Stop Polluter Payoffs: IL Advocates Head to D.C.

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Sierra Club sent a seven-person Illinois delegation to Washington, D.C. this week as part of our national “Stop Polluter Payoffs” campaign. Needless to say, we were excited to join 100 volunteers and organizers from 16 states to talk to our elected officials about the importance of defending against attacks to the Clean Power Plan, smog safeguards, and coal ash protections.

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For five decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made and enforced protections that reined in polluters and saved lives. Now, the agency is working on public health standards that will clean up our air and water, and save even more lives: carbon pollution protections for new and existing power plants, dirty smog that pollutes our air, and toxic water pollution. Illinois’s Members of Congress should represent the interests of their constituents, not Big Polluters, by voting against attacks on public health protections.

Illinois is home to hundreds of rockstar volunteer leaders, and they were represented this week by Laura Asher (Alton), Robin Garlish (Pekin), Barbara Klipp (Grayslake), Dulce Ortiz (Waukegan), and Verena Owen (Winthrop Harbor). They were there to bring the message of the over 5,000 Illinoisans who took action to support a strong smog standard, and the over 20,000 Illinoisans who took action to support a strong Clean Power Plan!
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We were pleased to have strong support from so many of our Representatives for a stronger smog standard and our Clean Power Plan efforts both in Washington and Springfield. Our Congressmen and women know that stronger EPA protections to curb life-threatening pollution can help us improve the lives of people in Illinois and millions of Americans and clean up our air, water, and environment.

Highlights from our trip include:

• Our team hitting it out of the park on our first and perhaps most important meeting with Kirk’s staff – asking our Republican friend to continue to advocate for action on climate

• Representative Cheri Bustos recognizing Robin Garlish for her work in Peoria and encouraging us to stay strong on the coal ash fight

• An in-person meeting with Congressman Rush where he stressed the importance of clean air and clean water particularly in environmental justice communities

• Three of our Lake County Woods and Wetlands Groups members meeting with newly-elected Representative Dold about clean air for the Waukegan area

All in all we made it to 19 of the 20 Illinois offices and met with staff in 15. It was, literally, a lot of leg work, but we’re so proud of our team and so ready to bring this fight back home. Join us by sending a letter to your officials in Washington asking them to stand up for people, not polluters: http://action.sierraclub.org/114

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Protecting the Mahomet Aquifer: what is it, why does it need protection, and how can we protect it?

The Mahomet Aquifer is a massive underground water system that is the sole source of drinking for an area that includes 14 east-central Illinois counties. The aquifer provides about 58 million gallons of drinking water each day for 120 public water systems and thousands of rural wells that serve nearly 750,000 people in Illinois. Recognizing its importance the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) announced last week a decision to designate a portion of the Mahomet Aquifer system as a sole source aquifer.*

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Clinton Landfill, located above the Mahomet Aquifer in DeWitt County wants to bury PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) and Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) wastes exceeding the current regulatory levels. PCBs and MGP wastes, which are persistent in the environment and are very slow to break down, cause cancer, are endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins. Any possibility of PCBs or MGP wastes leaching into this valuable and irreplaceable resource is simply too great a risk to take.

protect_the_aquifer_dropletLegislation (SB 1698 and HB 1326) would protect the Mahomet Aquifer by blocking the disposal of PCBs and MGPs in landfills over the aquifer.

Could the convoluted 8-year fight to protect the Mahomet be closing in on victory?

Eight years ago, in 2007, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) issued a permit to Clinton Landfill to store potentially hazardous waste. But, before the landfill could start accepting PCBs it had to also get a permit from the U.S. EPA.

By 2008, public opposition to the permit began when 75% of the DeWitt County residents voted in opposition of the landfill’s plans. Joining them were U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama who wrote a letter to then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson expressing “strong concerns” about the proposal. In 2009 then-U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson believing residents concerns “at best [had] been ignored and at worst treated with arrogance and condescension” by the EPA sent a letter asking the regional EPA administrator to stop the permitting process.

In April of 2011, the Illinois EPA issued a permit for the landfill to begin accepting chemical waste types that do not require a federal permit, which includes MGP wastes. Twenty-two top officials from agencies around the region began organizing formal opposition to the federal permit. In, 2012 the officials filed a formal complaint with the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB), saying landfill officials did not follow the proper zoning rules when they built a chemical waste unit and began accepting potentially hazardous trash.

A year later the IPCB dismissed the complaint on the grounds that it was irrelevant because the Illinois EPA had already issued the permit. A few months later, in January 2014, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan appealed the pollution control board decision.

