Author Archives: jackdarin

The Dawn of a Bold New Era in Illinois?

D6JqNgPWAAMPV1FIllinois May Be Emerging As One of America’s Environmental Leadership States. The seemingly sudden passage of several mega-measures by the Illinois General Assembly in the final days of the spring legislative session undoubtedly surprised many Illinoisans who learned that, over the first weekend of summer, the legislature legalized recreational cannabis use, expanded gaming, launched a long overdue infrastructure program, protected access to reproductive health care, and passed a balanced budget for a change.

A bit overshadowed by those headlines are some significant advances toward environmental protection, including action on climate change, clean water, toxic chemicals, and more.  These wins suggest that Illinois may be emerging as one of America’s environmental leadership states, at a time when state innovation has never been more critical given the active deconstruction of our national environmental protection framework at the hands of the Trump administration and their polluter allies. Here’s a look at some of the highlights of 2019.

A Ban On Toxic BPA In Store and Bank Receipts

receipt-cropIllinois will join the European Union in banning BPA (bisphenol A) from customer receipts beginning in January.  BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical that has been used as a coating on the shiny, thermal paper used in many receipt, where it poses a risk to both workers and customers. Two freshman lawmakers, State Representative Karina Villa (D-West Chicago), and State Senator Ann Gillespie (D-Arlington Heights) teamed up to move the ban to Gov. Pritzker’s desk.

New Training Opportunities for Clean Water Jobs

image2Illinois needs significant investments to address drinking and surface water quality concerns, and communities of color and other disadvantaged populations are more likely to suffer from poor water quality.  These Illinoisans will now have better access to the jobs created in solving these problems thanks to the Clean Water Workforce Pipeline program created under legislation passed by State Representative Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago), and new State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago), which will support community organizations in placing those most in need of quality jobs in apprenticeship programs to prepare for water infrastructure jobs.

Investing in Environmental Infrastructure

The long overdue capital investment plan includes over $1 billion in environmental investments, including over $300 million in clean water infrastructure, transportation electrification projects, funds to help the Pritzker administration lead by example with energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for state facilities, and funds for Illinois DNR to acquire natural areas through the Open Land Trust program.  In most cases, these funding levels are short of the overall multiyear need, but they are critical downpayments on long term investments and will help the new administration begin to build an environmental and conservation legacy after years of neglect of these priorities.

Making Polluters Pay for Coal Ash Cleanup

59759287_2565502050143782_1978614639251947520_nCommunity members fed up with living near giant piles of toxic coal ash seeping into groundwater teamed up with State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) and State Representative Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) to pass SB 9, which will lead to rules requiring these health threats to be cleaned up, at the expense of the coal companies who created them.

Repealing the Prohibition on Climate Action

In 1998, the coal industry pushed through a broad prohibition against Illinois EPA regulating greenhouse gas emissions.  As a result, Illinois has been benched on the sidelines while other states adopted innovative emissions reduction programs that spurred job growth in clean energy and consumer savings from energy efficiency.  At the time, the prohibition passed over the strong objections of environmental champions, but coal carried the day. This year’s repeal is a sign of how things have changed in 2019, with the urgency of the climate crisis prevailing over objections from coal.  Governor Pritzker’s early, strong action to commit Illinois to the Paris Climate Agreement’s emissions reduction targets, and a 100% clean energy goal for the state, were important in setting this new direction.

Broad Support for 100% Clean Energy

With consideration of comprehensive energy policy slated for consideration this fall, a wide variety of proposals have been introduced, but none saw floor debate in either the full House or Senate.  However, the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) introduced by State Senator Cristina Castro (D-Elgin) and State Representative Ann Williams (D-Chicago) has attracted by far the most support from lawmakers, with cosponsors approaching majorities in each chamber, while competing proposals from coal companies drew broad opposition. We’re excited to continue working with the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition to build support for CEJA’s 100% clean energy goal, with a focus on economic benefits for disadvantaged communities and a just transition for workers and communities dependent on 20th century technologies, over the summer and into the fall veto session.

Why is Illinois seemingly headed in a new direction of environmental leadership?  Three key elements are people, partnerships, and politics.

People are Connecting To the Capitol

Illinoisans are waking up to the role that state and local action can, and must, play in moving forward on the issues they care about, even as the Trump administration moves backward or ignores their priorities.

image4

Sierra Club had strong participation from members in its Volunteer Lobby Team program, in which members commit to learning the details of priority environmental issues and visiting with their local State Representative or State Senator once each Spring to explain the issues and ask for their support.  This Spring Sierra Club volunteers held over 50 district office visits, and earned support for a wide range of issues from legislators across the political spectrum.  These in-district conversations with volunteers, not paid lobbyists, really help key priorities stand out during a very busy spring.

Partnerships Are Key

d2hx2rvx0aminvn.jpgNew alliances are key to both building a bigger, more diverse environmental movement, but also in advancing a bold progressive agenda.  This spring, Sierra Club teamed up with labor unions representing workers in the water sector and social justice advocates to write and pass the Clean Water Workforce Pipeline Act, and with the United Food and Commercial Workers to ban the BPA receipts that are a health concern for their members as well as an unnecessary toxin. We’re also proud founding members of Forward Illinois, a new alliance of statewide progressive organizations focused on supporting each other in our efforts to enact nation-leading policies that make Illinois healthier, cleaner, more prosperous, and more equitable. We’re thrilled at the big wins for the broader progressive agenda and ready to build on these partnerships for bigger wins in the future.

