Category Archives: Press Releases

Standing up Together for the Great Lakes

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Jack Darin introduces Great Lakes advocates at this morning’s press conference

You may have heard the latest bad news for the Great Lakes- the President’s proposed budget is expected to include a 97% cut to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a fund that the EPA receives and distributes to groups doing work on the ground to protect and restore our precious freshwater resource and its ecosystems. This morning, we held a press conference with the Alliance for the Great Lakes and other advocates calling on our elected officials to reject these outrageous cuts and invest in our Great Lakes and the communities across our region.

Our Director, Jack Darin, kicked off the morning with an important message to the Administration in response to the proposed cuts: “When you cut the Great Lakes, you cut jobs, you cut our health, you cut the future of an asset for our entire region” and a call to our members of Congress and all of us who depend on the Great Lakes: “Together we can stand up and do what our region has always done to show that protecting the Great Lakes should not be a partisan issue- it should be something that we all rally around and support.”

Joel Brammeier, President & CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, spoke of the bipartisan support for the GLRI, which started as a partnership between Republican and Democratic members of Congress and has grown to fund over 2,000 projects with over $2 billion and support from dozens of members from both sides of the aisle. The GLRI has funded projects and programs that have helped clean up the legacy pollution and contamination from the many years of industry in the region, which helped build our country but left many communities in danger. Joel remarked that “full funding for the GLRI is critical.”

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MWRD Commissioner Kari Steele speaks out for the Great Lakes.
Commissioner Kari Steele of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District said that as the agency that treats Chicago’s wastewater and manages flood control, “we 100% understand the importance of clean water.” The Commissioner said she was here to “support the Sierra Club and all the other organizations here today…to support the Great Lakes program and stress the importance of our primary natural resource.”

 Krista Grimm, President of the League of a Women Voters – Lake Michigan Region, spoke of the water issues our region deals with that require funding to resolve- issues like nutrient pollution and resulting algae blooms, invasive species and pollution from combined sewer overflows. These issues are cumulative, are made worse by climate change and will only get more expensive to resolve the longer we wait. Krista stressed that we can’t go back on the progress we’ve made with the GLRI, and we must continue to fix these problems and invest in our drinking water infrastructure to prevent situations like the Flint water crisis.

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Bria Foster speaks of how the GLRI supports jobs like hers

We heard stories about the impact of the GLRI, such as the restoration work it funds in the Cook County Forest Preserves. Bria Foster, a crew member with the Friends of the Forest Preserves, told of the importance of the work she and other young adults are doing with help from the fund. “We are the future and what we do is help protect the future, and that’s the environment. Without clean air and clean water, we have nothing to stand on.” Bria said that funding from the GLRI has helped her be successful in this field and she hopes that success will be shared by others like her.

Natalie Johnson, Executive Director of Save the Dunes, spoke of what the GLRI has meant for the Grand Calumet River system and how far we’ve come since the days when the river used to catch on fire. The 13-mile river system runs through the underserved communities of Hammond, Gary, and East Chicago in northwest Indiana and empties into Lake Michigan. Once plagued by industrial pollution, the GLRI has helped the river system see a total transformation. Today, the region enjoys a cleaner waterway with wildlife in areas that have been remediated and species that had been missing for over 30 years.

 Mila Marshall, a PhD candidate at University of Illinois-Chicago and research associate at their Freshwater Lab, as well as a member of the Alliance for the Great Lakes Young Professionals Council, shared some facts about the importance of Great Lakes water, which serves as 21% of the world’s supply of freshwater, 84% of North America’s surface freshwater and 100% of our drinking water in Chicago.

Mila said that “to reduce the GLRI budget by 97% is an attack on the Great Lakes economy because it would annihilate the progress we’ve made and would paralyze efforts for redeveloping what we like to call the ‘water belt’ region. This is a direct attack on our future.” Mila spoke of how clean, affordable freshwater is our lifeline to an equitable and a sustainable future and how disinvestment of this or any nature will continue to reinforce poverty. She stressed that funding cuts will destabilize the road to environmental reconciliation for current environmental justice communities in cities such as Flint, East Chicago, Gary, Benton Harbor, Detroit and Toledo and further put communities at risk of lead poisoning and other threats. Mila said that “with full funding of the GLRI, this Administration can indeed continue to revitalize the Great Lakes for welcoming industrial allies and for reducing threats to the quality of life for nearly 30 million Americans.”

