Illinois Governor Candidates Commit to Bold Actions At Sierra Club Forum

Sierra Club held its first ever Illinois Gubernatorial Candidate Forum Saturday, October 14th at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a crowd of over 500 witnessed a spirited exchange between candidates who are rivals for the Democratic nomination, but in broad agreement that Illinois should do much more to lead on the environment.

“It is crystal clear, given the rollbacks, the cuts, the denial of science, and attempts to divide our communities that are coming at all of us from the Trump administration, that Illinois must step up to lead,” said Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin. “Illinois must lead if we are to make progress against threats like climate change and toxins in our drinking water, and even to protect the tremendous progress we have made together as a society.”

Trump’s moves against climate action, and steps by Governor Rauner’s Illinois EPA to weaken clean air standards for coal plants drew strong rebukes and commitments to move Illinois in an entirely different direction – to a 100% clean energy future.

State Senator Daniel Biss said “I strongly support a firm commitment to move Illinois to 100% clean energy mix, and was the first candidate to do so.” Tio Hardiman agreed, saying “I plan to be a champion for renewable energy, and as a community organizer will build a movement for this goal.” Chris Kennedy pledged to begin with state properties, saying “we can make the State of Illinois commit to using 100% renewable energy for its buildings, and put the entire state on that same trajectory as well.”  J.B. Pritzker said “we need to move this state to 100% renewables, and we must invest in clean energy and battery technology, as I have as an individual, in order to get to that goal,” before apologizing for leaving the event early to attend an event downstate, and introducing State Senator Heather Steans as his surrogate for the remainder of the forum.

The health of Illinois’ water supply was top of mind, with candidates sharing plans for protecting drinking water and Illinois’ rivers and lakes. Kennedy pledged to involve the public in the fight for clean water by informing residents about their water quality to inspire them to action.

Biss said that truly universal access to clean water would come at a cost, but that is clearly worth it to stop poisoning our children and put people to work on water projects in communities that need it most. Steans said Pritzker plans to replace 100% of lead service lines in Illinois, expand existing nutrient control programs, and develop a state water use plan to ensure sustainability of community supplies.

Biss and Kennedy each expressed opposition to the proposed Route 53 extension in Lake County. Kennedy also described the proposed Illiana expressway as “like one of those zombies in one of those movies – it’s time to put a stake in the heart of that thing and move on.” Biss said “investing in mass transit and sustainable transportation is an important part of acting on climate change and reducing carbon emissions. We have to have a holistic view of what transit means across the state – trains, buses, and access to economic opportunity.” Steans did not take a position on specific projects, but said that Pritzker would understand that we cannot look at road projects based on political considerations, but on technical merit. Hardiman also declined to take a position on specific projects, while noting his support for mass transit.

Each of the candidates lamented the long decline in staffing and budget at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and shared their personal connections to Illinois’ outdoors.

Steans pointed out that Illinois ranks 48th out of 50 states when it comes to protected open space per capita, and stressed Pritzker’s commitment to rebuilding the DNR and recognizing the economic benefits of state parks and natural areas. Biss said that the “hollowing out” of IDNR was “unthinkable”, and a result of the Governor “throwing the environment under the bus” when it comes time for budgeting decisions. “People protect what they love, and I love places like our lakefront, the savannahs along the Des Plaines River, the Mississippi bluffs, and the Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge,” said Kennedy.

Each candidate acknowledged the importance of planning for the transition to a clean energy future, and the importance of including workers and communities historically dependent on fossil fuels in the benefits it will bring. Biss said  “We need a clear, focused plan to match specific opportunities with impacted workers in the communities where they live, not someplace else.”

