Category Archives: Press Releases

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.

Study: Physical Barrier Most Effective Way to Stop Invasive Species from Ravaging Great Lakes, Mississippi River

Alliance for the Great Lakes – Clean Water Action-Minnesota – Freshwater Future – Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition – Milwaukee Riverkeeper – National Wildlife Federation – Ohio Environmental Council – Natural Resources Defense Council – Prairie Rivers Network – Sierra Club

For Immediate Release: January 7, 2014

CHICAGO – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has identified physically separating the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds as the most effective way to prevent aquatic invasive species like Asian carp from moving between the two iconic waters.

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Conservation groups today responded to a congressionally mandated study released Monday that outlines eight ways to prevent the transfer of invasive organisms between the two water bodies via Chicago-area canals built more than 100 years ago to connect the two systems. Of all the options studied, the groups agreed that only one – physical separation –is effective at stopping the transfer of the various invasive fish, parasites, grasses, algae and other organisms.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study leaves no doubt that the most effective way to stop invasive species from wreaking environmental and economic harm on the Great Lakes and Mississippi River communities is through the construction of a physical barrier,” said Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “This paves the way for Congress and our region to move from study to action on a permanent solution that will protect the environment, jobs and way of life for millions of people.”

The report comes soon after the Army Corps admitted in a report that a series of electrical barriers designed to repel the advancing Asian carp can be breached in a variety of ways, leaving Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes vulnerable to the destructive non-native fish.

“All evidence points to one conclusion: Physical separation is the only defensible solution to the epidemic of invasive species which pose a threat to people, wildlife and our economy,” said Robert Hirschfeld, water policy specialist, Prairie Rivers Network. “It’s time to get away from Band-Aid approaches and toward a long-term, comprehensive, and permanent solution. This report can help us do that.”

The Army Corps findings mesh with overwhelming public support for physically separating the two systems. The public has clamored for a long-term solution to the Asian carp crisis ever since environmental DNA of the fish was discovered past the electric fence in 2009.

“More than 25,000 people, many organizations, and nearly 90 communities in the Great Lakes region concerned about an Asian carp invasion have communicated to decision makers how we want the Great Lakes separated from the Mississippi River,” states Cheryl Kallio, associate director for Freshwater Future. “We are pleased to learn the Army Corps’ report identifies how this can be done and confirms that separation is the most protective option.”

The Army Corps study pegs the cost of separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems in the billions—a cost that is in-line with large-scale city infrastructure projects in cities across the region. Building a physical barrier would also mean restoring and revitalizing part of the Chicago River and the area’s drinking water and wastewater systems. It would also help address flooding.

“This is not a Chicago problem, an Illinois problem, or a regional problem. It is a national issue, that will require appropriate resources for a solution,” said Henry Henderson, NRDC Midwest director. “But the scale of the response creates a tremendous opportunity to revitalize Chicago’s failing waterways while taking essential action to protect the Great Lakes. Those don’t come often, as evidenced by the sorry state of both the river systems and the lake. This is a chance to do better.”

With the release of the study, the region’s focus now turns to putting words into action – while there’s still time to act.

“The report provides a roadmap for elected officials to move forward to protect the Great Lakes and Mississippi River communities,” said Marc Smith, senior policy manager with the National Wildlife Federation. “We look forward to working with Congress to take the next steps to implement the permanent long-term solution. The cost of inaction will be devastating to our environment, economy and quality of life.”

Ordered by Congress in 2007, the Great Lakes-Mississippi River Interbasin Study comes two years after an independent analysis by the Great Lakes Commission and Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative found separating the two iconic waters was both feasible and affordable.

“We are pleased the corps has concluded that restoring the historic divide between Lake Michigan and the Illinois-Mississippi River is the most effective option for halting aquatic invaders,” said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.  “We know this can’t be done overnight, but now Illinois leaders can begin designing separation solutions that pay huge dividends for the Chicago region – modernized freight transportation, a much cleaner Chicago River, and new solutions to flooding problems that have plagued neighborhoods for decades.   This will not only keep Asian Carp and other aquatic invaders out of Lake Michigan, but also protect the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers from other alien species that can currently enter them from the Great Lakes.”

Scientists agree that the entry of the bighead and silver carp into the Great Lakes could upend the lakes’ ecology and the region’s $7 billion fishing industry. The Chicago Waterways System, which feeds into Lake Michigan, has been identified as the most likely route for the carp to enter the Great Lakes.

“Federal investments to restore and protect the Great Lakes are producing results, but those investments are at risk,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “Allowing the Asian carp to enter the Great Lakes will undermine restoration efforts. This report confirms that we have an effective solution to protect the Great Lakes from these invaders. It’s now time to act. Delay will only make the problem more complicated and expensive to solve.”

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The Corps plans to hold two public input sessions in Illinois.  The first will be held Thursday January 9 in Chicago at The University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center- 450 North Cityfront Plaza Drive.  The second will be held January 30 in Alton at the National Great Rivers Museum- #2 Locks and Dam Way.
Both sessions will be held from 4-7 pm.  Contact  colleen.smith@sierraclub.org to get a copy of our factsheet and talking points if you plan to attend.