Michael Mikulka, an EPA Region 5 employee and President of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, spoke of the potential cuts to EPA funding that would devastate the agency’s important work to protect human health and restore the places where we live, work and play. Michael said that much progress has been made in the Great Lakes to clean up legacy contamination and restore beneficial uses such as fishing and swimming. Budget cuts threaten this progress and the additional work needed to maintain the value of our natural resources.

These speakers gave powerful insights into the impact of the GLRI and what it would mean to lose it. Here in Chicago, we understand what the Great Lakes mean for us- clean drinking water, tourism and economic growth, places for our communities to gather, not to mention a great backdrop to our city’s skyline. But we’re not the only ones who depend on this resource, benefit from its provisions and have an impact on its health. We want to be good water neighbors and work together with our neighbors to protect the resource we all depend on. This includes other states, Canadian provinces and Native American tribes along the lakes. Now more than ever, we must combine forces to maximize our impact and achieve our shared goals.

On Wednesday, I’ll be heading to DC with some of the advocates who spoke today and many others from all seven Great Lakes states to request the support of our members of Congress in protecting our freshwater resource. We will not let the Great Lakes- which provide drinking water, jobs and recreation to millions of people- be a casualty of this Administration. Please join us in our fight for the Great Lakes by signing up to volunteer with us.

Thank you for your support. Onward!

 

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Watch the press conference:

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Illinois Acts To Require Testing For Schools & Daycares

Today the Illinois General Assembly passed Senate Bill 550, which will require testing for lead contamination in Illinois elementary schools and daycares.  Sierra Club volunteers worked over the last year to educate lawmakers about the risks of lead contamination to children’s health, and to support the new testing requirement.
Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter Director made this statement:

“We applaud the hard work of State Senator Heather Steans and State Representative Sonya Harper to better protect Illinois children from lead in their drinking water.  Lead can poison a child’s brain leading to developmental problems, and we need to be doing more to protect our kids everywhere they drink water, but particularly at school and in daycare.  Now parents, schools, and daycares will have the facts they need to make sure our schools are places of learning, not poisoning.
It has never been more important that states lead in protecting our environment and ensuring our infrastructure is safe.  We applaud Attorney General Lisa Madigan for her strong advocacy for this legislation and for our children, and the Illinois Environmental Council for working with all parties to reach this important agreement.”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 7, 2016

 

New Report: Clean Water Projects Employed 19,443 In 2014

Chicago Federation of Labor, Sierra Club Present Findings at MWRD Board Meeting

“A Flowing Economy” Details Clean Water Benefits to Workers & Regional Economy

Chicago, IL– The Chicago Federation of Labor and the Sierra Club today made a unique joint appearance before the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) to release a new report on the benefits that investments in clean water generate for the economy and the environment both locally and statewide, and to highlight upcoming opportunities for clean water projects.

“We are fortunate to have one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water right outside our front door, in Lake Michigan and all our Great Lakes,” said Jorge Ramirez, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor. “Thanks to an initial investment by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the City of Chicago Department of Water Management in 2014, we have already begun to see the economic and environmental benefits of investing in clean water projects in the Chicago area, namely job creation and increased worker productivity thanks to improved regional health. We need to build on this success and focus on upgrading and repairing the state’s clean water infrastructure.”

“Protecting Lake Michigan and restoring our rivers are not only essential for public health but also significantly contributes to a healthy economy,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.