Kennedy said his approach to utilities operating in Illinois communities would be “when you stop, you need to clean up the mess you made, and return your site to the community in the condition you found it, and you need to make sure your employees’ pensions are safe. Hardiman agreed, and added that we need to expedite renewable energy in these areas.  Steans said Pritzker “knows this transition is coming, and that his economic plan includes support for infrastructure, clean energy, and agriculture investment to help” and said he is  “100% against fracking – we’ve seen the impacts for water and seismic activity.” All pledged their support for rules requiring cleanup of

All candidates pledged a focus on environmental justice, and focused on the connection between environmental threats and racism and income inequality.

Pritzker began his remarks by quoting the Old Testament: “Justice, justice, shall you pursue”, and then continued “Bruce Rauner and his Koch Brothers, right-wing network, has sold out this state, and put profits over people. We’ve got to stand up to them, to say ‘no’ when they say it’s OK if we pollute the air and make it harder to breathe to help the profits of the fossil fuel industry.  We need a Governor who stands up for environmental justice in particular.” Biss said “It is the responsibility of our movement to protect communities of color and those who have been left behind.  This is about the white privilege that exists in every corner of our policymaking system, our economy, and our country, and we have to do something about that. Hardiman stressed his background in community organizing and peacemaking, and the fact that he would be Illinois’ first African-American Governor. Kennedy talked about diesel pollution in Chicago neighborhoods, the vulnerability of poor communities to storms, and “terrible environmental hazards in poor communities” as violations of Catholic social justice doctrine.

Governor Rauner was invited to participate but did not respond.

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Hurricane Recovery Fundraiser!

hurricane recovery fundraiser

On Oct. 10, the Solidarity Team of Sierra Club’s Chicago Group joined a national Hurricane Relief Day of Action by hosting a fundraiser for Puerto Rico at the Chicago Office.

All funds from this event will be donated to community organizations in Puerto Rico working to address relief and recovery needs in the wake of Hurricanes Maria + Irma and the subsequent government neglect.

The event was attended by two dozen individuals, including State Senator Omar Aquino and US Representative Luis Gutierrez. Sen. Aquino and Rep. Gutierrez spoke about the impact that the storm has had on communities, and of their relatives back in Puerto Rico. Huge portions of the island remain without power and running water, and the individuals impacted the most are the most vulnerable: infants, the elderly, and those in hospitals.

“Imagine an 80 year-old trying to live their life in a disaster zone with limited electricity and running water,” Rep Gutierrez told us. Rep. Gutierrez shared more about the impact that US policy and the financial industry has had on Puerto Rico. Predatory lending has left the island in paralyzing debt, and the island’s finances are now largely controlled by an appointed (unelected) board of seven individuals.

In addition, an old and outdated power grid has exacerbated the impact of the storms. Rep Gutierrez sees renewable energy (siting the reliable sun and wind on the island) and Puerto Rican Sovereignty as key to Puerto Rico’s future. The situation in Puerto Rico right now is a tragic example of economic, bureaucratic, and environmental racism in the United States. The solidarity team was grateful for the opportunity to make a small, positive impact in what is otherwise a devastating situation. Our fundraiser raised $1400! It’s also not too late to contribute. You can donate to community recovery efforts in Puerto Rico here.

Your car can be more than a pumpkin holder.

Spooky carIt may only be October, but now is a great time to donate your vehicle. When you donate a vehicle that you no longer need or use, your generous donation will not only support Illinois Sierra Club, but you can also benefit from the donation too! When you donate your car, truck or boat to Illinois Sierra Club before January 1st, 2018, you could qualify for a 2017 tax deduction!

The donation process is easy.

CARS will pick up most cars, trucks, trailers, boats, RVs, motorcycles, off-road vehicles, and heavy equipment, making it easy for you to support the Sierra Club’s mission to move toward a greener future.

Don’t let your car just be a pumpkin holder this Fall. Visit us online to give your vehicle a new purpose today!

 

Announcing our 2018 platform – 100% In for the Environment

We have never needed our leaders to take bold action for the environment more than now. If we are going to resist the unprecedented threats to basic protections for our air, land, water, and wildlife, and set new examples for smart strategies that can solve our environmental challenges, it is time for Illinois to lead.

