Clean Energy Town Hall

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Groups applaud release of Asian carp study, urge swift action to move from study to construction

Alliance for the Great Lakes   •   Natural Resources Defense Council
Prairie Rivers Network   •   Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter

Chicago, IL (August 7, 2017) – After much delay, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today released the Brandon Road Lock & Dam Study. The study provides critical new information on the options for implementing additional Asian carp control measures to slow the movement of the invasive fish. Environmental and conservation groups released the following statement in response:

“The recent finding of an adult Asian carp nine miles from Lake Michigan underscores the urgent nature of this threat to Lake Michigan and all of the Great Lakes. The study, which was completed months ago, should have been released in February yet the Administration sat on it in reaction to pressure from industry groups and officials from the states of Illinois and Indiana. This delay wasted valuable time, putting the Great Lakes at unnecessary risk.

“We look forward to reviewing the findings in detail and to continuing the conversation on this critical issue with elected officials and concerned citizens during the public comment period. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must listen carefully to public input on the study and then move quickly from study to implementation of additional protection measures at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, a logical choke point in the system.

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Map showing locations of key features, or measures, of the tentatively selected plan at Brandon Road Lock and Dam. [Source: USACE]

“While possible control measures at Brandon Road Lock and Dam represent another step in the fight against the upstream movement of Asian carp, we cannot lose focus on the need for a two-way solution that also addresses invasive species moving from the Great Lakes into the Mississippi River basin.

“Thank you to the many Congressional Great Lakes champions who have advocated for the release of this study. Continued effort by elected officials will be needed to ensure the process is not delayed further and funding is appropriated for future construction needs.”

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Media Contacts:

Alliance for the Great Lakes: Jennifer Caddick, (312) 445-9760

Natural Resources Defense Council: Ivan Moreno, (312) 651-7932

Prairie Rivers Network: Robert Hirschfeld, (217) 344-2371 x8205

Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter: Cindy Skrukrud, (312) 251-1680 x110

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The Brandon Road Draft Integrated Feasibility Study and Environmental Impact Statement is available for review at the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) site.

Comments will be accepted through October 2, 2017. They can be submitted online or mailed or delivered to:

US Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District
231 S. LaSalle St. Suite 1500
ATTN: GLMRIS – Brandon Road Comments
Chicago, IL 60604

The Corps will hold a series of public meetings in order to open a dialogue and obtain feedback. Scheduled meetings are:

  • September 11, 2017 from 1 to 5 p.m. at James R Thompson Center, 100 W Randolph St., Chicago, Illinois
  • September 14 from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Muskegon Community College, Collegiate Hall, 221 S. Quarterline Road, Muskegon, Michigan
  • September 18 from 3:30 – 6:30 p.m. at Joliet Junior College, “U” Conference Center, 1215 Houbolt Road, Joliet, Illinois

During the meetings, the Corps will provide a presentation on the tentatively selected plan that includes structural and nonstructural options and technologies for preventing upstream transfer of aquatic nuisance species, such as Asian carp, at Brandon Road Lock and Dam on the Des Plaines River. Oral and written comments will be accepted at the meetings. A webinar and Facebook Live format will be provided for the September 14 and 18 meetings. Meeting details will be posted at the GLMRIS Public Meetings page.

Our Ride Ended, But The Campaign To #SaveTheGreatLakes Continues

My husband and I set out this summer to ride our bikes around Lake Michigan in an effort to help #SaveTheGreatLakes. On our ride we met people from all different places and of all different backgrounds, who were visiting Lake Michigan for all different reasons. Some were bike tourers like us, while others were just there for the day to enjoy the beach with their families. What brought us all together were the Lakes.

Protecting the Great Lakes have never been a partisan issue – the lakes provide us with drinking water, help power industry, and are a source of rejuvenation, recreation, and beauty for so many. They’re what make our region great, and programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) are necessary to ensure they are just as great for future generations.

