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.

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.

Saturday, October 31

Peoria Public Library
107 N.E. Monroe, Room LL2

9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Brunch with Aaron Mair, Sierra Club President (Please RSVP for the brunch so we know how many to plan for.)

The Heart of Illinois Group has a arranged a very special opportunity for you, Central Illinois environmental activists, to a share a meal and conversation with our Club President, Aaron Mair.

Following the brunch, we’ll be taking Aaron on a scenic drive/walk as time and weather permits.

Please RSVP for the brunch so we know how many to plan for.

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!

Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board on Threatened & Endangered List

Endangered barn owl

Endangered barn owl

Board Funding Eliminated

Take Action:  The Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board was recently zeroed out by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.  We urge IDNR to fully fund and staff the Endangered Species Protection Board in a way that preserves the science needed to protect all species and preserves the Board’s independent decision making.

What Happened: As of September 15, 2015, the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (citing the tenuous state of the IDNR financial condition and the bleak Illinois State budget) decided to no longer fund the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board now or in the foreseeable future.  Funding for the Board operations and staff is from a single line appropriation in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Budget. There is no funding for Board staff or operational activity which puts at risk the protections of endangered and threatened species of plants and animals in Illinois.

About the Endangered Species Protection Board

  • The Endangered Species Protection Board was created by the Endangered Species Protection Act in 1972 and its roles and responsibilities are codified in statute (520 ILCS 10/6).

  • The board consists of nine volunteer members, who are appointed by the Governor.  At least six members must be naturalists, including at least two zoologists, two ecologists, and one botanist.

  • There are 480 animals and plants currently listed on the endangered and threatened species list.  The board is responsible for maintaining and updating the List of Illinois Endangered and Threatened Species as warranted and no less often than every 5 years.

  • The Board also advises the Department on best practices related to the protection, conservation management practices and habitat for these fragile species.

  • By law, changes to the Illinois List must be based on scientific evidence including evaluating each of the currently listed species and additional species for changes in population size, changes in range in the state, whether it occurs at protected sites, any known threats to its existence, as well as features of its life history which might have a bearing on survival. To accomplish this requirement, staff need to conduct and participate in field surveys and research, compile data and biological information from multiple sources for each species, and prepare a status and distribution review with listing status recommendation for Board consideration.

How will this critical work get done?

These duties are clearly above and beyond what can be expected of a volunteer board; therefore, without dedicated Board staff ​ the IDNR needs to demonstrate how it will provide staffing support and how it will be independent enough to provide the checks and balances that the Board needs to assure that potential conflicts between the department and the board are truly resolved.

Why do we care about protecting Endangered and Threatened Species?

Special attention is given to protecting species of plants and animals that have become rare to prevent their complete disappearance from our environment.

  • Plants and animals serve as early indicators of environmental problems that are potentially dangerous to humans.

  • Any species of plant or animal may someday provide a product or service that is valuable to humans from food to fiber to medicine.

  • Every plant or animal species contributes to the stability of the ecosystem. Each species is connected in a complex relationship to others. The loss of any species impacts other species that have evolved along with it.

  • The loss of any plant or animal species diminishes the natural beauty of the earth which we all benefit from for our physical, spiritual and emotional health and well being.

Please take Action today! Let Governor Rauner and IDNR Director Rosenthal you want a fully funded Endangered Species Protection Board.

Citizens Speak Out in Favor of More Stream Protection at Coal Mines

Citizens for clean water.

Citizens for clean water.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) has proposed a new rule for regulation of coal mining intended to better protect streams, fish, and wildlife from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining operations and impacts to streams from underground mining. 

The proposed rule would update the nearly 30-year-old rule coal mines now operate under and:

  • include regulatory requirements for addressing the hydrologic balance outside the permit area.
  • require mine operators to establish an adequate baseline for evaluation of the impacts of mining and the effectiveness of reclamation.
  • adjust monitoring requirements to enable timely detection and correction of any adverse trends in the quality or quantity of surface water and groundwater or the biological condition of streams.
  • ensure protection or restoration of perennial and intermittent streams and related resources, including ephemeral streams.
  • ensure that mine operators and regulatory authorities make use of the most current science and technology
  • ensure that land disturbed by mining operations is restored to a condition capable of supporting the uses that it was capable of supporting prior to mining.
  • update and codify the requirements and dispute resolution procedures involved when the proposed permit or adjacent areas contain federally listed threatened or endangered species and designated critical habitat.

