Legislation Outlawing Invasive Weeds Heads To Governor

The Illinois General Assembly has sent Senate Bill 681, which would ban the sale or distribution of eight species of invasive plants, to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner for his signature.

“Exotic invasive plants threaten to overrun Illinois forests, wetlands, and prairies if we don’t take steps to keep them out,” said Terri Treacy, Springfield Representative for the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.  “This important update to the Exotic Weed Act will help ensure Illinois is doing what we can to respond to the threats posed by these invasive plants.”

Exotic weeds are plants that are not native to North America and when introduced, spread aggressively. Since these plants are in a new environment, free from the natural predators, parasites, or competitors of their native habitats, they often grow to have very high population sizes and densities. These large populations can out-compete and displace native species, degrade natural communities, reduce wildlife food and habitat, disrupt vital ecosystem functions, cause economic damage to agriculture, and reduce the value of fish and wildlife habitat.

“The spread of alien invasives is a growing threat to Illinois’ natural heritage, and to our agricultural economy,” said State Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), lead sponsor of SB681.  “Now we can better protect Illinois from harm by preventing the spread of these invasive weeds.”

SB 681 was sponsored in the Illinois House by State Representative Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg).  In 2003 Phelps led efforts prohibit several species under the Exotic Weed Act, including kudzu and non-native species of buckthorn.

The existing Exotic Weed Act prohibits the sale or distribution of plant seeds, plants or plant parts of exotic weeds without a permit issued by the Department of Natural Resources. SB 681 amends the Exotic Weed Act by adding new exotic weeds, including exotic species of bush honeysuckle, olive, salt cedar, poison hemlock, giant hogweed, Oriental bittersweet, teasel and knotweed. SB 681 is supported by the Illinois Invasive Plant Species Council, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Farm Bureau.

“The plant and tree species that end up on this banned list have been thoroughly evaluated utilizing sound science and taking into consideration the potential economic impact of removing them from the marketplace,” Joe Khayyat, Illinois Green Industry Association Executive Director, said. “The plants added to the Exotic Weed List by this legislation were a result of this collaborative process – a process that is good for growers and purveyors of plant and tree material, small business owners across the state and ultimately future generations that will call Illinois their home.”

The General Assembly is also considering Senate Joint Resolution 9, which permanently designates May as Invasive Species Awareness Month. Each May for the last five years, organizations, agencies, and groups from across Illinois have teamed up to organize events that raise awareness of the negative impacts of invasive species on Illinois’ landscape and economy.  This year is no exception with over 160 educational events taking place this month.  SJR 9, sponsored by State Senator Bill Haine (D-Alton) and State Representative Deb Conroy (D-Glen Ellyn) has been approved by the Illinois Senate, and awaits approval by the Illinois House.

Want Open Space and Smart Transit? Take the IDOT Survey

Biker on Kinzie Street in Chicago. Photo by MichelleBikeWalkLincolnPark.

Biker on Kinzie Street in Chicago. Photo by MichelleBikeWalkLincolnPark.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is circulating a short survey soliciting public input on Illinois’ transportation investment priorities.  This is an important opportunity to let the state know that we want smart investments in transit, existing roads and bridges, and open space.  Click here to fill out the survey, and be sure to comment on locally needed repairs to existing infrastructure and promote the local transit and bike path projects proposed in your community in Box 4!

Our Overall Message:

The State of Illinois should invest in transit and our existing transportation infrastructure.  Public transportation and rail investments are powerful job creators, and help reduce our energy consumption.  Our existing roads and bridges should be our top priority for any highway projects.

The State should invest in a network of natural open space and waterways that will enhance parks and forest preserves, benefit wildlife habitat, expand recreational opportunities and generate economic return.  In 2014, The Trust for Public Land found that every $1 investment in parks and natural resources returns $4 in economic value.  Historically, state investments to protect the great outdoors have been funded through major capital initiatives.  Our last two capital bills created and funded the Illinois Open Land Trust, and those dollars were used to help protect our water supply and special places in our state.  Illinois’ next capital bill must also invest in the Open Land Trust if we are to save Illinois’ last special places.

What We Don’t Want:

Illinois should reject wasteful new projects that drain resources away from projects that will serve more citizens at lower cost.  We cannot afford to waste precious public dollars on boondoggles like the Illiana Expressway proposal in Will County, Rt 53 in Lake County, and I-66 in Southern Illinois, or the Peotone Airport.
Please take a moment to promote smart transit investments by filling out this survey. Be sure to include some of the above talking points in Box 4 of the survey, and personalize with your own local message.

