Category Archives: State Legislation

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.

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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

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Illinois House and Senate Pass Landmark Legislation to Clean Up Coal Ash

Bill addresses coal ash impoundments plaguing the state for decades

Yesterday the Illinois Legislature passed SB9, the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, which now heads to the Governor’s desk. The groundbreaking bill addresses the many waste pits filled with coal ash, the toxic byproduct of burning coal, located all over the state. Illinois is now the third state in the country to pass legislation providing significant coal ash protections above and beyond federal requirements. The legislation creates a regulatory framework to ensure polluters, not taxpayers, pay for needed closure and cleanup, guarantees public participation and transparency around cleanups for affected communities, and provides Illinois EPA the funds it needs to properly oversee closure and cleanup. It also requires Illinois to put in place standards for coal ash impoundments that are at least as protective as federal coal ash rule requirements, with additional protections against dust and water pollution.

SB9 amends the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and was sponsored by State Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign). State Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Champaign) sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives. A large coalition of activists from around Illinois championed the legislation that will now proceed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk to be signed into law, including; Central Illinois Healthy Communities Alliance, Citizens Against Longwall Mining, Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, Clean Power Lake County, Earthjustice, Eco-Justice Collaborative, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Faith in Place Action Fund, Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois People’s Action, Metro-East Green Alliance, Prairie Rivers Network, Protect the Middle Fork, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, and Springfield Clean. See quotes from legislators and coalition partners here.

Illinois has the highest concentration of coal ash impoundments in the country. The Illinois EPA has found groundwater contamination from coal ash waste sites dating back to 2009. A 2018 report from environmental groups Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Prairie Rivers Network and Sierra Club analyzing data collected by ash dump owners under the federal coal ash rule found that 22 of 24 of Illinois’ reporting coal ash dumpsites have unsafe levels of toxic pollutants in the groundwater. Illinois joins Virginia and North Carolina in addressing coal ash through state level legislation.

“Sierra Club Illinois applauds the General Assembly for passing this historic bill to protect Illinois communities and waterways from toxic coal ash waste that has been contributing to groundwater contamination across this state for too many years. It’s critical that we protect Illinois taxpayers from the clean up costs that profitable companies like NRG and Vistra should be responsible for if they do business in Illinois,” said Joyce Blumenshine, Conservation Chair for the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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.

 

Illinois House Passes Resolution Urging Governor Rauner to sign Illinois onto U.S. Climate Alliance

Springfield, June 26 – This morning the Illinois House passed HR490, urging Governor Rauner to have Illinois join 12 states, Puerto Rico, and over 300 cities in supporting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and signing onto the U.S. Climate Alliance. The resolution also urges the state to develop a plan of how Illinois can achieve 100% clean, renewable energy by 2045, a goal that dozens of cities and the state of California are working towards. The Resolution passed 54-29.

 

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

“Governor Rauner, it is time for Illinois to join the US Climate Alliance, and chart our own course to a clean energy future. President Trump is stepping back from the global move to clean energy, but Illinois does not have to follow him.  It’s time to commit to fighting the climate change that threatens Illinois, and plan for the bold long term goal of a 100% clean energy future.

“Illinois is already on track to meet the Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets, as the clean energy boom on the way under the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) is projected to reduce carbon emissions at least equal to those agreed to in the Paris accord. A transition to 100% clean energy will not happen overnight, but the transition has already begun, and setting that as a long term goal for Illinois will guide job training, economic development, grid infrastructure, and other components of a clean energy future.”

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.”