35,000 Clean Power Plan Petitions Delivered to Governor Rauner

DSC_0827Thanks to all the health, faith, clean energy, environmental and business leaders who came out yesterday, nearly 35,000 petitions collected from across the state of Illinois were delivered to Governor Bruce Rauner’s offices at the State Capitol in Springfield and at the Thompson Center in Chicago. The petitions urge Governor Rauner to support the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) historic Clean Power Plan, and urge the Governor and Illinois public officials to prioritize growing jobs in renewable energy and efficiency in Illinois’ state goals to meet the Clean Power Plan.

12182971_10153713705807299_8476971390061912394_o“The Clean Power Plan gives Illinois a tremendous opportunity to attract new clean energy jobs, cut dangerous pollution and provide real savings on electric bills for those who need it most,” said Pastor Booker Steven Vance with Faith in Place. “Governor Rauner is one of the few governors left in the United States to speak out on the Clean Power Plan, so we’re lifting up the voices of nearly 35,000 Illinoisans urging him to do the right thing by embracing clean energy policies that will put Illinois on the right path.”

DSC_0765Under President Obama’s direction, U.S. EPA finalized the first-ever limits on carbon pollution for existing power plants in August 2015. This historic step by EPA to reduce carbon pollution from the electric sector is the single biggest step our nation has ever taken to address climate change while accelerating clean energy.

DSC_0795“We have a historic opportunity before us to put thousands of Illinoisans to work in clean energy,” said Shannon Fulton, Director of Business Development, StraightUp Solar. “Renewable energy manufacturing and deployment is a rapidly growing industry, and if we don’t create policies that attract these businesses, Illinois will be left behind. Governor Bruce Rauner must see and seize the opportunity the Clean Power Plan presents to bring clean energy jobs to Illinois.”

Now that the Clean Power Plan is final, it is up to states to build state implementation plans that work for each state’s unique energy landscape. States will need to submit initial plans to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by September 2016. The Rauner Administration will soon need to demonstrate how Illinois is preparing to meet the Clean Power Plan goals.

DSC_0814“The Clean Power Plan gives Governor Rauner tools to build solutions that ensure that no Illinois community is left behind as we shift to a clean energy economy,” said Antonio Franco, Vice-President of Student Environmental Action Coalition at Illinois State University; Member of Illinois People’s Action. “Policies that work to cut pollution can also work to create revenue for coal communities and low-income communities to use to invest in for workforce development, and direct bill assistance for consumers.”

Since Illinois set clean energy targets in 2007, wholesale power prices have been cut by $177 million dollars per year, and more than 5 million tons of air pollution has been avoided. The savings from the lowered wholesale power prices have been passed on to consumers.

“I know firsthand that renewable energy industry has the potential to attract millions of dollars in private capital and development to the state of Illinois, if we have the right policies in place,” said Will Kenworthy, Vice President of Regional Operations, Midwest, Microgrid Energy. “Illinois used to be a leader in manufacturing and developing clean, renewable energy. Recently, Illinois has slipped in the rankings, stalling new economic development in the state. The Clean Power Plan gives Governor Rauner an opportunity to revitalize Illinois so it can reclaim its spot as a clean energy leader.”

The American Lung Association found recently found that more than 6.7 million Illinoisans breathe unhealthy air due to pollution. According to the Respiratory Health Association, death rates from asthma are particularly high for African Americans and Hispanics – three to six times higher than for Caucasians – and are concentrated in urban areas, including Chicago.

cppdelivery“As a parent concerned about my child’s health, I’m proud that we have clean energy solutions to tackle the threat of pollution to our public health right here in Illinois, said Robin Garlish, Peoria Mother and member of the Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance. “When it’s a matter of the air we breathe, and the health of our families, there’s no time to waste, and no reason to wait. We urge Governor Rauner to support the Clean Power Plan now– rather than make children or seniors to spend another day, another month or another year waiting to breathe cleaner air.”