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We saw the impact of the GLRI firsthand. From Muskegon, to Sleeping Bear Dunes, to the Upper Peninsula and back down through Wisconsin, folks depend on the Federal funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to help restore ecological integrity and enhance natural beauty. We saw decades of industrial and agricultural discharge cleared away to reconnect the Lake to rivers and tributaries in Muskegon, Michigan. We saw gulls and loons, healthy and free to fly due to increased efforts to fight avian botulism and the zebra and quagga mussels that spread it. We saw fragile native plants flourishing in the Sleeping Bear Dunes, thanks to GLRI efforts to crack down on invasive and competitive baby’s breath. GLRI projects are as diverse and variable as the ecosystem itself, and indeed the GLRI touches nearly every part of life around the Lakes.

While I was riding, a new federal budget was proposed that fully restored funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Trump’s original budget completely eliminated this program.  While this is a win for the Great Lakes and all of us who care about them, the budget still severely reduces overall critical funding to the Environmental Protection Agency. This new proposal is like funding fire trucks without funding the firefighters – a moot point and a hollow promise from a federal government determined to attack and dismantle the necessary work the EPA does. It is so important that we do all we can to keep fighting, to support and defend the EPA. It’s a winnable fight, if we keep at it together.

We were unable to finish our trip due to a death in the family. But saving the Great Lakes is so much bigger than a bike ride. It’s a long road and an uphill climb, and we will only be able to do it if we work together as one. We still need to make sure that the final budget keeps in the GLRI funding, and fully funds EPA. But I believe in our power. I believe in the Great Lakes, in this movement, and in our vision of a healthier and more just planet.

We can save the Great Lakes. We can save the Great Lakes together. I hope you’ll join us.

 

I’m almost to my (new!) goal of raising $2500 to help #SaveTheGreatLakes. Will you help get me there?

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I took a long ride along Lake Michigan in Chicago before going back to work.

If you haven’t already signed the pledge, do so here.

Our Neighbors in East Chicago Face Water Crisis — You Can Help

0700-EastChicagoEast Chicago, IN is facing a water crisis due to lead contamination. Residents have been organizing relentlessly to address this and other environmental injustices in their community. Let’s support our neighbors by helping ensure that until this crisis is fully addressed, they have access to clean, drinkable water.

Throughout the month of July, we’ll be collecting bottled water and replacement filter cartridges (PUR Max Ion rf- 3375) at our Chicago office (70 E Lake St., Suite 1500) for residents of East Chicago. Email Katrina Phillips to arrange a donation drop-off or make a monetary donation online at www.teamsierra.org/illinois/waterdrive.

We know that long-term, we MUST have robust investment in our public water systems, strong public health protections, and a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency–all serving the concerns of the communities. We realize bottled water (and even home water filters) are NOT a long-term solution for any of our communities. In the meantime, we want to support the vital organizing work and urgent needs of East Chicago residents by being one of a number of parties helping to provide this resource.

Thank you for your help and to the Community Strategy Group for keeping us updated on the situation and needs of the community.

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References:

(1) chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/lead/ct-east-chicago-lead-water-20170302-story.html

(2) fox59.com/2017/02/06/epa-officials-up-to-90-of-homes-in-east-chicago-in-have-lead-water-lines

(3) chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2017/04/04/some-east-chicago-residents-fleeing-lead-contamination-are-being-moved-to-chicagos-toxic-doughnut

Service and Serenity in the Colorado Rockies

Last month, I spent a week in the Colorado wilderness with three high school students from Chicago and a small group of Sierra Club members from California, Oregon and France (yes, France!). The students participate in the Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO) program, which strives to empower youth from communities with limited access to connect and reconnect to the outdoors – for the benefit of both.

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The outdoors and the creatures who live there certainly benefitted from the hard work and dedication of these young people as we took down old barbed wire fence that harms wildlife, built new wildlife-friendly fencing and removed invasive weeds. And when we finally reached the peak of a 12-mile hike with a view of Elk Falls (on our “rest day”), the students felt the benefit of connecting with the natural world at 10,000 feet. Their willingness to challenge themselves and live outside their comfort zone was inspiring, which is where the benefit comes in for me. I’m filled with hope and motivation when I see the future in these young people, who could lead the next generation of environmental advocates and justice warriors.