Chicago Public Buildings Go Coal-Free

Sierra Club Statement on Coal-Free Agreement for Chicago Municipal Buildings

CHICAGO – Today, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a new contract with Constellation New Energy to provide energy for the city of Chicago’s municipal buildings with coal-free energy. This agreement will deliver a 2 percent discount on the City’s energy bill. This announcement builds on the City’s municipal aggregation agreement established in late 2012 eliminating coal from the energy mix for Chicago residents.

In response to today’s news, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin released the following statement:

“Mayor Emanuel’s announcement is an important next step toward eliminating dirty energy from Chicago’s energy mix. Chicago’s most important buildings like City Hall, O’hare and Midway airports, city libraries and police and fire stations will all be powered by coal-free energy.

“Municipal aggregation is already saving Chicago residents money on their electric bills, and Chicago’s coal-free goals are reducing emissions from dangerous coal-fired power plants. Choosing to get rid of coal in the city of Chicago means cleaner air and better rates for our city.”

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IL Leaders Join 160 Midwest Organizations Applauding Obama Climate Action Plan

Today, 160 businesses and organizations from six Midwest states, including Illinois businesses,  religious and health organizations, sent a letter to President Obama thanking him for the Climate Action Plan he laid out in June. The letter emphasized the importance of the President’s directive to EPA to develop carbon pollution standards for existing power plants.

As reminders that climate change is upon us,  the letter cited record flooding in parts of the Midwest this spring, less than one year after devastating drought over much of the region last summer and fall. “We look forward to working with you, EPA, and Midwestern electric utilities to meet this challenge,” the signatories wrote to the President.

Much of the letter is focused on recent extreme weather, adverse health impacts brought about by climate change, and how the region’s low-income communities are especially susceptible to climate change impacts.

“Cutting carbon pollution from large sources will doubly benefit families living with lung and heart disease,” said signer Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs for Respiratory Health Association. “Transitioning to energy sources like wind, solar and efficiency will not only reduce global warming over the long term, but will provide immediate health benefits by eliminating major sources of smog and soot pollution now harming millions of vulnerable adults and children across the Midwest.”

In addition, the letter highlights how carbon pollution standards can boost the Midwest’s economy.  “The Midwest can be the world’s leader in manufacturing the clean energy technologies that meet our energy needs and protect the environment for future generations,” says the letter from businesses, health groups, religious groups and community groups from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

“Modernizing and cleaning up our nation’s electric grid is one of the greatest economic development opportunities of our lifetime,” said Amy Francetic, CEO of Clean Energy Trust, among the Illinois leaders signing the letter.

The letter stresses the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real and threatens Midwest ecosystems.

” The Chicago Botanic Garden believes that climate change is a real threat to plants and is taking action to help flora adapt to a changing climate and to reduce the impact of the changes.  Both on the Garden’s property and through working with partners, we will advocate for protection of native habitats as well as their management and restoration,” said Sophia Siskel, President and CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden, who also signed the letter.

“We applaud President Obama for calling for bold action to address the threat of climate change,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.  “We look forward to working with the President and his team to craft climate solutions that protect our health and environment for today, and for future generations.”

A copy of the letter is available here.8.7.13 POTUS Thank you

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Illinois Pollution Control Board Denies Delay in Coal Plant Cleanup

SPRINGFIELD, Ill – Today, the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) denied a request by Ameren to transfer the company’s pollution variance request to Dynegy, a Texas-based company that recently purchased Ameren’s five Illinois merchant coal-fired power plants for no cash. IPCB found that Dynegy failed to demonstrate that following the current law would cause the company undue hardship. The variance request would give Dynegy five extra years to comply with Illinois’ Multi-Pollutant Standard, a state regulation enacted in 2006.

The Illinois Pollution Control Board’s decision today is a victory for public health. Ameren had a cleanup plan in place for its outdated coal-fired power plants for years, but chose not to follow it. After hearing from more than 8,000 citizens across Illinois who are tired of pollution from Ameren’s coal-fired power plants, the IPCB took action and the put health of Illinois families over big polluters.

Dynegy is asking its shareholders to take on a huge risk in the purchase of Ameren’s aging coal-fired power plants, which contribute to more than 2,000 asthma attacks and 120 premature deaths annually, according to the Clean Air Task Force. Allowing the new owner of Ameren’s plants to further delay installing life-saving pollution control technology for five more years would have been unconscionable. We applaud the IPCB for choosing our health over their profits.

Investing in dirty coal plants is very risky business. Illinois needs to move beyond fossil fuels to the clean energy solutions for tomorrow – wind, solar, and energy conservation. We have already seen more than 20,000 jobs created since Illinois set clean energy targets six years ago, and that is only the beginning if we keep moving beyond coal to clean energy. By focusing on clean energy and cleaning up dirty coal plants, Illinois can secure a healthier and more prosperous future.

Illinois families can’t afford to wait any longer for clean air. Today’s decision is a big step toward a better tomorrow.

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