Category Archives: Uncategorized

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:

Lisa May: A Champion for Waukegan

by Kady McFadden, Deputy Chapter Director

I am proud to share that Sierra Club Illinois today announced our endorsement of Lisa May for Mayor of Waukegan. Residents of Waukegan who have long advocated for cleaning up their lakefront, for a transition from coal to clean energy, and a healthier community to raise their children will have a true champion on their side in Lisa May.

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Waukegan faces many of the issues our country faces – whether we transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, whether we protect our sources of water like Lake Michigan, how we generate just and sustainable economic development in our cities, and how we lift up all community voices in these decisions. Waukegan also faces unique environmental and economic challenges: a painful legacy of industrial pollution, including multiple U.S. EPA Superfund Sites, and a coal fired power plant that has polluted Lake Michigan and our shoreline for decades, hindering lakefront revitalization.

But Waukegan also holds tremendous opportunity and potential.

Lisa May will be the leader that Waukegan needs in becoming the true City of Progress and forging a healthier, more prosperous, clean energy economy for Waukegan. And she will do that in partnership with community members, because she knows one of Waukegan’s greatest strengths is its own residents who believe that this change is possible.

Lisa’s entry into public service grew from her passion for the environment and protecting our natural spaces. After seeing the Waukegan Beach continually littered and in threat of closing, Lisa founded the Friends of Waukegan Beach to engage community members in its protection. Over the last several years she has been an independent voice on the Waukegan City Council who listens thoughtfully to her constituents and represents their interests. When the Clean Power Lake County campaign needed a stronger champion on the City Council to boldly support a transition beyond coal to clean energy, she stepped forward and stood with the residents of Waukegan.

Lisa knows that Waukegan’s future is tied to the health of its Lake Michigan shoreline and that clean energy is one of the greatest opportunities for economic renewal. Sierra Club and many local community partners successfully passed the Future Energy Jobs Bill at the close of 2016 and we now need critical leadership to implement these clean energy programs in Waukegan. Lisa is ready and eager to seize the tremendous potential of the clean energy economy that can attract new businesses, create local jobs, generate consumer savings, and help build a more sustainable image for Waukegan. Waukegan is home to a growing, young workforce including talented students from the College of Lake County and other educational venues who can join clean energy job training programs. With city leadership to court clean energy businesses, these young men and women can find opportunities installing solar panels on rooftops and vacant lands, home insulation and other jobs in sustainable energy development.

At a time of great uncertainty for climate action, Great Lakes protection, and other important priorities at the federal level, we need bold leadership more than ever in cities around the country. Lisa’s commitment to climate leadership and to a transparent, inclusive government that lifts up all residents’ voices, especially minority families, is a breath of fresh air for our democracy. Sierra Club is proud to recommend Lisa May to voters in Waukegan and we hope you will join us in the fight for a healthier, brighter future for the City of Progress.

Sign up to volunteer on the campaign here, or make a donation to Sierra Club Illinois PAC here.

 

*Paid for by Sierra Club Illinois PAC. A copy of our report filed with the State Board of Elections is (or will be) available on the Board’s official website (www.elections.il.gov) or for purchase from the State Board of Elections, Springfield, IL.

People’s Climate Movement–Chicagoland

Join us Today! January 23rd from 3:30 to 5:30

The People’s Climate Movement is calling for 100 hours of action in response to the inauguration. Sierra Club Valley of the Fox is joining nearby Sierra Club groups in a rally at Rep. Peter Roskam’s office to let him know that his constituents and neighbors want action on climate change. If you want to do something NOW to have a voice in our future, come to this rally. We will have speakers, chanting, and marching. Make some signs. Have your kids make some signs.

Action nourishes hope.

January 23 – Monday – 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
People’s Climate Movement-Chicagoland
Rally at Peter Roskam’s Office
2700 International Drive, West Chicago, IL

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Questions? Email Barbara Hill

Illinois Acts On Climate

We just did something truly historic in Illinois, at a time when we needed it most.

Here in the industrial heartland, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner today signed the Future Energy Jobs Bill, which will slash carbon emissions from the electric sector in half by 2030. In the face of a Trump presidency, we just took an ambitious leap forward to address the urgent threat of climate disruption.

This remarkable feat did not happen overnight; in fact, it took two years of hard work on behalf of Sierra Club’s grassroots volunteers across the state of Illinois, working shoulder to shoulder with our allies in the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition.

