illinois and other states to protect themselves from the dangers of fracking because, during the Bush-Cheney administration, the oil and gas industries were exempted from basic clean water, clean air, and other environmental laws. That means that there is no basic level of protection for states to build on when it comes to fracking, despite its unique risks to public health.

Fracking in other states has been linked to a wide range of health concerns from respiratory problems to skin rashes and other medical problems, including birth defects and lower birth weight. The threats from fracking include drinking water contamination, and increased levels of air pollution, including methane, which is a powerful contributor to climate change. No current technology has been shown to eliminate leakage of methane from wellheads. Fracking has also been linked to earthquakes and major impacts on rural communities, such as added costs to the public because of the damage to infrastructure, demand on health facilities, and increased crime.

Illinois now finds itself targeted by the oil and gas special interests that want to bring this dangerous practice to the Prairie State. Sierra Club and thousands of citizens across the state advocated for a moratorium on fracking in Illinois, to allow us to learn from experiences in other states, and emerging health research. We oppose fracking in Illinois, and have long held that a moratorium on fracking is the safest and best approach, considering the pollution and social problems associated with fracking in other states.

Unfortunately, the General Assembly, so far, has not approved a moratorium on fracking, and the risky practice has been legal for decades under Illinois law. While work to stop fracking continues, it is essential that IDNR adopt the strongest possible protections for the rural Illinois communities in grave danger. IDNR’s first draft of fracking rules, proposed in 2013, prompted an unprecedented outcry from thousands of Illinois citizens who demanded that IDNR go back to the drawing board to fix major problems with their first draft. To their credit, IDNR has responded to comments on their first draft of rules by improving many provisions of the rules as requested by citizens. Significant changes include giving the public a greater voice in permitting decisions that affect them, efforts to close potential loopholes that could allow unregulated fracking, and making it clear that if a clean water well becomes dirty after fracking, fracking is presumed at fault. IDNR is not only within their statutory authority to propose these changes, it is also their mandate to do so as stewards of our land, air, and water.

The revised second notice draft includes many critical improvements that have come under attack by industry. Industry’s push to weaken the revised rules underscores our concern and opposition to fracking in Illinois. Big oil and gas companies clearly value their profits over the health of Illinois citizens, and now they are trying to force through shoddy regulations with a political power play. The General Assembly rejected a similar attempt to silence the public in May, and JCAR’s response to the attack by industry should be the same: allow the professionals at IDNR to listen to the public.

The changes proposed by IDNR are not only crucial for protecting citizens. IDNR’s amendments, and also further improvements, are also necessary to meet the minimum standards in the state statute. JCAR’s responsibility is to ensure that rules comply with the law. Sierra Club urges JCAR to ensure that the Revised Administrative Rules on Hydraulic Fracturing will not be weakened, and make these additional changes:

• Eliminate arbitrary caps on administrative penalties that unnecessarily limit potential fines on those who would cut corners and jeopardize our health.

• Ensure that criminal penalties may also apply, as specified by the Act

• Make clear that all permit suspensions go into effect immediately to protect public safety.

• Set a maximum 21 day time limit for operators to notify the Department of a change in a permit application; to ensure ample time for Departmental consideration of that information.

• Eliminate a potential two-hour delay for medical personnel to obtain industry chemical information; a two-hour delay could be a death sentence to a person having a health crisis from toxic chemicals. Potential confusion and time wasted should be remedied by requiring immediate response from a knowledgeable source, such as a 24/7 poison control center.

• Specify that drill cuttings need to be tested for contamination, including for oil-based mud and polymer based mud, radiation and toxic chemicals prior to storage.

• Inspection of storage tanks and reporting of corrosion should be increased to at least once a month due to the toxic nature of the tanks’ contents. Semi-annually is not adequate.

Legislators on JCAR will act on IDNR’s proposal by November 15th. It is critical that legislators reject the latest power play by oil and gas lobbyists to gut IDNR’s proposed rules. Big oil’s attempt to bully Illinois into deleting key public health protections is a clear warning of the risks ahead to Illinois as corporations target the Prairie State, and it must be defeated. It is also crucial that JCAR insist on further improvements in IDNR’s draft, especially regarding enforcement.

Finally, we urge IDNR to ensure that no fracking permits are considered or granted until all of the engineers, inspectors and enforcement personnel are hired and trained to enforce these rules. IDNR was right to halt fracking permits while these rules are under development, and that pause should remain until the strongest possible rules are in place, along with the professionals to enforce them.