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We spent the week camping near and working on the historic AG Ranch in Shawnee, Colorado, where the Rocky Mountain Specialty Pack String – 11 mules, 2 saddle horses, and lead packer, Glenn Ryan – have their home. One of only two full regional specialty pack strings, they provide low-impact heavy hauling into wilderness and limited-access areas, train others in packing, and educate the public. Their important presence serves to preserve wilderness values in our public lands by providing heavy hauling without the need for mechanization. We had the opportunity to support the protection and maintenance of public lands by helping to improve the facilities that are home to this exceptional operation of the U.S. Forest Service.

The service work we did was difficult and tiring, but the interactions we had with Glenn and his interns, who showed us how to do the work and explained why it’s important, made us feel satisfied and accomplished at the end of each long day. The time we got to spend with the horses and mules on the ranch was an added bonus.

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While we typically take Chicago ICO participants on day trips and overnight car camping trips in the Chicago region, the opportunity to take a few young people on a National Service Trip once a year provides a unique experience and a chance to deepen connections. I see huge value in all of us feeling connected to the environment in our communities, but there’s really nothing like spending some time in the mountains, sleeping in a tent and gazing at the stars. To get away from the city and be surrounded by wilderness was a gentle push from Mother Nature for us to calm our minds, open our eyes and breathe.

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I hope the students felt the calm and serenity that I found so refreshing, and enjoyed the break in normal life and routine. The other participants and leaders on the trip expressed that having the young people there brought a new energy (quite literally—the students were often the first ones up at the crack of dawn!) that added something special to the experience.

As we returned to Chicago, I felt refreshed and inspired to continue our work growing the ICO program, connecting people with the outdoors and empowering young people to be leaders in their communities and in the environmental and social justice movements. We need them, and the hopelessness that sometimes washes over us as we face the world’s current challenges seems to fade away as we see their energy and passion to do good and fight for the future.

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Chicago ICO at Red Rocks 2

To learn more about the Chicago ICO program, visit our webpage here

To find out more about Sierra Club service outings, visit our outings site.  

Saving the Great Lakes has never been a partisan issue

For our honeymoon, my husband and I biked from Vancouver, BC to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon – 1,200 miles in 5 weeks through some of the most beautiful parts of this country. On that trip, it was common to see other folks on bikes loaded up with their tent, gear and sleeping bags also touring the area. 

We were excited when one morning on our way to Sleeping Bear Dunes we saw a bicyclist with a packed bike stopped on the side of the road – our first fellow bike tourer sighting this trip. We slowed down to say hello and ask where he was headed. “North,” he replied, and we all laughed. “Us too,” we said and invited TJ to ride along with us. He joined us all day for our ride and meal breaks, and we chatted almost the entire ride.

TJ had started biking from his home in Rochester, Indiana two days before. He rode a beastly 280 miles in his first two days – a feat which just thinking about makes my whole body ache. His family was planning to meet him in Northport, Michigan where they would vacation together. Back in Rochester, TJ is a firefighter and has two young sons. We heard lots of great stories about his boys and adventures as a firefighter along the ride.

 

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A quick selfie with TJ before he left us to continue biking for the day

We were eager to be headed for the Sleeping Bear Dunes – a jewel in Lake Michigan’s crown. Sandy beaches, forested islands, 450-foot dunes, and manifold species of animals and plants are protected here by the National Park Service and are enjoyed by millions of visitors during all four seasons.  

But during the summer of 2006, an unwelcome guest showed up on Sleeping Bear’s shores. Thousands of birds were dropping dead on the region’s pristine beaches after losing the ability to hold their heads up and fly. Scientists determined the culprit was a disease called type E avian botulism, which first came to Lake Michigan in the 1960s but hadn’t made a resurgence since 1983.

Avian botulism is caused by toxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. These toxins often concentrate in aquatic invertebrates like invasive zebra or quagga mussels, which are commonly ingested by bottom-feeding fish that then get gobbled up by birds like gulls and loons, for which the toxin is paralytic and lethal.