Now, after 8 long years we could see a good resolution to a bad idea. Last week the USEPA announced a decision to designate a portion of the Mahomet Aquifer system as a sole source aquifer*. While the USEPA designation of the Mahomet as a sole source aquifer doesn’t directly help the aquifer from this landfill proposal, it does send a strong message that the Mahomet Aquifer is a special resource that deserves the protection that SB 1698 and HB 1326 can give it.

You can help!
Take action here — ask your legislators to Support SB 1698 and HB 1326.

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*The Safe Drinking Water Act gives EPA authority to designate all or part of an aquifer as a “sole source” if contamination of the aquifer would create a significant hazard to public health and there are no physically available or economically feasible alternative sources of drinking water to serve the population that relies on the aquifer. The designation authorizes EPA review of projects that receive Federal financial assistance to assess potential for contamination of the aquifer system that would create a significant hazard to public health.

Protect Bobcats in Illinois!

bobcatBobcat hunting legislation is back! Please ask your legislators to oppose HB352/SB106.

A bill that is currently moving through Illinois legislature will amend the wildlife code and remove the prohibition of taking bobcats in the State – previously banned since 1972 because the species became threatened. The current estimated population of bobcats is around 3,000 with most of the population located in the southern region of the state.  Their diet consists of mainly rabbits, squirrels, and other rodents making them an important part of our ecosystem.

Governor Quinn vetoed this bill in January, just before leaving office, but it’s back for the 2015 session.

HB352/SB106 will allow a person to trap or to hunt bobcats with gun, dog, dog and gun, or bow and arrow during the proposed hunting season. The season limits one bobcat per person, but the bill does not indicate whether permits will be limited to control the number of bobcats taken. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources does not have a management or sustainability plan in place for bobcats and most of the related research has been conducted in the southern region of Illinois.  There is tremendous concern that this plan does not take into account ecological science for best practices for bobcat protection in Illinois.  For example, there is little research on populations in the northern and central region of Illinois.  In addition, this legislation does not take into account emergency procedures to close the season if the species becomes threatened again.

The prices offered for pelts have significantly increased. With that comes increased interest in harvesting species like the bobcat. Even with a limit of one bobcat per person, it is quite probable that a significantly greater number of bobcats could be harvested during the proposed season. That raises additional concerns that harvesters may take more bobcats than the population can sustain.

The fur of the bobcat is better quality once the weather becomes colder. Given that Illinois winters generally are not cold enough to produce the high-quality fur until December or January; it appears that the season starts too early.

Additionally, bobcats can still have kittens that are just weeks old as late in the season as the end of November. If kittens are left abandoned because their mother was taken, this will increase kitten mortality rates and raise even more concerns about sustainability.

Without a management or sustainability plan and without additional studies, this wildlife code should NOT be amended to allow the removal of the prohibition of taking bobcats. This species needs to remain protected to prevent it from being added to the threatened list again.

Take Action!

Packed Town Hall Forum Shows Support for Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition

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On Tuesday night, the Sierra Club was thrilled to be joined by Senator Bill Cunningham, Representative Kelly Burke and Representative Fran Hurley and a town hall forum discussing Illinois’ clean energy potential at Moraine Valley Community College. A panel of experts, including Harry Ohde from IBEW Local 134, Bryan McDaniel from Citizens Utility Board, Stephenie Presseller from Moraine Valley Community College, and Jack Darin from the Illinois Sierra Club joined a standing room-only crowd of over 100 people for a lively discussion. The Clean Power Plan was especially highlighted, but panelists also emphasized the consumer savings and economic opportunities presented by clean energy.

This event is the first of many clean energy jobs forums planned across the state since last week’s launch of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, an unprecedented partnership between the Sierra Club and more than 50 organizations that aim to ramp up renewables and energy efficiency in the state. The coalition supports raising energy efficiency standards to 20% by 2025, and renewable energy standards to 35% by 2030.

Undoubtedly, much of the event’s success was due to the hard work of Sierra Club volunteers. Members helped with phone banking, petitioning, postering and group outreach to ensure high attendance at the event. The forum represents the dedication of volunteers in the Southwest suburbs to growing the grassroots support it takes to win strong environmental legislation.

“Illinois has a historic opportunity right now to boost our clean energy economy, cut dangerous pollution and address the threat of climate disruption,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We thank Sen. Cunningham, Rep. Hurley and Rep. Burke for their leadership to convene this important conversation on how we can create good jobs in clean energy in Illinois.”

For folks looking to get involved in the campaign, there will be an action meeting at the Oak Lawn Panera Bread (10553 Cicero Ave, Oak Lawn IL 60453) at 7PM this Tuesday, February 17th.