Sierra Club is opposed to fracking and believes no amount of regulation can make this dangerous practice safe. We also believe that Illinois citizens deserve a voice in permitting decisions that will affect them and their ability to hold accountable those who would poison our air and water. We call on JCAR to reject the oil and gas industry’s attempt to gut the protections proposed by IDNR, and push for the strongest possible regulations on this dangerous practice in order to protect the citizens of Illinois. Our work for an energy future beyond fossil fuels will continue, including an Illinois without fracking.

IDNR Issues New Draft Fracking Regulations

Today the Illinois DNR released a new draft of proposed regulations on fracking for oil and gas, which the Sierra Club is in the process of reviewing. Fracking is a very dangerous practice that threatens the health, water supply, and air quality of residents, and Sierra Club is opposed to its use in Illinois. The residents of southern Illinois, and our entire state, are right to be alarmed at the many threats posed by this dangerous technology. Illinois must take all measures to protect citizens and the environment from these risks. The first draft of these regulations, released in late 2013, were woefully inadequate in many areas, and thousands of citizens from across Illinois packed public hearings and submitted public comments demanding major improvements.

Hopefully IDNR heard the voices of the overwhelming majority of Illinois’ citizens who oppose fracking, and demanded that the state go back to the drawing board. While no amount of regulation can make dangerous fracking safe, Illinois citizens deserve a voice in permitting decisions that will affect them and the ability to hold those who would poison our air and water accountable.

The new draft rules, and links to public comments submitted on the previous draft, are available at: http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/OilandGas/Pages/PublicHearingTranscriptsAndComments.aspx

Gov. Quinn Signs New Law Protecting IL Cougars, Bears, and Wolves

Mountain-lionToday Governor Pat Quinn signed Senate Bill 3049 into law, which adds cougars, black bears, and wolves to the list of species protected in the Illinois Wildlife Code. The legislation was an initiative of Gov. Quinn and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The possible return of large predators like cougars, bears, and wolves to Illinois is a sign that decades of investment and effort to restore natural habitat in Illinois and the Midwest are paying off. We applaud Governor Quinn and his team for taking this critical step to ensure Illinois is prepared for the return of these magnificent animals. Protecting these species under the Illinois Wildlife Code will now enable the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to manage populations of these animals safely. These predators were once at the top of the food chain, and their return would be a significant benefit to Illinois’ ecosystems and a major economic asset, as wildlife viewing continues to grow as a popular vacation activity. We can all be proud of Illinois’ conservation efforts to date, and that Illinois will be prepared to welcome back these animals to the Prairie State.

We also thank State Senator Linda Holmes and State Representative Kelly Cassidy for sponsoring SB 3049, and the thousands of Sierra Club members and others across Illinois who contacted their legislators to help pass the legislation. Congratulations!

Sierra Club Among 18 Illinois Groups Calling on Rep. John Shimkus to Address Failing Coal Ash Pits

The site where a coal ash impoundment spilled tons of coal ash and wastewater into the Dan River. Credit The Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability

The site where a coal ash impoundment at Duke Energy’s Dan River plant in North Carolina spilled tons of coal ash and wastewater into the Dan River. Credit The Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability

Today, on the six-month anniversary of an impoundment failure at Duke Energy’s Dan River plant in North Carolina, 18 environmental organizations and community groups representing thousands of citizens in Illinois sent a letter to U.S. Representative John Shimkus urging the congressman to address failing coal ash pits in the state.

The letter reminded Rep. Shimkus, who serves as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy Committee on Energy and Commerce, that the North Carolina spill unleashed  50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash and other chemicals, in addition to 27 million gallons of water laden with metals/chemicals.  The toxic coal ash contaminated 70 miles of the Dan River, devastating the river system and communities downstream. Although Duke Energy deemed cleanup “complete,” nearly 94 percent of the waste still remains in the river.

Coal ash, which contains arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury, and a range of harmful heavy metals and hazardous pollutants, is a dangerous waste product of burning coal at power plants. When these pollutants enter drinking water, rivers, and streams, they harm human health, aquatic life, and the communities that depend on these water systems.

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Two of the three ash pits at the Dynegy Vermilion facility are now failing, releasing harmful pollutants into the only National Scenic River in Illinois. Credit Prairie Rivers Network

Many of Illinois’ 24 coal-fired power plants were built adjacent to rivers or over groundwater aquifers in order to meet their enormous water needs. As a result, 91 coal ash disposal ponds were built in places that are unsuitable and dangerous for the disposal of toxic waste. Fifty-six ash ponds were built over groundwater recharge areas, 62 over shallow aquifers, and 9 were constructed over wetlands.