Hundreds Rally in Springfield for Clean Jobs and Climate Action

CDNe8gwWgAAVhyX.jpg_largeOn April 22, hundreds of citizens from across the state descended on the Capitol in Springfield to celebrate Earth Day. The Sierra Club partnered with dozens of allies to hold the 2015 Environmental Earth Day Rally and Lobby Day. Some of the biggest successes of the day were:

– 500 citizen activists marching for clean energy and the climate
– 4 new co-sponsors added to the Illinois Clean Jobs bill that day, and many more in the days since!
– 800+ hand-written letters delivered to legislators
– 1000+ petitions delivered to legislators
– Our hash tag #CleanJobsIL trended on twitter in Illinois
– Dozens of press hits including some great television coverage
Crowd-cheering resizedThe main event was a huge rally on the Capitol steps in support of the Illinois Clean Jobs legislation. Emceed by Pastor Booker Vance, Policy Director at Faith in Place, the rally featured inspiring speeches from our bi-partisan bills’ chief sponsors in the Senate and House as well as many of our co-sponsors. Also on the speaker lineup was Jack Darin, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter Director; Michele Knox, owner, Wind Solar USA; Laura Asher, mom and Chair of Piasa Palisades Group Sierra Club; and high school junior at Northside Prep in Chicago, Maria Sanchez.
Between the rousing and impassioned speeches, rally participants, clad in green t-shirts and carrying colorful signs, kept things energized with spirited chants demanding Clean Jobs and Climate Action NOW! Meanwhile, the Solar Beatz van kept the tunes rolling and the microphones amplified all with the power of the sun.

The Illinois Clean Jobs Bill:

– prioritizes energy efficiency to save consumers money while creating thousands of new jobs;
– ramps up renewable energy from the sun and wind, also creating new jobs;
– authorizes the Illinois Environemental Protection Agency to develop market mechanisms to limit carbon pollution.

The benefits from the Clean Jobs bill will be immense: 32,000 new clean energy jobs each year, consumer savings, improved public health, and greater climate stability. For more information about the Clean Job bill visit the Clean Jobs Coalition website.

For more press about the rally and the Clean Jobs Bill, see:

WCIA-TV Springfield (IL) – Earth Day protestors call for Clean Jobs Bill

WAND-TV Springfield (IL) – Supporters Rally for Illinois Clean Jobs Bill

“Right to Work” Is Wrong For Our Future

All of us who breathe the air, drink the water, and hope for a healthy future for our kids and grandchildren have a lot at stake in Illinois’ debate over Right to Work. The right of workers to organize is not only important for individual workers to earn a living wage and be treated fairly by employers, it also protects and strengthens our communities.

Workers are our first line of defense against toxic pollution, chemical spills, and other accidents that can devastate communities. Union workers are more likely to receive the training necessary to deal the health and safety risks of hazardous chemicals. A union can offer protection and job security to an employee who might blow the whistle on hazards and accidents in the workplace, or who might report illegal pollution or dangerous conditions. Too many workers without the protection of a union are forced to handle toxic chemicals without proper safeguards, and stay quiet for fear of losing their job. Don’t we all want the workers at the factory or power plant near our neighborhood, school, or workplace to know they can speak up when they see danger?

Right to work is primarily a tactic to lower wages, and pollution thrives on poverty. Families living on low wages are more likely to live with increased air and water pollution than those earning a living wage. Low-income households are more likely to have a child or family member who suffers from asthma or other illness made worse by pollution, and less likely to have access to quality healthcare to treat these problems. People struggling to survive on poverty wages are less empowered to seek justice when their communities are threatened. That’s how poverty attracts pollution, and environmental injustice occurs. Everyone wants clean air, clean water, safe open spaces, and a better future for their families. However, you can’t have a voice in the fight for our future if low wages force you to focus on putting food on the table. Unions help workers stand together for better wages and health care, and in the process empower citizens to stand up to protect their health and families.

Unions also empower workers to speak and act collectively about the major issues of our time. When it comes to confronting the threat of climate change, and seizing the opportunities of the clean energy economy, organized workers can play a pivotal role in creating new jobs in renewable energy and conservation and thus reducing the pollution that threatens our health and our future. In moving to the cleaner energy sources of the future, we must also ensure a just transition for workers in the old energy sector. To make that transition work for all of us, we count on unions to participate in creating the policies that will bring us the future we all want.

Let’s support the rights of our fellow citizens to organize and form unions – our future may very well depend on it.

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!