The report, titled “A Flowing Economy: How Clean Water Infrastructure Investments Support Good Jobs in Chicago and in Illinois” finds that for every $1 billion invested in clean water infrastructure, approximately 6,200 direct jobs are created in construction or water and sewage facilities, and 11,200 total jobs are created throughout the economy. Additionally, every $1 billion investment brings an 8 percent one-year GDP return on investment. The report was prepared by Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and the School of Labor and Employment Relations at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Investments in clean water benefit the whole economy by making businesses and households run more smoothly, with less frequent disruptions from leaks, contamination and other water infrastructure failures,” said Frank Manzo, Policy Director at ILEPI and an author of the report.

Leading the region in clean water investments are the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago and the City of Chicago’s Department of Water Management. In 2014 alone, these two entities created or saved a total of 19,400 jobs and reduced the regional unemployment rate by 0.73 percent.

“America’s economy runs on water,” said MWRD President Mariyana Spyropoulos. “Between the City of Chicago and the MWRD, hundreds of thousands of annual jobs will be supported and billions in economic output will be produced over the next decade. When we invest in water, we put people to work, support economic growth and build a stronger foundation for our nation.”

While investments in clean water have led to major improvements in water quality and efficient water management, there are outstanding needs for additional investments that will continue to bolster the economy and enrich our communities. The report offers a snapshot of the challenges facing the Chicago Waterway System and waterways throughout Illinois and the opportunities to address these challenges through future investments.

“We need our local leaders and agencies to continue investing in two things every city needs: clean water and good jobs. Fortunately, there are opportunities to achieve both through smart investments in the right projects,” said Dr. Cynthia Skrukrud, Clean Water Program Director for the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We need to address serious threats to our water resources, such as invasive species, combined sewer overflows and nutrient pollution, which will require new water infrastructure to be built by hardworking men and women. We stand ready to help local, state and federal agencies prioritize investments to achieve clean water and a thriving economy.”

The report and its key findings were presented at the MWRD Board Meeting earlier today, and the District Board approved a resolution supporting the report.

To read the report visit:

http://illinoisepi.org/countrysidenonprofit/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/ILEPI-PMCR-Research-Report-A-Flowing-Economy-FINAL.pdf

 

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Statement on Clean Power Plan & Illinois

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama Administration released the final version of the landmark Clean Power Plan.

In response, Jack Darin, Director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club released the following statement:

“The Clean Power Plan is the most significant single action any President has ever taken to tackle the most serious threat to the health of our families: the climate crisis.

“Today marks a new era of growth for affordable and safe clean energy sources that don’t fuel climate disruption and sicken our communities. It is a step towards improving the quality of life for low income neighborhoods and communities of color, which have disproportionately borne the brunt of power plant pollution in Illinois for decades. It is an opportunity to protect what we treasure most here in Illinois; from Lake Michigan to our state’s vital farmland.

“We know we can meet these goals for reducing carbon pollution in Illinois because we’ve already started. Since Illinois started adding wind and solar to our power grid, and investing in energy conservation, we’ve created over 100,000 jobs in clean energy, saved consumers over $1 billion on their electric bills and reduced the emissions that threaten our health and our climate. With a strong state Clean Power Plan, we can build on that success to create good jobs where we need them most, protect ratepayers, and clean the air we breathe. The Illinois Clean Jobs bill is the best way to bring Illinois a clean energy future by ramping up renewable energy like wind and solar to 35 percent by 2030 and cutting energy use through efficiency by 20 percent by 2025. These efforts will save consumers money while bringing clean energy investment to new communities to strengthen local tax bases and create family-sustaining jobs.

“We are especially proud that a President from Illinois is leading America to confront the climate crisis, and seize these opportunities. With so much at stake, it’s time to come together to build solutions to ensure that no Illinois community is left behind as we shift to a clean energy economy. As we work to build a better future for our children and grandchildren, these efforts must include ensuring good jobs and economic vitality in diverse Illinois communities so families can grow and thrive.

“We stand ready and eager to work together on a Clean Power Plan for Illinois that delivers the better future we all want for our families and our future.”