OSMRE held six public hearings in Colorado, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, W. Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Citizens wait in line to get into the hearing.

Citizens wait in line to get into the hearing.

Illinois Chapter Sierra Club gives a loud shout out to the 38 citizens from Illinois, Missouri and Indiana who attended the Missouri hearing to tell their stories of destruction and pollution. They included citizens on the frontline from: Peabody’s Rocky Branch Mine in Saline County, Springfield Coal’s Industry Mine in McDonough County, Foresight Energy’s Deer Run Mine in Montgomery County and Pond Creek Mine in Williamson County, Sunrise Coal’s proposed Bulldog Mine in Vermilion County, and many more supporters from across the region.

Waiting for the hearing to begin.

Waiting for the hearing to begin.

Everyone did an excellent job of telling their stories and tying them to aspects of the draft rule. In fact, OSMRE staff presiding over the hearing thanked our folks for attending and extended high praise for telling such powerful, compelling stories.

Those testifying on the side opposing new, protective rules for clean water included representatives for Congressmen John Shimkus, Rodney Dave and Mike Bost, and State Representatives Terri Bryant and Avery Bourne. Due to some tricky maneuvering to have others hold their place in line, the vast majority, including those mentioned above, were the first to speak. Unfortunately, our elected officials did not bother to stick around to hear what their constituents, some of whom drove over 200 miles, had to say!

All hands-in celebration after the hearing.

All-hands-in celebration after the hearing.

Others in opposition included the Illinois Coal Association and the Indiana Coal Council and industry representatives from Foresight Energy, American Coal, Peabody Coal, Murray, Knight Hawk Coal, Alliance Coal, Sunrise Coal, Arch Coal. The main talking points among the opposition were that the new rules are: redundant, a solution without a problem, going to cause massive job loss, cause the lights to go out, cause severe rate hikes–all intermixed with lots of Obama blaming and some Sierra Club bashing.

Acid mine drainage can be highly toxic and, when mixed with groundwater, surface water and soil, may have harmful effects on humans, animals and plants.

Acid mine drainage can be highly toxic and, when mixed with groundwater, surface water and soil, may have harmful effects on humans, animals and plants.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) is a bureau within the U.S. Department of the Interior. OSMRE was created in 1977 when Congress enacted the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. OSMRE works with states and tribes to ensure that citizens and the environment are protected during coal mining and that the land is restored to beneficial use when mining is finished. Today, most coal states, including Illinois, have developed their own programs to do those jobs. OSMRE focuses on overseeing the state programs and developing new tools, such as the proposed Stream Protection Rule, to help the states and tribes get the job done.


Statement on Clean Power Plan & Illinois

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama Administration released the final version of the landmark Clean Power Plan.

In response, Jack Darin, Director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club released the following statement:

“The Clean Power Plan is the most significant single action any President has ever taken to tackle the most serious threat to the health of our families: the climate crisis.

“Today marks a new era of growth for affordable and safe clean energy sources that don’t fuel climate disruption and sicken our communities. It is a step towards improving the quality of life for low income neighborhoods and communities of color, which have disproportionately borne the brunt of power plant pollution in Illinois for decades. It is an opportunity to protect what we treasure most here in Illinois; from Lake Michigan to our state’s vital farmland.

“We know we can meet these goals for reducing carbon pollution in Illinois because we’ve already started. Since Illinois started adding wind and solar to our power grid, and investing in energy conservation, 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. With a strong state Clean Power Plan, we can build on that success to create good jobs where we need them most, protect ratepayers, and clean the air we breathe. The Illinois Clean Jobs bill is the best way to bring Illinois a clean energy future by ramping up renewable energy like wind and solar to 35 percent by 2030 and cutting energy use through efficiency by 20 percent by 2025. These efforts will save consumers money while bringing clean energy investment to new communities to strengthen local tax bases and create family-sustaining jobs.

“We are especially proud that a President from Illinois is leading America to confront the climate crisis, and seize these opportunities. With so much at stake, it’s time to come together to build solutions to ensure that no Illinois community is left behind as we shift to a clean energy economy. As we work to build a better future for our children and grandchildren, these efforts must include ensuring good jobs and economic vitality in diverse Illinois communities so families can grow and thrive.

“We stand ready and eager to work together on a Clean Power Plan for Illinois that delivers the better future we all want for our families and our future.”