A quarter century of Illinois Wilderness symbolized on the new Shawnee National Forest quarter dollar coin

Shawnee-reverse_150x150Today, February 4th, the U.S. Mint is set to release the Shawnee National Forest quarter dollar coin–an event brimming with symbolism.

The coin features the iconic Camel Rock, a unique sandstone formation resembling its namesake that overlooks the Garden of the Gods Wilderness. The camel standing sentry over Garden of the Gods is symbolic of the Illinois Wilderness Act that has been protecting seven Wilderness Areas within the Shawnee National Forest for a quarter century.

In the 1980’s, Sierra Club worked with other wilderness advocates and newly elected Congressman Glenn Poshard in a campaign that saw victory in the passage by Congress of the 1990 Illinois Wilderness Act.  The act designated Garden of the Gods and six other high quality roadless areas in Shawnee National Forest as “Wilderness” – to be preserved as areas that provide solitude or primitive recreation that renews the spirit.  Camel Rock now symbolizes that inspirational quality of “wilderness” – areas largely untouched by man.

This new 25 cent coin and the 25th anniversary of Illinois Wilderness are reminders to all who value these wilderness areas that we must be vigilant and respectful in order to maintain these valuable and unique parts of our state – for our families and for our future.

The release of the Shawnee National Forest quarter dollar coin — the 31st coin of the U.S. Mint America the Beautiful Quarters® Program — will take place at Southeastern Illinois College Gymnasium, 3575 College Road, Harrisburg, Illinois, on February 4 at 10 a.m. To find out how to obtain the new coin visit the U.S. Mint website.

To find out more about Wilderness in the Shawnee National Forest visit: http://illinoiswilderness.org/

All In For Environmental Justice


Sierra Club President Aaron Mair, the NAACP’s Cornell Brooks and Illinois member Dave Pittman in Peoria.

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we at the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter are taking a moment to pronounce our resolve to become a “deeper shade of green” in our work for the environment and for justice. We believe that every Illinois resident, regardless of gender, race, age, income, citizenship or where you live, should feel empowered to protect our shared environment—if you do too, we invite you to join us!

In 2015, the Sierra Club made huge strides by finalizing our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) plan. Our DEI plan is a strong commitment to broaden our Club and involve new voices in our membership and leadership. Here in Illinois, Sierra Club President Aaron Mair and the NAACP’s Cornell Brooks made history in Peoria with a joint keynote address about the intersectionality of our environmental and civil rights movements.

But this is just the first step in our journey together. Here in Illinois we can be a leader in building a more equitable movement and just society. That means we need your voice in the mix—are you in?

unnamedThis is going to be a big, hard, fight. It’s one few have been willing to take on. We’re going to make mistakes along the way but I just know we’re building something unlike anything that’s ever been built before.

No matter what your life circumstances—your gender, race, age, income, or where you live—we depend on the same air, water, and land. Whether we’re talking about local issues like coal ash pollution or the preservation of wild lands, or big picture issues like climate change, we know that we need everyone fighting for the environment.

“As Dr. King said, ‘we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

If you want to be a part of a diverse and strong environmental movement, sign up here to pledge your support to a deeper shade of green. We’ll get in touch with you to help find ways to get involved to expand the environmental movement in your community.

It’s never been more important that we engage everyone in our work to protect our planet and our communities. We hope you’ll join us!

New Report Shows Clean Water Means Jobs for Illinois

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Earlier today, we joined the Chicago Federation of Labor to appear before the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) to release a new report titled “A Flowing Economy: How Clean Water Infrastructure Investments Support Good Jobs in Chicago and in Illinois.” The report reveals some of the major benefits that investments in clean water generate for the economy and the environment, both locally and statewide, and highlights the need for additional clean water projects.

IMG_0402During the Board Meeting, the Commissioners passed a resolution recognizing the report and Commissioners Debra Shore and Barbara McGowan gave positive remarks. Bob Reiter, Secretary-Treasurer for the Chicago Federation of Labor, addressed the Board on the need to focus on upgrading and repairing the state’s clean water infrastructure to protect our water resources and expand the economic and environmental benefits they generate.

Frank Manzo, Policy Director at the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and co-author of the report, helped to highlight its key findings, including:

  • For every $1 billion invested in clean water infrastructure, approximately 11,200 jobs are created throughout the economy and there is an 8% one-year GDP Return on Investment.
  • In the Chicago area, clean water investments boost the regional economy by nearly $2 billion and lower the unemployment rate by 0.7 percentage points.
  • Employment in the water infrastructure sector increases an Illinois worker’s hourly earnings by 10.1 percent on average, providing a personal benefit that roughly equates to an additional year of schooling.