Harmful Algal Bloom in Ohio River Shows Effects of Nutrient Pollution

Map from http://www.orsanco.org/ showing extent of current Harmful Algae Bloom and Advisory Areas on Ohio River (updated 10/21/15)

Map from http://www.orsanco.org/ updated 10/21/15

A record algal bloom extending over 664 miles of the Ohio River has halted recreation, threatened public health and put a spotlight on nutrient pollution and its impacts. Ohio is all too familiar with these impacts after a toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie last summer prevented nearly 500,000 Toledo residents from drinking their water. This year’s bloom stretches from West Virginia to the Illinois/Indiana border. It far exceeds the previous most extensive bloom, which covered 30 miles of the Ohio River in 2008.

The rapid growth, or blooms, of algae can discolor the water or produce floating scum on the surface, especially along shorelines and in warm, shallow water that receives a lot of sunlight. Algal blooms are fed by excess nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, which are discharged into waterways from fertilizer runoff from agricultural land, urban stormwater and sewage treatment plant effluent. These blooms can devastate aquatic ecosystems and threaten the safety of drinking water sources. They can force utilities to spend more money to treat water in order to fight off the toxins that can cause rashes, diarrhea, vomiting and breathing difficulty. During much of last month, Cincinnati was forced to spend $7,700 more per day on added chemicals to make its tap water safe for drinking.

When a blue-green algal bloom is producing toxin(s), it is referred to as a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB). The poisonous blue-green algae in the Ohio River give off a toxin called microcystin which can cause liver and nerve damage in humans and animals. The current bloom has forced the cancellation of the annual Great Ohio River Swim and triggered warnings to boaters to stay out of the water.

Blue Green Algae

Blue-green algal bloom (Image from Illinois EPA)

These problems are not unique to Ohio, but are real threats to all states with heavy agricultural use and urban areas including Illinois. In late summer 2012, highly elevated concentrations of microcystin were found in several northern Illinois lakes. One lake was reported to have a concentration of 31,500 µg/L, an astounding 1,575 times greater than the 20 µg/L World Health Organization (WHO) guidance value indicating a “high” probability of acute health effects due to recreational exposure. In response to these reports, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) sampled ten lakes and two rivers for several toxins over the period of August to October. Virtually all of the water bodies sampled had high or very high probabilities of associated health effects based on total cyanobacteria cell counts and four of the lakes had high probability for adverse health effects based on microcystin concentrations. The highest microcystin concentration detected was 240 times the WHO guidance value at 4,800 µg/L. Microcystins were found in five other lakes and one river, representing 85% of the water bodies sampled [1].

The Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois EPA have recently posted warnings urging residents to “use caution while in or on the Illinois portion of the Ohio River due to potential toxins from blue-green algae.” The Agency says that “while a harmful algal bloom has not yet been confirmed in the Illinois portion of the Ohio River, river and weather conditions are favorable for such a bloom, particularly along shorelines” [2]. These warnings and results from the 2012 monitoring clearly indicate that blue-green algal blooms and algal toxins can be cause for concern in Illinois surface waters.

Fortunately, the state is taking steps to address this concern. The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy released earlier this year represents a historic agreement among stakeholders and government agencies to address the problem of nutrient pollution to reduce algal blooms within Illinois and in the Gulf of Mexico. Nutrient pollution from states along the Mississippi River travels downstream and collects in the Gulf, causing a dead zone where aquatic life cannot survive and giving it the name “Gulf Hypoxia.” The Strategy aims to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus leaving Illinois by 45% in order to help improve conditions in the Gulf.

Implementation of the Strategy will also reduce the amount of nutrients in Illinois waterways, helping to prevent more algal blooms in Illinois and situations like those suffered by Ohio residents. The headlines from Ohio must be taken as a call to action in Illinois to take the steps necessary to reduce nutrient pollution. Our health and the health of our waterways depend on it.