Structural controls to protect the Middle Fork Vermilion River from ash pits have failed. Credit Prairie Rivers Network

Structural controls to protect the Middle Fork Vermilion River from ash pits have failed. Credit Prairie Rivers Network

While many of these coal ash pits present threats of slow but inevitable discharge into water systems, several hold the potential for catastrophic failure. For example, the retired Dynegy Vermilion Power Station hosts three waste dumps in the floodplain of Illinois’ only designated National Scenic River, the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River. Two of the pits were built without liners and have begun to contaminate adjacent groundwater. The banks of the impoundment are also vulnerable to flooding and erosion of the river, with the potential to unleash 3 million cubic yards of coal ash downstream.

The Dynegy Vermilion site is described in a recent report on the company’s pollution sites across the state.

The letter, sent by environmental organizations and community groups across Illinois, urges Rep. Shimkus to hold a hearing within the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy to ensure that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is doing everything possible to effectively address the threat of coal ash to American communities nationwide.

“We believe it is your responsibility to ensure that your constituents and the nation are safe from preventable coal ash disasters,” the groups wrote in the letter, and to hear “from affected communities how these dangerous ponds harm their health, environment and the economic well-being.”

Read a copy of the letter here.

Foresight Energy LP profits rise at the expense of quality of life, clean water and clean air in Illinois

Pond Creek Mine was Foresight's first mine in Illinois. Tons of coal produced from its four mines in Illinois totaled 18 million in 2013; up from 15.1 million tons in 2012. A second longwall operation at Sugar Camp Mine longwall is expected to bring Foresight's full annual capacity to 32.7 million tons/year.

Pond Creek Mine was Foresight’s first mine in Illinois. Tons of coal produced from its four mines in Illinois totaled 18 million in 2013; up from 15.1 million tons in 2012. A second longwall operation at its Sugar Camp Mine  is expected to bring Foresight’s full annual capacity to 32.7 million tons/year.

While there may have been excitement on Wall Street this week as Foresight Energy LP began trading on the New York Stock Exchange, Illinois residents living in the shadow of a Foresight Energy LP coal mine have a different story to tell.

The financial community lauds the chutzpah of Chris Cline’s Foresight Reserves, which controls St. Louis-based Foresight Energy. At a time when coal was on the decline in Appalachia, Cline moved his base of operations into the Illinois basin and bought up 3 billion tons of cheap, high-sulfur Illinois coal reserves. It currently operates four non-union mine complexes in Illinois, with others planned in the future. The mines include Pond Creek Mine, Williamson County; Sugar Camp Mine, Franklin/Hamilton counties; Deer Run Mine, Montgomery County; and Shay 1 Mine, Macoupin County.

This all may sound great to an investor, but Foresight’s rise to success has come at great expense to the people and environment in Illinois.

The greatest expense of a mining operation is the loss of life. Since November 2013 two deaths have occurred at Foresight’s M-Class Mining LLC – MC#1 Sugar Camp Mine, a longwall mine in Franklin County. Longwall mining provides the coal producer higher return but at great risk to the miners.

SL500 01In longwall mining, the coal seam is divided into long panels about 1,500 feet across and 3 to 4 miles long. Rather than leave pillars for support, hydraulic roof supports are put in that run the entire length of the panel. A cutting head runs along the face of the seam, knocking the coal down onto a conveyor belt. With each cut the entire longwall unit—shearer, conveyor and hydraulic roof supports move forward and the roof behind the unit is collapsed, filling in the open space. Because the roof is constantly collapsing behind the mine, the technique is considered inherently dangerous.

Longwall mining creates a condition called planned subsidence. As the panels collapse underground the land overhead drops up to 6 feet, leaving cornfields and backyards like sunken bathtubs. The subsided land also negatively impacts structures such as homes and outbuildings, water wells, springs, farm ponds, and surface drainage.

Numerous homes have been removed and families displaces above Foresight's longwall operation.

Numerous homes have been removed and families displaced above all Foresight’s longwall operations.

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Damaged roads and bridges and flooded agricultural fields disrupt the lives of residents living in the shadow area of a longwall mine. The shadow area is the surface area above the underground mine. Foresight shadow areas are anywhere from 5,000 acres to 10,000 acres.

Rather than pay to repair or replace a resident’s home from subsidence damage, Foresight often buys people out and bulldozes the structures. Entire neighborhoods have been obliterated around Foresight’s Pond Creek, Sugar Camp and Deer Run mines. While this may be profitable for Foresight, the expense to the residents’ sense of community and family legacy is incalculable.

Residents left living or working around the periphery of a Foresight mine have to endure the daily health hazard of coal dust infiltrating their lives and lungs, and 24/7 noise from conveyors, air vent blowers, trucks, loaders, bulldozers, and trains. Area residents must contend with lower property values, lost property taxes, increased truck traffic and train delays, damaged roads, contaminated air and water, and loss of prime farmland.

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The outer walls of a coal slurry impoundment often rise 50 to 90 feet high. An impoundment is classified as high-hazard if its failure or miss-operation will probably cause loss of human life.

