High volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is on our doorstep and operations in Illinois are scheduled to begin as soon as this summer. Illinois does not currently have adequate safeguards in place to protect our air and water resources.
In order to protect our state’s air and water resources the Illinois General Assembly needs to act on Senate Bill 3280, House Amendment 3.
The bill puts a hold on fracking in the state of Illinois until June 1, 2014. During that time a thorough investigation is to be completed to determine what safeguards are needed to protect Illinois’ environment from the air and water pollution experienced in other states that have active fracking wells.
SB 3280 HA 3 will create a taskforce to make recommendations concerning the following:
The protection of the state’s water resources
Disclosure of information regarding chemicals used in the fracking process
The practices of leasing or buying land for oil and gas rights
Public hearings and comments regarding proposed fracking operations
The handling, storage, and disposal of waste byproducts produced from fracking
The control of air emissions from oil and gas wells
Summer is here again, and many of us are looking forward to spending some time in the great outdoors in the months ahead. Will our beautiful state parks be open and in good shape when we’re ready to get outside?
Everyone is aware of the state of Illinois’ budget – its a mess, and many important programs, services, and state facilities are on the chopping block. Unfortunately for our natural resources, such cuts are nothing new for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The last decade has been devastating for the professionals charged with protecting our water supply, restoring our natural resources, and maintaining our beautiful state parks.
Compared to a decade ago, IDNR’s core budget has been slashed by 55% – from $106.8 million in 2002 to $48.9 this year. Ten years ago, the agency has 2600 professionals protecting our resources, today they are down to 1200. How have they managed to keep parks open, and an eye on the environment? Basically, just like you would, they’ve burned through their reserves. IDNR has been forced to reallocate funds raised and dedicated for specific purposes, such as buying new properties to protect open space, and spend them on staff and day-to-day operations. However, those days are over – the dedicated funds are now gone. IDNR is out of options, and they are at a breaking point.
Now there is a ray of hope. The IDNR’s crisis has clearly demonstrated to its constituents and to legislators that it can no longer rely on the whims of the legislature, or on the availability of sufficient general state revenues to carry out its many important missions. There is broad awareness now that IDNR needs separate, dedicated, sustainable funding if it is to stay on the job enforcing environmental laws, protecting public safety, monitoring the health of Illinois’ ecosystems, providing quality experiences at our parks, protecting drinking water sources, and so much more.
Treading water in the sea of maintenance issues has finally taken its toll at Giant City State Park.
“We do not have the manpower, we do not have an operational budget that we can go in and keep things fixed,” says park supervisor Bob Martin.
He says he has seen his budget slashed year after year and his staff dwindle, to the point where he says needed work is not being done.
“Look at our playgrounds, they need wood chips to keep our kids safe,” Martin explains. “The trail maintenance, we’re not able to do that anymore. We just don’t have the staff to. Unfortunately, we may be closing some areas, if funding doesn’t come soon.”
“We’re at a tipping point,” said Tom Hintz, site superintendent for both Jubilee and the Rock Island Trail. “If we get one more cut or we have one more important machine failure, the level of service that we’re going to be providing to people that want to come out here for recreation purposes is just gonna collapse.”
Grafton Mayor Tom Thompson compared property tax and tourism tax revenues received by the city of Grafton to show the importance of the park’s impact on the region. The city receives only 10 percent of property taxes, which was about $100,000. The tourism tax brought the city $200,000.
“Our emphasis is on tourism and preservation of our riverfront and getting people to come to Grafton, and Pere Marquette is part of that,” he said.
The state also receives 5 percent of the overnight stay tax.
“I look at it as a win-win; it’s in the state’s favor to keep pushing tourism,” Thompson noted.
Now there is finally a proposal in Springfield to permanently address this problem. Senate Bill 1566 would generate $32 million annually, dedicated for the Department, through a $2 increase in the state vehicle registration fee, increased fees on some of the industries the Department regulates, and new state park fees for out-of-state visitors. Illinois residents will continue to enjoy free access to all parks.