[1] Illinois EPA. 2012 Drought and HAB Reconnaissance Monitoring Effort. http://www.epa.illinois.gov/topics/water-quality/surface-water/algal-bloom/2012-drought-and-monitoring/index.

[2] Illinois EPA. Blue-Green Algae May Cause Harmful Algal Bloom.  http://www.epa.illinois.gov/topics/water-quality/surface-water/algal-bloom/illinois-urges-precaution/index

St. Johns Bayou – New Madrid Floodway Project Threatens People and Wildlife

The New Madrid Floodway is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri just below the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. It was authorized by the federal Flood Control Act of 1928 to divert water from the Mississippi River during major flood events in order to lower flood stages upstream, notably at Cairo and Olive Branch, Illinois. If it is not used to absorb flood waters during major storms, levees and floodwalls protecting Illinois river communities could fail causing devastating losses in Alexander County as evidenced in the 2011 flooding of Olive Branch, Illinois, which caused millions of dollars in damages. Closing off the floodway will also threatens an integral part of the Mississippi River ecosystem that supports aquatic wildlife.


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has proposed the construction of a  $165 million taxpayer funded project known as the St. Johns Bayou – New Madrid Floodway Project (SJNM Project) that will close the gap in the levee between the Mississippi River and the New Madrid Floodway with a 60-foot high, 1500 foot long levee wall.

This project needs to be vetoed now, before the Final Environmental Impact Statement is released. Senator Durbin has come out publicly against the SJNM Project. But, we need Senator Kirk to join him in opposition. Please join the Thursday SJNM Tweets to Senator Kirk. Email Kim Knowles at kknowles@prairierivers.org and ask to be put on the Thursday SJNM Tweet email list. Kim will send you a reminder along with sample tweets once a week.


May 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blasted holes in a Mississippi River levee to prevent Cairo from flooding. The water level had reached a frightening 61.72 feet, threatening the home to approximately 2,800 people, 70 percent of whom are African-American, living in an historic city struggling to survive deep poverty and a deteriorating infrastructure. Photo credit: Riverfront Times

Closure of the gap in the levee system will make it even more difficult for the Army Corps of Engineers to operate the New Madrid Floodway during major storms, threatening Illinois river communities during major floods. Such flooding would cause disproportionate harm to the health and safety of low-income populations such as Cairo, Illinois, where census data shows that twenty nine percent (29%) of the city’s residents live below the poverty level.


The SJNM Floodway is a critical area for millions of animals who depend on the Floodway’s connection to the Mississippi River for clean water and habitat. Hunters and anglers from all over the country rely on the ecosystem services provided by the Floodway, bringing valuable recreation dollars to their states’ budgets. And half of Mississippi River fish spawn or rear in the Floodway. Photo credit: 1mississippi.org

Closure of the gap also threatens an integral part of the Mississippi River ecosystem, which provides vital fish and wildlife habitat, including important spawning and rearing habitat. The connection between the Mississippi River and this vital backwater habitat will result in draining more than 50,000 acres of wetlands, eliminating the most important backwater fishery in the Middle Mississippi River and threatening populations of migratory waterfowl and other wildlife that depend on the wetlands.

Join the Thursday SJNM Tweets and help Stop the Levee!


Two National Leaders to Discuss the Environment and Justice Connections

Heart of Illinois Sierra Club Group announces a Very Special Opportunity!

Aaron Mair-1An historic opportunity to witness two national organizational presidents stand side by side to discuss the connections between local environmental and justice issues is coming to central Illinois–and you are invited. The weekend of October 30-31, Sierra Club President Aaron Mair will share the stage with NAACP National President Cornell Books at the 2015 NAACP Illinois State Conference Convention on October 30th in Peoria. The following morning, October 31st, the Heart of Illinois Group will host a brunch with Aaron Mair.  CANCELLED

Mark Your Calendar — SAVE the DATEs

Friday, October 30th

Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette Hotel
501 Main St, Peoria, IL 61602

3:30 – 5:00 PM
“Union and Minority Job Opportunities in the Illinois Energy Economy.” Moderator George P Mitchell, President, Illinois State Conference of Branches, NAACP  with  Panelists Illinois Senator Dave Koehler, Chair majority Party Energy & Conservation Committee, Jacqui Patterson NAACP Director of Climate and Environmental Justice Division, Aaron Mair, National President Sierra Club and Tony O’Brian, Business Representative, AFL-CIO Local 649 Operating Engineers. Tony Pierce, Chairman Illinois Peoples Action.