Victory at North Canton Mine

Streams Feeding Canton Lake Saved

court-order1With the signing of a Circuit Court Consent Order on January 16, 2015 to terminate the North Canton Mine mining permit, two big victories were realized. First, the order to stop the strip coal mine in the watershed of Canton Lake protects the public drinking water supply for half the population of Fulton County from mine drainage pollution. Second, the victory set in motion a fundamental change in the way the Department of Natural Resources will evaluate permit applications going forward. No longer will the Department be able to ignore the regulatory definition of “intermittent” stream.

IMG_1352Sierra Club volunteers and others requested a public hearing on the mine permit in 2006. In 2008 the Sierra Club’s Heart of Illinois Group worked with local residents to form the Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues (CACEI). The groups teamed up with Prairie Rivers Network to fight this badly located and designed mine. Believing that the Department had not characterized the streams correctly in the permit, members of CACEI and the Heart of Illinois Group petitioned the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for an Administrative Review of the mine permit in 2008. The review hearings finally began at the end of May 2012 and took 12 days spread out from May to the end of August.

N Canton Cindy getting sample south of Brereton Rd on  tributary to West Branch Copperas Creek_096Based on expert testimony given by Dr. Cindy Skrukrud, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, Clean Water Advocate and Chuck Norris, hydrogeologist with Geo-Hydro Inc, Denver, Colorado, in February 2013 the Hearing Officer removed one tributary and its 163-acre watershed from the mining plan. Legal work by attorney David Wentworth with the Peoria law firm Hasselberg Grebe Snodgrass Urban & Wentworth proved that the state permitting agency had made its own internal decision to use only one half of the state law on stream characterization. The case decision ruled that the petitioners proved beyond preponderance of the evidence that the application for the mine permit failed to list Stream 6 as an intermittent stream, thus failing to provide information as to the protection of the stream as required by mining law. The decision stated that baseline surface water information submitted by Capital Resources in its application was insufficient to meet the requirements of 62 IL Administrative Code 1780.21(b) [Final Order pp 26-27]. In June of 2013, Capital Resources submitted a revised application for the remaining 921 acres. The IDNR immediately approved the revision to the application as an insignificant revision, and simultaneously granted a 5-year permit renewal. \ Sierra Club and local citizens saw the revision to the application as very significant, rendering the original permit obsolete.

Required permits from the IEPA to allow discharges from the coal mine (NPDES permit) and destruction of the tributary streams by mining activities (401 certification) were neither approved nor denied as of the date of the court order ending the mining permit.

CACEI Donation from Cindy Aug 2013 006Sierra Club and local citizens filed for State Administrative Review of the IDNR permit renewal in the summer of 2013. Earlier that spring, Sierra Club and Brenda Dilts filed an appeal of the IDNR Hearing Officer’s February decision into Circuit Court in an effort to save the remaining tributaries. We argued that the revised plan in no way matched the December 6, 2011, mine operations plan that North Canton LLC presented at the IEPA hearing, which the mine contended would protect Canton Lake from discharges.

Not long before a scheduled three-hour hearing before the circuit court judge, Capital Resources communicated that they were going to stop all plans for mining and asked that the hearing be cancelled as ‘moot.” Attorney David Wentworth asked for a continuance of the court case until issues regarding the site and subsequent actions by the mine company could be placed into an agreed Consent Order. The order was finalized on January 16, 2015.

N Canton mature oak forest saved_106After 8 years, dedicated efforts, a lot of bake sales, candy sales, garage sales, and fund-raiser help from Illinois Chapter Sierra Groups as far away as the River Prairie Group in suburban Chicago, to donations from mine community members in other parts of the state, this strip mine has been stopped. The beautiful rolling Copperas Creek valleys, tall mature oak and hickory timber, and productive farmland along scenic tree-lined country lanes bordered by horse pastures and family farms will not be blasted and bull-dozed down fifty to over eighty feet deep for the one time taking of coal. Rubble will not be bulldozed back with a couple feet of top soil put on top to mask the long-term damages to the layers of sand, gravel, and the natural drainage nature built up over the eons to make this watershed.

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The battle was long and hard and locals faced discrimination and numerous attempts to intimidate them, but they never gave up.

 

Citizens Win Eight-Year Battle to Stop Coal Strip Mine

Local Water Resources Saved Upstream of Public Water Supply Lake

IDNR Stream Protection Errors Exposed

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CANTON, Ill. – The court case contesting the North Canton coal strip mine permit was officially ended January 16th, winning an eight-year battle by citizens of Fulton County to protect Canton Lake and its watershed that supplies drinking water to over 20,000 residents. Capital Resources Development Company LLC, an affiliate of Springfield Coal Company LLC, asked to terminate its Permit No. 385 before citizens reached a full court hearing where they had challenged the mine and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) regarding errors in the permit approval.