House Deputy Majority Leader Frank Mautino is the author of the package, and deserves praise for taking on this critical job at a very difficult time in our state. Mautino worked for months with environmentalists, hunters, anglers, industries, IDNR, and his legislative colleagues to build support for the package. Now time is running short, and there are other major and difficult issues before the legislature. We need Senate Bill 1566 is to pass the House and Senate in the next seven days.
Please take a moment to urge your State Representative and State Senator to support Senate Bill 1566 – you can do that here.
Illinois lawmakers sent legislation to Governor Quinn today that establishes a new program to help farmers use crop fertilizers more effectively, which is expected to reduce nutrient losses and deliver significant improvements in water quality.
The legislation, House Bill 5539, creates a Nutrient Research and Education Council (NREC) which will utilize a fertilizer tonnage fee to establish and implement nutrient research, education and water quality programs.
The bill is part of the “Keep it for the Crop” initiative, which is supported by a coalition of agricultural and environmental organizations, including Sierra Club, working to improve soil and water quality in Illinois.
The program seeks to fund a vibrant nutrient research and education program and provide fertilizer suppliers and farmers with science-based recommendations and in-field practices to reduce nutrient losses and enhance nutrient efficiency through the adoption of the 4Rs- Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place.
Nutrient pollution occurs when excess nitrogen and phosphorus occur in bodies of water, which promotes excessive algae & plant growth leading to oxygen depletion, which can kill fish and other aquatic life. According to IEPA, both point sources and non-point sources contribute to the problem; this legislation fills a critical need for a program to specifically address how non-point sources including agricultural lands can reduce phosphorus and nitrogen losses.
Advocating for legislation like HB 5539 and the 2010 Lawn Care Act (prevents the use of phosphorus containing fertilizer by hired applicators) is just one part of the strategy Sierra Club is working on to reduce nutrient pollution in Illinois. More steps still need to be taken to remove nutrients from all major sources including sewage treatment plants, urban runoff and agriculture. Click here for more information about nutrient pollution
In an unprecedented clean energy move, residents in over 55 communities in Illinois now have the option to go green, and save some green while they’re at it! Thanks to the hard work of Sierra Club volunteers across the state, a record number of Illinois towns will lower bills and support green energy rather than traditional brown power through a process called municipal aggregation.
Some towns initially balked at offering 100% green energy, but the work of Sierra Club volunteers to educate community members and city staff on the tremendous economic and health benefits was ultimately successful. In many cases, green energy was less than 2% more expensive then brown power and will help cities make good on their commitments to reach climate pollution reduction goals.
Congratulations to all the volunteers who have worked to bring the benefits of green energy to their community! To learn more about greening the aggregation process visit: http://bit.ly/GreenCCA
We applaud Senators Durbin and Kirk for their efforts to protect Central Illinois’ drinking water from the proposed toxic waste dump near Clinton.
The Mahomet Aquifer is the sole practical source of drinking water for large numbers of people in Illinois and a lynchpin for Illinois’ health and economic future. The aquifer will provide high quality drinking water for generations to come if it is protected, but not if contaminated by toxic PCBs. PCBs are some of the worst contaminants because their dangerous health impacts and because they last so long and do not break down.
Landfills will leak. It is just a matter of time. Monitoring wells do not detect all contaminant leaks, and it sometimes takes years before a pollution problem is found. There is no practical way to clean up underground contamination. PCBs at the landfill will be a ticking time bomb of toxic waste for generations to come.
We also applaud and support State Representatives Naomi Jakobsson and Chapin Rose in their efforts to ensure that all communities that draw water from this aquifer have a voice in protecting it. Most of those who turn on the tap and count on clean, Mahomet Aquifer water coming out weren’t consulted when a toxic waste dump was allowed on top of that aquifer. We call on state legislators to consider and approve Jakobsson and Rose’s proposal before adjourning this Spring, so all of those who drink from the Mahomet aquifer are represented in decisions about its future.
We are very fortunate to have the Mahomet Aquifer in central Illinois. Protecting it is not only vital for our health and economy today, but we all share an obligation to future generations to pass this life-giving resource on to them as clean as it is today.
Two dozen health, faith, farm, and environmental advocates joined with us this week to urge the Illinois House to reject a proposal to force Illinois ratepayers to subsidize the coal plant proposed by the Tenaska corporation. Twenty-five organizations signed the letter to Illinois lawmakers, a sign of new and growing opposition due to concerns about pollution from Tenaska’s plant and its very high cost.