Politics – Elections Have Consequences

The progress of 2019 is a direct outcome of the 2018 elections. Governor J.B. Pritzker proposed and enacted a big and bold legislative agenda, all while building a team on the fly and staffing up state agencies.  This year’s freshman class of legislators includes an outstanding group of women who not only took the lead in sponsoring bold ideas, but made it clear from the start that they were breaking the mold of “target” legislators from swing districts, who are normally coached to avoid tough votes that might be fodder for campaign attacks.  The Class of 2019 is led by women who ran not to play it safe but to be bold, and resist the daily outrages coming from the Trump administration with clear moves in the opposite direction. Sierra Club mounted its largest volunteer and voter contact election campaign ever in 2018 to elect just these types of new leaders, and we can’t wait to see what we can do together next.

Let’s hope this spring’s big steps forward are the first on a long journey toward the future we want for all in Illinois.  The challenges we face together call for nothing less.

Jack Darin is the Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter

Advertisements

House Passes Ban on Toxic Receipts

SPRINGFIELD– The Illinois House today approved legislation banning store, bank, and other receipts containing bisphenol-A (BPA).

BPA exposure has been associated with an increased risk of conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease as well as effects on the development of reproductive tissues, the immune system, and other tissues. Recent studies have found that BPA can be absorbed through the skin and may remain in the body longer when it is absorbed through the skin than when it is ingested. Retail cashiers and other workers who handle thermal business paper over the course of their workday are at risk of greater levels of exposure than the general public. The ban takes effect January 1, 2020.

“There is no reason why workers and customers need to handle a material that could jeopardize their health and their families, especially with safer alternatives being widely available,” said chief House sponsor State Representative Karina Villa.

“Local 881 United Food and Commercial Workers applaud Rep. Villa and Sen. Gillespie for making Illinois the second state to ban  harmful BPA receipts. Workers have a right to know what chemicals they come into contact with at work and if they are safe. Today, the General Assembly took a huge step in ensuring that retail and commercial workers can go to work and not be forced to handle toxic chemicals as a condition of their job, thereby protecting workers and the customers they serve. This is a good example of what labor and our environmental partners can accomplish working together; making a safer and more sustainable Illinois,” said Zach Koutsky, Legislative and Political Director for Local 881 United Food and Commercial Workers.

“We’re proud to partner with workers on this important public health advance, and make Illinois a national leader in reducing exposure to this toxic chemical,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.  “By working together to eliminate toxins, we can make Illinois a healthier place to live and work.”

-30-

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.

Harvey, Labor Day, and the Fight for $15

21014193_1189003401199931_4674440554006072393_o

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.

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.

 

Asian Carp Advance On Lake Michigan; Trump Halts Project to Stop Them, Threatens To Cut Off All Great Lakes Funds

Yesterday an invasive adult silver carp was caught within nine miles of Lake Michigan in the Calumet River. The 8-pound fish was captured in a gill net by a commercial fisherman working for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (ACRCC) as part of their seasonal intensive monitoring program looking for this invasive species within Chicago’s waterways. This critical work is funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which President Trump has proposed to eliminate all funding for beginning October 1. More information about current carp control efforts is available here.

The Trump Administration has also halted efforts to upgrade the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, downstream of the electric barriers, to prevent the movement of Asian carp upstream. The Army Corps of Engineers was set to release the study for public review in late February when the White House blocked its release.

Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter Clean Water Program Director Cindy Skrukrud released this statement:

“The capture of a silver carp past the electric barrier and just 9 miles from Lake Michigan is a potent reminder of how the Trump Administration is failing to address the huge problem that aquatic invasive species pose to the Great Lakes. While alien invaders are headed towards Lake Michigan, Trump and his team are halting projects to keep them out and dismantling Great Lakes protection programs. It is urgent that Governor Rauner and our entire Congressional delegation call on President Trump to release the Brandon Road Lock and Dam study that his administration is holding hostage, and demand that he commit to fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. If Trump is allowed by Congress to cut off all Great Lakes funding October 1, Illinois DNR will not be able to continue the critical work underway right now to catch and control these dangerous invaders.”

###

Want to take action? Here’s how you can help:

Sign the Great Lakes Protection Pledge and tell your Member of Congress to do the same

Tell your Members of Congress to support legislation to stop Asian carp

silvercarp06232017
Silver carp captured in the Illinois Waterway on June 22, 2017 below T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam.
Image courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
carp-map-PRN-2017

The Brandon Road Lock and Dam upgrade would increase protection for Lake Michigan

 

Statement on Trump EPA Budget Proposal

 

President Trump released his proposed FY 2018 federal budget today.  Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin released this statement about the proposed budget for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

“President Trump’s proposed budget for the EPA is a plan only polluters could love.  Trump wants to slash funding for enforcing clean air and water laws, shut down the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Office of Environmental Justice, and penalize states that improve environmental safeguards.
We need to kill this plan before it starts to kill us. The scientists, engineers, and other career professionals are calling this budget a “death sentence.” The Great Lakes region must unite to defend ourselves against this broad attack on our health, our resources, and our communities.  We call on members of Congress, Governors, and local leaders in both parties to pledge their support for our Great Lakes environment, and their opposition to Trump’s attacks on the EPA and our environmental safeguards.  As the Trump Administration steps back from their responsibility to protect our communities, states will need to step up efforts to enforce environmental laws and upgrade standards to ensure we make progress against pollution, not the great leaps backward threatened by Trump’s proposal.”