That’s why Illinois Sierra Club has released our 2018 platform –our roadmap for what local leadership on critical environmental issues looks like.

Watch and share the video announcing our 2018 Platform here:

 

We can afford nothing less than 100% effort, solutions that address 100% of the problem, and that benefit 100% of Illinoisans.

It is time for Illinois to commit – 100% – to provide a healthful environment for each and every one of us. Illinois can step up to ensure that our environment is cleaner, and our economy healthier, by being all in to seize the opportunities in restoring our environmental leadership.

We’ve created a roadmap for you and our elected leaders to follow. Read our 2018 platform and say you’re 100% In For The Environment! https://sierra.secure.force.com/actions/Illinois…

Protecting the Great Lakes, One Pledge at a Time

Earlier this year, President Trump proposed a budget that would completely eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and drastically cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, the entity responsible for protecting human health and the environment. We were appalled by this abandonment of crucial, successful efforts to protect our health, our drinking water and the most important natural asset for our entire region.

Halting the incredible work of the men and women who are cleaning up and restoring the Great Lakes would be a huge mistake today and have drastic implications for the future. Folks in Cleveland, Chicago, Gary, Detroit and many more communities on the Great Lakes know the toll of dirty industry. Funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to clean up and protect the land and water in the Great Lakes region keeps communities safe and restores property values. Work by the EPA to minimize or mitigate the impacts of pollution on our health and environment is critical.

We knew we needed to respond to this shocking proposal and show decision makers in D.C. that restoring the Great Lakes and protecting our health and environment are broadly supported, bipartisan priorities for people across our region. In March, we held a press conference with the Alliance for the Great Lakes and other advocates calling on our elected officials to reject these outrageous proposed cuts and invest in our Great Lakes and the communities across our region.

GLRI presser

We knew we couldn’t be the only voices calling for the protection of resources that so many people depend on, and the incredibly rare source of freshwater we are fortunate to have in our region. Over the summer, our volunteers collected Great Lakes Protection Pledges online and at events throughout Illinois. By the end of the summer, over 15,000 people had signed the pledge, calling on their Members of Congress to:

  • Support full funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
  • Oppose policy rollbacks that threaten to increase pollution of our Great Lakes; and
  • Support increased investment in clean water infrastructure, to supply clean drinking water for all.

In September, we visited district offices in Illinois to ask our Representatives to be the voice of thousands of Great Lakes supporters and ensure that the new budget includes full funding for the Great Lakes, the EPA and needed water infrastructure projects. We visited ten offices, delivering our message and a list of all the people from each Congressional district that signed the Great Lakes Protection Pledge. Some of our champions even signed the pledge themselves, committing to vote for clean water and healthy Great Lakes (shout out to Representatives Foster, Lipinski, Schakowsky and Quigley!).

During the last week of September, a small team from Illinois traveled to DC to participate in the first “Defend Our Progress” Sierra Club Lobby Week with staff, volunteers and partners from across the country. One the final day of our trip, we delivered our boxes of pledge cards to Senators Durbin and Duckworth, asking them to continue to advocate on behalf of the Great Lakes supporters they represent.

Duckworth Delivery.JPG

As the budget process plays out in DC, we are glad to see full funding of the GLRI in the package of spending bills passed by the House. But the 10% cut to the EPA budget and the dangerous riders and cuts to other critical agencies and programs are unacceptable. We now look to the Senate to restore common sense by prioritizing our health and the protection of resources that our economy and communities depend on.

We are so grateful for all of the people who contributed to this effort. Thank you to every person who signed a pledge, collected pledges at a farmer’s market, festival or other event, participated in a meeting with your Member of Congress, amplified our message on social media or other outlets, and helped with databasing and other behind-the-scenes work to make this happen. We appreciate you, and the millions of people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, business or recreation will benefit from your efforts. Onward! 