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ILLINOIS ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT TO CLEAN UP NUTRIENT POLLUTION

Sierra Club Welcomes New Strategy For Addressing Illinois’ Most Widespread Water Quality Problem

SPRINGFIELD — The State of Illinois today announced the release of a finalized statewide strategy designed to address Illinois’ most widespread water pollution problem – an overload of nitrogen and phosphorus in most of the state’s rivers, lakes, and streams. The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy calls for reductions in phosphorus and nitrogen pollution that impacts Illinois waterways and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients spur algae blooms that deplete oxygen levels, hinder recreation, and threaten public health. Nutrient pollution can also degrade drinking water quality and require cities to install costly treatment equipment.

In response, Dr. Cindy Skrukrud, Clean Water Advocate for the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter, released the following statement:

“Overloading our waters with excess nutrients is a major problem in Illinois, and this agreement that we must act together to address it is an important step toward solutions that will protect our drinking water and wildlife.  Too many of our rivers, lakes, and streams are choking on unhealthy explosions of algae that feed on nutrient pollution from cities, suburbs, and farm fields.

“We welcome this historic agreement with farmers, local governments, businesses, and boaters to use science-based approaches to clean up these problems.  Today is only the beginning, but when we fully enact this strategy, we will protect our drinking water and create good jobs building the infrastructure we need to improve our water supply for our environment and for our health.  We are eager to work with partners throughout the state to take the necessary steps outlined in the strategy to clean up our waterways.”

Dr. Cindy Skrukrud serves as a member of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy Policy Working Group that provided input on the strategy document and will guide its implementation.

The final version of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy and additional information is available at: http://www.epa.illinois.gov/topics/water-quality/watershed-management/excess-nutrients/nutrient-loss-reduction-strategy/index.

Chicago Calls For Action On Proposed Great Lakes Nuclear Waste Dump

This week Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced a resolution to the Chicago City Council highlighting the threat to the Great Lakes from a proposed nuclear waste disposal site near Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada. Sierra Club welcomed the proposal and urged the full City Council to consider and approve the resolution.

“The Great Lakes are not only Chicago’s source of drinking water, they are a global treasure, and no place for storing dangerous nuclear wastes,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter. “We applaud Mayor Emanuel for moving to protect Chicago’s drinking water and the Great Lakes from the threat of a nuclear waste dump.”

On Wednesday, Emanuel introduced a City Council resolution finding that the “creation of a permanent nuclear waste storage facility so close to one of the Great Lakes is a matter of vital concern to the region’s states and provinces”; and calling on the Obama administration and Congress to engage the International Joint Commission to review the proposal. Emanuel’s resolution also finds that “a leak of radioactive waste would almost certainly have a cataclysmic effect on the delicate ecological balance of the world’s largest group of interconnected freshwater bodies of water.”

“Chicagoans and visitors rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water, recreation and for creating the ecosystem that makes Chicago the City in the Garden,” said Mayor Emanuel. “I have stood with the Sierra Club throughout my career in Congress and as Mayor to ensure Lake Michigan is protected against corporate polluters. Today’s action is another strong sign that we will not allow the Great Lakes to become a nuclear waste disposal site, and we will continue efforts to keep these waters safe, sustainable and reliable for future generations.”

“As Chicagoans working to clean up the Great Lakes and protect them from harm, we are appalled that anyone would consider burying nuclear waste on the shores of Lake Huron,” said Christine Williamson, Chair of the Chicago Group of the Sierra Club. “We thank Mayor Emanuel for calling attention to this threat to the Great Lakes, and all that the City of Chicago is doing to move toward clean energy sources that create good jobs without threatening our health and communities.”

The full resolution is available here.
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Environmental Catastrophe Warns of Coal Ash Hazards in Illinois

CHICAGO — Last week a Duke Energy coal ash pit in North Carolina breached and released up to 27 million gallons of polluted water and over 82,000 tons of ash, resulting in the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history.

These environmental catastrophes are nothing new, and people in Illinois who live near coal ash pits are paying close attention. That’s why concerned residents are aligning with environmental groups like the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Prairie Rivers Network and Sierra Club to call on the Illinois Pollution Control Board (PCB) to strengthen coal ash rules proposed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in order to prevent the same occurrences here.

