15 Years of Cuts Leave Illinois EPA Struggling to Protect Air & Water, Act on Climate Change

A new report issued today finds that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has been cut in half since 2003, resulting in significant reductions in public health protection efforts.  Inspection of air pollution sources, monitoring of water quality, enforcement against environmental violators, and the ability to assure environmental justice by engaging communities in decision making have all declined. Experts are calling for renewed investment in the Agency to ensure Illinois has the capacity to enforce existing laws and address climate change and other emerging environmental threats.

“The Illinois EPA is simply not able to put enough players on the field to keep up with polluters and to address the challenges we face to public health and to our air, water, and lands,” said Mark Templeton, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago, and former Director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.  “The results are clear – inspections are down, permit backlogs are significant, and enforcement referrals to the Attorney General’s Office have dropped generally in recent years, and IEPA has struggled to assess the quality of our air and waters and to develop formal plans to improve them.”

The report, “Protecting Illinois EPA’s Health, so that It Can Protect Ours”, was written by Mark Templeton, Robert Weinstock and Elizabeth Lindberg of the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago, in conjunction with former IEPA leaders, including former IEPA Directors Doug Scott and Mary Gade, and Bharat Mathur, former Chief of the IEPA Bureau of Air and former US EPA Region V Deputy Regional Administrator. It documents 15 years of staff and budget cuts at Illinois EPA, and some of the reductions in scientific data gathering, enforcement against violators, and resources for community engagement. 

“IEPA has great leadership and dedicated professionals who are committed to protecting the environment, but the Agency will need more resources and technology to address the myriad issues it will face in the future,” said Doug Scott, who served as IEPA Director from 2005 to 20011.  “Issues such as environmental justice and decarbonization need to be addressed by IEPA, but can’t be addressed at the expense of basic environmental permitting, inspection and enforcement. We need new ways to address the attrition and funding gaps that IEPA faces.” 

“It’s not hyperbole to say that the Agency’s work is about life and death.  We tend to forget incidents like the water crisis in Flint, or the dangerous Ethylene Oxide air emissions from Sterigenics or the impacts of elevated smog or chemical plumes from a derailed train, but that’s because the IEPA’s staff is on duty making sure that we can turn on the tap, swim in the lake or take a morning run without worrying about our families ‘ health and safety,” said Mary Gade, who served as Illinois EPA Director from 1991 to 1999. “A healthy IEPA is good for Illinois’ businesses and its economy.  When IEPA has the resources to issue timely and appropriate permits, conduct inspections and undertake needed enforcement, it creates a healthy business climate and a level playing field.”

“Illinois EPA has been a shining example of government at work to protect the public health and environment of its citizens. The Agency has a strong foundation and given adequate resources and encouragement to innovate, can once again be a leading environmental institution in the Midwest,” said Bharat Mathur, former US EPA Region V Deputy Regional Administrator, and former Chief of the Illinois EPA Bureau of Air.

The report makes recommendations to reverse Illinois EPA’s decline, and empower the Agency to fully protect the public, including:

-increasing fees on polluters to ensure that, at a minimum, the complete costs of permitting, inspecting, regulating, remediating, and preventing pollution are covered by the fees paid

-new sources of revenue, particularly sources designed to incentivize positive environmental decision-making, such as statewide plastic bottle or bag fees, water-quality utility fees, or storm water fees

-additional resources to undertake any statewide climate initiatives and to participate in any regional or national greenhouse reduction efforts

-resources for IEPA to respond to the need for more community outreach and environmental justice work

-modernize the delivery of environmental protection through improved technology

-a staffing plan for IEPA  that would identify priorities, optimize timely hiring, establish training programs, and facilitate knowledge transfer of retiring workers


The report also notes that potential reductions in federal resources and authority for environmental protection are likely to increase the need for Illinois EPA to protect and enforce health and environmental standards.

“With the Trump Administration actively cutting and restricting the US EPA’s ability to protect our air and water, it has never been more important for Illinois to step up to keep our communities safe,” said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter. “It’s time for Illinois to step up and rebuild the Illinois EPA so it has the science and professionals it needs to assure environmental justice for everyone in our state, and ensure that Trump’s rollbacks and cuts don’t put our health at risk.”

The full report is available for download at