“For the residents of Canton and Orion townships this is wonderful news for our water supply and for our land,” said Brenda Dilts, Leader of the Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues, Canton Lake and Its Watershed (CACEI). “We did not want an arm of Springfield Coal, the company that had racked up over 600 water permit violations at the Industry Mine, discharging polluted water into our public water supply lake. The strip mine would destroy much of the natural drainage and be harmful to the environment, the watershed and to the people in the community.”

In February 2013, Sierra Club and members of CACEI won a state administrative level permit appeal in part and saved a major stream corridor proposed for strip mining about one mile upstream of Canton Lake. Sierra Club and a member of CACEI then filed in Fulton County Circuit Court in an effort to protect the five other streams in the strip mine permit. Most of the streams feed into the main tributary of Canton Lake, a public drinking water supply source.

During the permit challenge brought by the citizens, IDNR admitted on the witness stand, and the Department’s Hearing Officer found, that IDNR had an unwritten policy to ignore a part of its own regulatory definition of “intermittent stream,” thereby circumventing greater stream protections in the permit approval process.

“My farm and home would have been directly across from this mine if it had proceeded,” said Joe Cooper, member of CACEI. “I am so grateful to CACEI, Sierra Club, and all the local Canton people who helped raise alarms about how this could ruin our lake watershed. The state mine permit should never have been approved for this mine. The state mining agency simply was not doing its job to enforce the laws on the books. We proved that.”

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“Planning a coal strip mine in the watershed that feeds the drinking water lake that supplies water to over half the population of Fulton County was never a good idea,” said Dr. Cindy Skrukrud, Clean Water Advocate for the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. “It took years of community pressure and legal action for this coal company to realizethat. We’re looking to the IDNR to make the institutional changes necessary to protect the integrity of vital water resources like Canton Lake in its permitting decisions, in line with the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.”

Citizens raised funds to hire an attorney and an expert hydro-geologist through bake sales, garage sales, and a wide range of fund-raisers over the years. Springfield Coal Company owns other mines and also makes revenue back-hauling coal ash from power plants for dumping at old mines.

“The significance of Springfield Coal Company’s permit withdrawal cannot be overstated. This coal company – with sites all over the state and all kinds of coal reserves – was defeated by the dedication, caring and hard work of local citizens,“ said Joyce Blumenshine, Heart of Illinois Group Sierra Club Chair. ”Our attorney, David Wentworth, with the Hasselberg Grebe Snodgrass Urban Wentworth firm in Peoria, had a tremendous case to stop this mine. We fought hard in the community and in court to protect the lake and streams. The fact the mine decided to give up on the eve of our court hearing says a lot.”

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Contact:

Brenda Dilts,  Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues, 309-338-9748

Joyce Blumenshine, Heart of Illinois Group Sierra Club, 309-678-1011

 Dr. Cindy Skrukrud, Illinois Chapter Sierra Club,  312-251-1680 x110

Let’s Kill The Illiana Tollway Boondoggle In 2015!

no illiana logo v3.1This week Governor Rauner issued an executive order that puts a hold on the proposed $1.3 billion Illiana tollway, bringing a ray of sunshine to local residents, taxpayers and environmentalists. Now, more than ever, Governor Rauner needs to hear from you that this project is a boondoggle!

Please sign and share our petition to Governor Rauner to kill the project for good.

The Illiana tollway is a 47-mile road that will cut through and destroy 3,165 acres of prime farmland, including centennial farms, stripping people of their land and livelihoods. The Illiana tollway is a fiscally irresponsible project that contradicts sound regional planning, saddles taxpayers with debt, fails to address traffic congestion, and is opposed by every major newspaper in the state.

The tollway will impact the environment of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Midewin is our nation’s first federally protected tallgrass prairie, featuring rare and endangered grassland birds and the planned reintroduction of bison. The Illiana would also pollute the Kankakee Watershed.

In additional news, Governor Rauner announced the appointment of former head of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), Randy Blankenhorn to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).

Last year, CMAP issued a scathing report on the Illiana Tollway releasing findings that the tollway would “provide negligible traffic benefits” and  that the “estimated cost and potential financing structure expose the State of Illinois to considerable financial risk.” If the tollway is built, Illinois will forfeit $440 million to $1.1 billion to compensate for flagging toll revenue.

We will be delivering the petition at the end of January.

Please sign and share our petition to Governor Rauner to kill the Illiana project for good!

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