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Metro East Mayors Sign the Mayor’s 100% Clean Energy Endorsement

Local leadership on clean energy is more important than ever. With this being said we cannot overlook the significance of  three Mayors in the Metro East taking bold steps playing a  powerful role in making 100% Clean Energy a reality and using their voices and influence to help spread the message.

On August 11, Granite City Mayor, Ed Hagnauer, became the first downstate mayor to sign the Sierra Club’s Mayor’s for 100% Clean Energy Endorsement — an initiative calling on all mayors — regardless of political party, from big cities and small towns – to support a vision of 100% clean and renewable energy in their cities, towns, and communities, and across the country.. 

Mayor Hagnauer has worked closely with the Granite City Cool Cities Committee to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in municipal operations since 2012. Many of the initiatives the City has undertaken such as replacing an aging municipal fleet with fuel efficient hybrid models have been significant steps towards reaching these reductions.  Mayor Hagnauer commented that “it has always been our goal to be as energy efficient as possible, transitioning to 100% renewable energy, like wind and solar will protect our community from pollution, create new jobs and local economic opportunities.”

To date, Edwardsville’s Mayor Hal Patton and Alton Mayor Brant Walker have also signed on. Mayor Walker commented that “In light of increased flooding events the City of Alton has endured during my administration our resolve is strengthened to a build a more resilient community and transitioning to 100% renewable energy is a logical step in achieving this.”

We are witness to disasters happening all across the country and the globe that threaten lives, our energy security and public health.Local action to mitigate these threats is the foundation on which the transition to 100% clean energy is built upon. We commend the Mayors of the Metro East region for their leadership towards this goal.

Harvey, Labor Day, and the Fight for $15

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As most Americans enjoy a Labor Day weekend of barbecues, beaches, and the last days of summer, millions in Texas and Louisiana are dealing with a stunning human tragedy from a rain event without precedent.

Harvey’s devastation has been tragic, unprecedented, shocking, and yet, to be expected. For decades now, scientists have been warning that climate change would lead to just this kind of devastation.
So why haven’t we, as a society, done more to prevent it?
Unfortunately, one reason is that climate change and severe weather threaten poor and communities of color the most, and yet these most vulnerable are unable to fully protect themselves as long as they are marginalized by systemic poverty and racism.  People who are struggling to put food on the table and afford health care, who are terrorized by violence, and who are targeted by hate have less time, resources, and power to stand up against climate change and the dumps, smokestacks, floodplain development, toxic sites and other environmental risks that tend to be clustered in minority and disadvantaged communities.
Earning a living wage and the right for workers to organize are critical to breaking these cycles of poverty, and empowering each and every one of us to participate fully in our economy and society.  That’s why the Sierra Club supports policies that raise wages for our most vulnerable, like the $15 minimum wage that the Illinois General Assembly passed this year, only to be vetoed by Governor Rauner.  Sierra Club opposes “right to work” or other attacks on the rights of workers to form unions, because we need a skilled workforce to build safe and clean water, transportation, and energy infrastructure. Unions also protect workers who call out unsafe conditions or violations of the law in the workplace, which protects them and the communities around them.
The threats to working people from climate change are mirrored by the economic opportunities offered by its solutions.  We need to prioritize communities of color for good jobs in clean energy, as we are doing with the Illinois Solar For All program under the Future Energy Jobs Act. We are counting on unions to provide the training for these jobs, and to help ensure this work pays a living wage in safe conditions.
To solve climate change and seize the benefits of the clean energy economy, we need to overcome the extremely powerful few who benefit from the status quo. We cannot do that until each and every one of us who want a better future for our communities and our children are empowered to join our movement, and for many a living wage in a good job are critical first steps.
That’s why the Sierra Club is marching with our labor and community allies on Labor Day in the Fight for $15 and union rights, and we invite you to join us.  Our thoughts will be with the millions suffering in the wake of Harvey and from injustice, and on building a bigger movement to win a better future.