In 2010 the National Park Service and a coalition of conservation research partners received funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to study these avian botulism outbreaks. Researchers measured changes to coastal habitats that are affected by the increase in botulism, and mapped and documented past lake changes in order to understand and predict botulism outbreaks in the future. 

Future steps in the project include a continuation of monitoring and managing outbreaks, and increasing nonprofit and volunteer involvement in data collection and beach cleanups. Funding from the GLRI is necessary for the fight to decrease avian botulism and keep the integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem intact.

Up on the dunes, the GLRI is helping stop a terrestrial invasive species from further hurting Sleeping Bear’s ecosystem. Known scientifically as Gypsophilia paniculata, baby’s breath is a pretty white flower native to Eastern Europe and commonly found in gardens across the United States. But careless planting in the Great Lakes region has turned baby’s breath into an aggressive invasive species.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has funded a project to manage the invasive plant along 100 acres of the Lakeshore and to study its effects on the ecosystem. The project aims to measure and catalog the location and spread of baby’s breath, remove the plants physically and with herbicide, and observe changes that occur from season to season.

Eliminating the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would be devastating to these efforts at Sleeping Bear Dunes, and many others like it dedicated to keeping our Lakes healthy and clean.

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Throughout our day, I told TJ about the work that I do and our campaign to #SaveTheGreatLakes. He told me that growing up in Rochester, he takes his two boys up to Benton Harbor or the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore every summer. When I asked, he told me he “leaned right” politically, but didn’t quite seem to see how that was relevant to us talking about keeping our Great Lakes healthy.

Protecting the Great Lakes, our drinking water, and the economy they drive has long been a bipartisan issue. We can’t let hyper-partisanship in politics get in the way of protecting the Great Lakes. The GLRI protects our drinking water, creates jobs, protects public health, keeps beaches open and upholds a way of life for millions of people. Donald Trump’s Great Lakes cuts should be dead on arrival for all members of Congress from our region. And we must stand up together to #SaveTheGreatLakes.

Right before TJ left us to continue on his way, he told us, “I’ve been out East to the ocean once or twice. But I don’t know what it is, I just prefer the Great Lakes.”

I can’t put my finger on it either. But these Lakes are pretty special.

Contribute to our campaign to #SaveTheGreatLakes here.

And be sure to sign our #SaveTheGreatLakes petition here

 

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VICTORY! Illinois has a budget, and it includes Solar For All Funds

The unprecedented lack of a state budget caused serious harm across Illinois, and especially in disadvantaged communities.  We’re thrilled that the State of Illinois has a budget at long last, and we can begin to repair that harm and provide real opportunities for people who need it most in the clean energy economy through the Illinois Solar For All program.

It almost didn’t happen that way. Last week, Governor Rauner proposed a budget that could have eliminated all of the funding for Illinois Solar For All, and Sierra Club sprang into action. More than 1,800 Sierra Club members and supporters reached out to their legislators in Springfield before and during the 4th of July holiday, and it had an impact. Legislators rejected Rauner’s proposal, and approved a new proposal that did not sweep any funds away from Illinois Solar For All.

Sierra Club joined this effort in support of environmental justice partners in the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, especially the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and Faith in Place, who envisioned the Illinois Solar For All program and are now working to create the new statewide training programs that will begin later this year.  Sierra Club volunteers lobbied their state legislators all spring to prepare for this showdown, including in-district visits to lawmakers’ offices and many calls; and, nearly 50 making the trip to Springfield for a lobby day in April to protect the funds.

The new Illinois Solar For All program is a key component of the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA). The program will train and employ residents of low income communities, citizens returning from the criminal justice system, and foster care graduates in the clean energy industry that is soon to take off in Illinois thanks to the FEJA.  

With everything Trump is doing to make America dependent on fossil fuels again, it is essential that Illinois chart a course for 100% clean energy future that includes everyone.  The Illinois Solar For All program is part of a great start, and thanks to your action and the great work of our partners in the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, we are on course for a brighter future.