“Creating a new electric plant that requires us to mine and burn more Illinois coal in communities already suffering from the effects of mining, while it places a long-term surcharge on the electricity costs for low-income people is not only poor policy, it is unjust,” said Rev. Dr. Clare Butterfield, Executive Director, Faith in Place and the Illinois Interfaith Power & Light Campaign, among the faith leaders joining opposition to Tenaska’s legislation.
Tenaska’s coal plant would emit up to 10 billion pounds of air pollution per year, according to the Illinois EPA. Concerns about the lack of guaranteed controls for most of this pollution has led to staunch opposition from environmental advocates.
“This plant would be an epic mess, one of the top-10 worst greenhouse gas producers in Illinois, the day it opens,” said Henry Henderson, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Midwest Program. “It undercuts all of the climate gains that have been made in the state and helps worsen one of the most vexing problems we all face. For a plant that is unneeded, it represents an especially big price that everyone will have to pay both in their electric bill and the health of the planet.”
In addition to global warming pollution, Tenaska’s plant would also generate increases in emissions that contribute to smog and particulate pollution, which is drawing opposition from public health advocates.
“Illinois added more wind turbines last year than any other state, and they are now providing electric power we need without triggering the asthma attacks, hospitalizations and premature deaths that coal power plant emissions cause. There are cleaner healthier ways to make electricity that don’t put our health in jeopardy and we shouldn’t be forced to subsidize a dangerous source of power we don’t need,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.
Tenaska has tried to sell lawmakers on its proposal to raise rates on consumers and businesses as support for “clean” coal. However, organizations working to address the devastating impacts coal mining on Illinois waterways and farmland note that there is nothing “clean” about coal mining and waste disposal.
“Here we have a plant being touted as ‘clean coal’ with no one asking what ‘clean’ really means. Is the ‘clean’ part the millions of pounds of dangerous solid waste produced from mining and washing coal for the plant? Could ‘clean’ refer to the wastewater from the mine site and power-generating plant that will be dumped in the Sangamon River, a drinking water supply for downstream communities? Or is it the hundreds of acres of Illinois farmland and streams being destroyed for this industrial facility that make this project so ‘clean’? This is a filthy project at every step: from coal mining to washing to burning to waste disposal,” said Traci Barkley Water Resources Scientist, Prairie Rivers Network.
Others are concerned about the impact of Tenaska’s project on Illinois farmland, and favor programs to utilize farmland to grow Illinois’ economy, rather than mine and dump coal waste on it.
“Instead of raising our electric rates to subsidize coal mining that will destroy Illinois farmland and further destroy Illinois farming communities, legislators should be promoting our local food economy, ” said Debbie Hillman of the Evanston Food Council. “We can create self-sustaining jobs and businesses in rural, urban, and suburban communities across the state if we work with the land and the stewards of the land — Illinois farmers — to sustain ourselves.”
Senate Bill 678, which would force Illinois consumers and businesses to buy all of Tenaska’s output for thirty years at above-market rates, passed the Illinois Senate last fall. The Illinois House is expected to take up the legislation later this month.
“As a student and as a young Chicagoan, I believe that Tenaska’s proposed coal gasification plant overlooks civic responsibility and sets a negative precedent for future generations. The power from the proposed plant can be created in safer, healthier, and more responsible way, and those are the solutions students are eager to support,” said Alicia Klepfler, a student at the University of Chicago and member of its Climate Action Network.
The letter is available here, and was signed by the following organizations:
Active Transportation Alliance
Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues
Chicago Youth Climate Coalition
Citizens Against Longwall Mining
Citizens Against Ruining the Environment
Citizens’ Greener Evanston
Evanston Food Council
Faith in Place Highland Farmers Market
Incinerator-Free Lake County & Midwest Sustainability Group
League of Women Voters of Illinois
Little Village Environmental Justice Organization
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Prairie Rivers Network
Protestants for the Common Good
Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago
Southeast Environmental Task Force
Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL)
Students for Environmental Action at School of the Art Institute Chicago
Truck Farm Chicago
University of Chicago Climate Action Network