Before coal is sold it is washed with massive amounts of water to remove impurities such as clay, silt and rocks. The leftover waste material is stored in on-site impoundments. Larger material such as rocks and pieces of coal are called course refuse, while slurry, made up of a combination of silt, dust, water, bits of coal and clay particles, is called fine refuse. The coarse refuse is used to construct the impoundment dam, which then holds the fine refuse or slurry, along with any chemicals used to wash and treat the coal at the coal preparation plant.

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October 11th, 2000, thick liquid coal processing waste contained in a Martin County Coal Corporation impoundment broke through the impoundment wall into an underground mine shaft, eventually dumping more than 300 million gallons of toxic sludge into the area’s rivers.

Slurry impoundments have been known to fail, as was the case in Martin County, Kentucky on October 11, 2000 when the bottom of a slurry impoundment broke into an abandoned underground mine below.  An estimated 306,000 gallons of slurry polluted hundreds of miles of the Big Sandy River and its tributaries and the Ohio River. The water supply for over 27,000 residents was contaminated, and all aquatic life in Coldwater Fork and Wolf Creek was killed. The spill was 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill and considered one of the worst environmental disasters ever in the southeastern United States.

The original coal slurry impoundment at Deer Run Mine is quickly exceeding it's 140-acre, 90-foot-tall capacity.

The original coal slurry impoundment at Deer Run Mine is quickly exceeding its 140-acre, 90-foot-tall capacity.

Residents in Montgomery County, Illinois are extremely concerned about slurry waste impoundments at Foresight’s Hillsboro Energy, LLC Deer Run Mine. The first impoundment built 5 year ago is an approximately 140-acre, 90-foot-tall high-hazard impoundment. Less than 5 years later, because the first impoundment is not adequate to hold all the toxic coal slurry, the mine is now proposing to build a second disposal area nearly twice the size of the first with a 240-acre impoundment held back with a 60-foot-tall dam. Both impoundments will hold coal waste in perpetuity behind high-hazard dams above the towns of Hillsboro and Schram City.

It irks the residents that their county tax money covers the emergency action management of the high-hazard waste impoundments, yet no sales or severance tax is collected on the coal that leaves the ground.

Sugar Camp has been given a 1-year emergency permit to drill and inject polluted mine water into deep injection wells.

Sugar Camp has been given a 1-year emergency permit to drill and inject polluted mine water into deep injection wells. Citizens were not given the opportunity to comment or participate in the permitting process.

Last month an unexpectedly large volume of groundwater infiltrated Foresight’s Sugar Camp Energy LLC Sugar Camp Mine. Not only were the miners put at risk, but the groundwater, high in chloride and dissolved solids, presented a threat if released to surface waters. Therefore, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency had to issue an emergency permit for two Underground Injection Control (UIC) wells authorizing Sugar Camp Energy to inject wastewaters between 7,500 and 12,900 feet underground into limestone and sandstone formations. Because of the emergency nature of the permit, local residents were unable to comment or participate in the permitting process.

Shay1_waste_impoundment_May_2009_IMG_26161Pollution from salts and heavy metals poses problems at other Foresight mines as well. For example, Foresight acquired Macoupin Energy, Shay #1 Mine located in Macoupin County from ExxonMobile in 2009. Along with the operating coal mine, Foresight also inherited a slurry impoundment that was polluting groundwater with salts and heavy metals. Nearby water wells have been affected, which has possibly contributed to serious health issues of some residents. Since then state regulators at the Illinois EPA issued a violation notice for the groundwater pollution and have now referred the case to the Illinois Attorney General.

Foresight has its sights on expanding existing mines as wells as starting up new ones. Foresight’s Sugar Camp Energy, LLC has submitted a mine application for the Logan Mine No. 1, a longwall mine proposed for Franklin, Jefferson and Hamilton Counties. Landowners, who together own approximately 1,500 contiguous acres in Franklin County, are being pressured by Foresight to sell their land for the mine’s surface facility.  The mineral rights to each parcel of land were severed from the deeds in 1948. The mineral deeds say that the mineral owners have the right to reasonable access to the minerals. The landowners contend taking the entirety of 1,500 acres, including an Illinois Centennial Farm, is not reasonable.

The time has come for coal operators like Foresight Energy LP to pay the true cost of the coal that benefits them so greatly. How many more miners have to die, how many more families have to be uprooted and communities destroyed, how much more farmland has to be sunk and degraded, how much more water and air has to be polluted, and how many more toxic coal slurry waste impoundments have to be constructed for the benefit of coal producers at the expense of Illinois citizens?

Tell the Governor the time has come to Protect the Prairie State from Coal Mining–Take Action Here!