IMG_0397Our own Clean Water Program Director, Cindy Skrukrud, and Director Jack Darin spoke to the Board and the audience at the meeting about the need to address threats to our waters such as combined sewer overflows, aquatic invasive species and nutrient pollution. The report offers a snapshot of these challenges facing the Chicago Waterway System and waterways throughout Illinois and the opportunities to address them through future investments. Local, state and federal agencies have an opportunity to boost the economy and create good jobs for hardworking men and women while solving problems that threaten the health of our water resources.

One such problem is the threat of Asian Carp and other invasive species moving through the Chicago Area Waterways into Lake Michigan, and invasives moving from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River Basin. While there is broad agreement among stakeholders in both regions that a solution is urgently needed, there is additional information necessary to move decision makers to implement the best approach. We hope that local, state and federal agencies will work together to expediently fund and complete the necessary studies to move forward. We know that control measures must be constructed in the waterway system to prevent invasives from moving between the basins, and investing in this solution will bring benefits to the region’s economy and workforce while protecting some of our most valued bodies of water.

We’re excited to be a part of this initiative and stand ready with our partners to advocate for prioritized investments to achieve clean water and a thriving economy. We hope you’ll join us in being voices for the protection of our waterways and the future of our working class.


 Read the press release:


 Read the full report:


 Watch a video of the January 7th presentation: 






January 7, 2016


New Report: Clean Water Projects Employed 19,443 In 2014

Chicago Federation of Labor, Sierra Club Present Findings at MWRD Board Meeting

“A Flowing Economy” Details Clean Water Benefits to Workers & Regional Economy

Chicago, IL– The Chicago Federation of Labor and the Sierra Club today made a unique joint appearance before the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) to release a new report on the benefits that investments in clean water generate for the economy and the environment both locally and statewide, and to highlight upcoming opportunities for clean water projects.

“We are fortunate to have one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water right outside our front door, in Lake Michigan and all our Great Lakes,” said Jorge Ramirez, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor. “Thanks to an initial investment by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the City of Chicago Department of Water Management in 2014, we have already begun to see the economic and environmental benefits of investing in clean water projects in the Chicago area, namely job creation and increased worker productivity thanks to improved regional health. We need to build on this success and focus on upgrading and repairing the state’s clean water infrastructure.”

“Protecting Lake Michigan and restoring our rivers are not only essential for public health but also significantly contributes to a healthy economy,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.

The report, titled “A Flowing Economy: How Clean Water Infrastructure Investments Support Good Jobs in Chicago and in Illinois” finds that for every $1 billion invested in clean water infrastructure, approximately 6,200 direct jobs are created in construction or water and sewage facilities, and 11,200 total jobs are created throughout the economy. Additionally, every $1 billion investment brings an 8 percent one-year GDP return on investment. The report was prepared by Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and the School of Labor and Employment Relations at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Investments in clean water benefit the whole economy by making businesses and households run more smoothly, with less frequent disruptions from leaks, contamination and other water infrastructure failures,” said Frank Manzo, Policy Director at ILEPI and an author of the report.

Leading the region in clean water investments are the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago and the City of Chicago’s Department of Water Management. In 2014 alone, these two entities created or saved a total of 19,400 jobs and reduced the regional unemployment rate by 0.73 percent.

“America’s economy runs on water,” said MWRD President Mariyana Spyropoulos. “Between the City of Chicago and the MWRD, hundreds of thousands of annual jobs will be supported and billions in economic output will be produced over the next decade. When we invest in water, we put people to work, support economic growth and build a stronger foundation for our nation.”

While investments in clean water have led to major improvements in water quality and efficient water management, there are outstanding needs for additional investments that will continue to bolster the economy and enrich our communities. The report offers a snapshot of the challenges facing the Chicago Waterway System and waterways throughout Illinois and the opportunities to address these challenges through future investments.

“We need our local leaders and agencies to continue investing in two things every city needs: clean water and good jobs. Fortunately, there are opportunities to achieve both through smart investments in the right projects,” said Dr. Cynthia Skrukrud, Clean Water Program Director for the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We need to address serious threats to our water resources, such as invasive species, combined sewer overflows and nutrient pollution, which will require new water infrastructure to be built by hardworking men and women. We stand ready to help local, state and federal agencies prioritize investments to achieve clean water and a thriving economy.”

The report and its key findings were presented at the MWRD Board Meeting earlier today, and the District Board approved a resolution supporting the report.

To read the report visit:




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!