7:00 – 9:00 PM
President Cornell Brooks
Sierra Club President Aaron Mair

Cornell Brooks is in his second year of leading the NAACP with its long history of advocating for racial justice, economic opportunity, equal educational  and job opportunities, fair housing and voting rights. NAACP is involved in battles on the local, state and national level for these issues and has become  committed to environmental justice issues steadily for the past 20 years, with multiple publications and initiatives.

Aaron Mair is a long time NAACP member and Sierra Club activist from upstate New York. He recently marched with NAACP leaders in Selma, Alabama. Sierra Club has committed itself to linking social justice with environmental issues. He is in his first year as President of Sierra Club, the largest grass roots environmental organization in America.

Grain Belt Express Can Deliver Clean Energy and Jobs to Illinois

Illinois has a chance right now to create good jobs adding clean energy to our power supply, and we should say yes.   Springfield may be mired in gridlock, but the Illinois Commerce Commission can give the green light to a project that will put women and men to work and turn on the renewable energy projects we need now to reduce carbon pollution.


The route is not exact; Clean Line continues to work with landowners to make adjustments.

The proposed Grain Belt Express transmission line would bring new renewable wind energy onto the grid in Illinois while creating 1,500 jobs for skilled workers. The Grain Belt Express would be the latest clean energy success story for our economy since Illinois started adding wind and solar to our power grid, and investing in energy conservation. In just a few years, we’ve created over 100,000 jobs in clean energy, saved consumers over $1 billion on their electric bills and reduced the emissions that threaten our health and our climate. It’s a great start, but we can do so much more.

To fully realize the benefits of the clean energy economy, we have to be able to move power from clean energy projects to our homes and businesses. One of the biggest impediments to a meaningful expansion of the wind industry is the lack of transmission infrastructure. The Grain Belt Express would help bring new wind energy projects on line here in the heartland by connecting them with customers who are eager to switch to a cleaner power supply.

Connecting clean energy to power markets will create good jobs here in Illinois, and we have the skilled workforce ready and eager for the job. It will also reduce the pollution that threatens our health and our wildlife, and threatens stronger storms, increased flooding, and our agricultural economy through the impacts of climate change.

With proper care and consideration for people, wildlife and the land the Grain Belt Express can help deliver urgently needed renewable energy to Illinois and other markets. The state, its citizens and its workers will benefit greatly from another clean energy source being delivered to Illinois. The Sierra Club supports the development of renewable energy projects in our state, and urge the Illinois Commerce Commission to give the green light to the Grain Belt Express and a better future for all of us.

Additional information:

Why Transmission?

Economic Benefits of Transmission

Why Clean Energy Transmission?

photo credit: Harvey McDaniel

photo credit: Harvey McDaniel

A lack of transmission infrastructure remains as one of the biggest impediments to a meaningful expansion of the wind industry. Design of the electric grid exacerbates the problem, as the grid was originally built to connect large individual generation units, and deliver the energy they generated to large population centers around the country. Midwestern states like Illinois–which received 4.98% of it’s energy from wind in 2014–have been working to increase investment in and use of renewable energy like wind, but they continue to face the problem of adequate transmission.

transmissionIn much of the Midwest, we still lack the suitable transmission to connect renewable energy resources that are often in rural areas to the larger grid. New investment in the electric grid must go hand-in-hand with renewable energy investment, allowing clean and renewable energy to be delivered to customers across the Midwest. New projects like the Grain Belt Express project must be considered as a way to provide a path from where renewable energy is generated to consumers.