Joppa Coal Ash Piles Credit: Terri Treacy

Joppa Coal Ash Piles
Credit: Terri Treacy

The Illinois PCB will hold hearings on the proposed rules in Springfield on February 26 and 27 and in Chicago on May 14 and 15.

For more information, see: http://www.ipcb.state.il.us/COOL/External/CaseView.aspx?case=14705 .  To send in comments to the IPCB, see:  http://bit.ly/CoalAshComments

“These spills are tragic reminders of the hazards of coal ash and the burden these power plants leave on communities,” said Phil Marcy, Havana, Ill., a resident who has joined the coalition. “Living next door to a power plant weighs heavily on me, especially being downhill from a high hazard dam holding 90 acres of coal ash.  I want to know for sure that everything has been done to ensure the stability of that site and the safety of my family.”

“We like to believe that events like the one in North Carolina could never happen here, but in truth they absolutely can,” said Andrew Armstrong, a staff attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC). “We have a chance to prevent a coal ash catastrophe in Illinois now and create rules that protect our residents and the safety of our water supply.”

“This North Carolina spill highlights the need to assess the stability of coal ash pits in our own state. Illinois has nearly 90 aging coal ash pits, many of which were built in places they never should have been – over mine voids and in floodplains of rivers,” said Traci Barkley of Prairie Rivers Network. “We need to get ahead of the curve before disaster strikes in our own state.”

“We hope that the Duke Energy spill and the pleas by local residents throughout the state will be a wake-up call that these rules are needed- and they need to be done right.” said Cindy Skrukrud of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club.  “The people of Illinois and our precious water resources deserve the best protection from the hazards of coal ash.”

Currently, Illinois EPA’s proposed coal rules would allow a coal ash pit to remain open indefinitely, even if it is found to be contaminating groundwater.  Neither do the rules require the removal of coal ash waste pits that have been closed.  The environmental groups will ask the Board to require the removal of coal ash pits to high and dry landfills, allow for the assessment and prevention of damage to rivers and lakes, before it occurs and provide more opportunity for public input. Power companies should also be required to provide financial assurances so that taxpayers aren’t left paying the bill for clean-up.

Coal ash is full of heavy metals, which can cause cancer and brain damage in humans and are harmful to fish and wildlife.  Water contaminated by coal ash increases your chances of cancer to 1 in 50.[1]

At the Duke Energy power plant, a broken storm-water pipe underneath a 27-acre coal ash pit spilled hazardous pollutants into the Dan River.  Testing results released Thursday show that waters downstream had heavy toxic metals such as arsenic, chromium, iron, lead among others.  Arsenic was found to be nearly 35 times higher than the level EPA considers acceptable for drinking water.

Recent investigations into coal ash pits in Illinois have found contaminated groundwater at five Midwest Generation power plant sites, six Dynegy facilities and Prairie Power’s Pearl Station. Pollutants exceeding groundwater quality standards at these sites include antimony, arsenic, boron, chloride, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, nitrate, pH, selenium, sulfate, thallium, zinc and total dissolved solids.

The North Carolina coal ash pit is less than 30 acres in size with a storage volume of 155 million gallons. For comparison, the coal ash pit at Dynegy’s plant on the Ohio River in Joppa, Illinois holds over one billion gallons, and Dynegy’s Baldwin plant on the Kaskaskia River has a five billion gallon pit.  Along the Illinois River at Dynegy Havana Station a “high hazard dam” contains a 90-acre pit.  The retired Dynegy Vermillion power plant hosts a 2,400-acre impoundment, built in the floodplain of the Middle Fork River, our state’s only National Scenic River. If a spill occurred at one of these plants, millions of tons of coal ash could be released— far more than what is currently causing environmental and public health concerns in North Carolina.

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[1] U.S. EPA, Human and Ecological Risk Assessment of Coal Combustion Wastes, RIN 2050-AE81 April 2010, page 4-7.