Renewable Energy and Transmission

With the advent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), utilities and power providers seek out new energy generation to replace carbon-intensive sources, with the overall goal of reducing carbon emissions. For states to comply with the plan, they will need to identify renewable energy resources and insure that those sources have a reliable connection to the electric grid, and that new transmission development keeps up with renewable energy development.

Because the timeline for transmission development can often run much longer—between 5 and 15 years in many cases—than renewable energy generation facilities, planning of new transmission must try to forecast the future needs of the electric grid. According to the Department of Energy’s Wind Vision report, effectively integrating wind energy into the resource mix of utilities will require that sufficient transmission is built out to meet the needs of new or potential renewable energy generation. In fact, lack of transmission has already led to development delays as several proposals have been trapped in the transmission access queue.

The American Wind Energy Association’s Wind Industry Fourth Quarter 2014 Market Report noted that there is currently 65,879 megawatts (MW) of installed wind energy capacity across 39 states and Puerto Rico, and over 12,700 MW of new wind energy generation under construction. In fact, wind energy accounted for 31 percent of all new electricity generation installed over the last five years.

To meet the goals of the Clean Power Plan, states will require access to local and regional renewable energy resources. Without the transmission connections for these resources, states like Illinois will be limited in their options to address the requirements under the Clean Power Plan.

Local Community Input Essential for Proper Siting

Feedback from local stakeholders is one of the most useful tools in the transmission siting and development process. Comments provided by local communities and landowners offer a unique perspective that developers can’t obtain anywhere else. Developers must take the time to gather this feedback and integrate it, using this input to avoid sensitive areas. Likewise, it is important that regulators and state officials take the time to consider the input of local communities when examining these projects, providing a basis for their decision-making.

One specific area where local input is especially helpful is in the avoidance of sensitive areas. Although developers attempt to avoid these areas, sometimes it isn’t possible to entirely route a project around them. Local communities can provide insight into mitigation practices for these areas, or potential alternatives for routs. This is also true for residences and community buildings, which can be overlooked early in the development process. Proximity of transmission lines to these areas is an important consideration that regulators and developers must make, and any final route must reflect such an effort.

The electric power transmission network was not designed to penetrate areas of the Midwest that are brimming with wind energy potential. Planning new transmission to serve these areas is essential to keep pace with new renewable development, and insure that completed projects can deliver power to consumers. However, it is important that these projects are sited in a way that works alongside affected communities and landowners, and achieves an outcome that meets the needs of all stakeholders involved.

Economic Benefits of Clean Energy Transmission

The Grid and Transmission Lines

Clean Energy Town Hall brings out 100+ supporters in Park Forest

Jack Darin presenting info about the Clean Power Plan

Jack Darin presenting info about the Clean Power Plan

On Wednesday, September 16th, more than one hundred Sierra Club members, friends and supporters attended a clean energy town hall at Governors State University in University Park, which was co-sponsored by the Village of Park Forest. State Rep. Anthony DeLuca joined community leaders and clean energy advocates at Governors State University to highlight clean energy job potential in the south and southwest suburbs, and how the U.S. Clean Power Plan can grow the local economy and create jobs. Speakers also discussed the Illinois Clean Jobs bill and local efforts to support clean energy in Illinois.

An unprecedented speaker line-up, including Harry Ohde (represented IBEW 134), Cheryl Johnson (People from Community Recovery) and Pastor Booker Vance (Faith in Place), joined chapter director Jack Darin to discuss the economic, environmental and social benefits of the Clean Power Plan. Attendees heard about the environmental justice impacts of the plan, local job training facilities for clean energy electric workers and the moral obligation to tackle climate change. Pizza was served as well!

The Illinois Sierra Club and our allies have convened clean energy town halls across the state over the past year. Watch the Sierra Club calendar and your inbox to see if one is coming up in your community!

Special thanks to Sarah Coulter and Tom Mick for all their help on this event!