Over the past two  years, clean energy advocates made countless lobby visits, made thousands of calls, sent tens of thousands of letters and petitions, and built a grassroots movement to win broad, bipartisan support for getting strong renewable energy policy for Illinois. After tough negotiations with other stakeholders, we emerged successfully, locking in our huge clean energy priorities into the Future Energy Jobs Bill. As a result, we will build enough wind and solar to power 1 million homes over the next decade, and our state’s major utilities must reduce our reliance on dirty fuels with $6 billion in new energy conservation programs.

Communities from across Illinois came together around equitable, smart and inclusive clean energy policy, and that’s where we scored some of our biggest wins. The Future Energy Jobs Bill will include:

  • At least 4.3 gigawatts of new Illinois wind and solar power – as much capacity as two nuclear power plants and two coal plants combined
  • Requirements that Ameren and ComEd, Illinois utilities,  invest $6 billion in energy efficiency over the next decade
  • A new Illinois Solar for All program that will invest up to $400 million in new solar projects in economically disadvantaged communities, and train those most in need of good jobs in the clean energy technologies of the future.

These are huge leaps forward for clean energy, but the Future Energy Jobs Bill was also a compromise that includes ratepayer support for two nuclear power plants. To be clear, the Sierra Club remains opposed to nuclear power, and we do not consider nuclear to be clean energy.  While we fought for our clean energy priorities, we strongly opposed Exelon’s proposed “Low Carbon Portfolio Standard,” which would have subsidized all of Exelon’s six nuclear reactors, to the exclusion of renewable power. We defeated that proposal, and championed the Illinois Clean Jobs bill as a much better alternative. However, after nearly two years, legislative leaders and the Governor convened all stakeholders with the directive to agree on a single, comprehensive energy proposal. We fought and won to make renewable energy and energy efficiency the cornerstones of the compromise legislation, and of Illinois’ energy future.  

Our work is not over until the state is powered by 100% clean energy. With the ramp up in wind, solar, and energy efficiency required by this bill, Illinois will be ready to replace our nuclear and coal plants with truly clean power when they retire.

Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we continue our work to reduce dangerous carbon pollution, support opportunities for family-sustaining jobs in Illinois’ energy economy, continue the shift away from coal, gas and nuclear and ensure that clean energy opportunity is prioritized for communities burdened for decades by pollution.

With federal climate action uncertain, it is more important than ever that states act decisively on climate change, and the Sierra Club’s incredible grassroots network worked hard to ensure that Illinois did just that.

Monarchs Need You: Sign Up for a Monarch Decal!

Monarch butterflies are counting on you! Sign up for a monarch license plate decal! This decal will help fund the planting of roadside habitat for monarchs in Illinois.

You can apply for your decal in three easy steps:
Download, print, and fill the form out, including “Monarch Roadside Habitat” for “Name of Specialty Plate Being Requested.” Send the form in to the Secretary of State’s office with a $10 check.

monarch-from-terri-usfwsAs soon as 2000 people sign up, a decal will be created and mailed to you. Please let us know you completed the form by filling out this survey so we can track sign ups and make sure the Secretary of State has your information.

The beautiful orange and black butterfly is a familiar garden visitor in the Midwest, but it may not be part of our future.

The monarch butterfly is a beloved insect in the U.S. and the state insect of Illinois. The monarch’s incredible annual migration of nearly three thousand miles (over several life cycles) between Canada and Mexico is an unrivaled natural phenomenon. Due to its location, Illinois happens to be one of the most important places along the monarch’s annual two-way migration. Therefore, providing habitat and protections for monarchs in Illinois is essential to their continued survival.

The monarch is in trouble.  In the past twenty years, 173 million acres of its midwestern breeding habitat has been lost, the equivalent to the state of Texas, converted to cropland for the growing ethanol industry, scoured of milkweed from farm fields by herbicide usage and plowed under for buildings for an expanding human population.

As the breeding areas and habitat along the migration route have disappeared, the population in 2014 sank to as low as 90% below historic averages.

There are challenges at the monarch wintering site in Mexico as well. Illegal logging is reducing the size of the oyamel fir forests which provide the right temperature and moisture conditions during the winter. Extreme weather events in both the summer and winter territories are contributing to the precipitous population decline.

The situation has reached a point where the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety have petitioned U.S. Fish and Wildlife for endangered species designation for the monarch butterfly.  An agreement has been reached that a decision will be made by June 2019.

Please consider purchasing a decal and help us save this iconic species!

Press Release: Sierra Club Announces General Assembly Endorsements, Launches Clean Energy Voter Contact Campaign in Key IL Battlegrounds

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Contact: Kady McFadden, kady.mcfadden@sierraclub.org, (630) 747-0915

Sierra Club Announces General Assembly Endorsements,
Launches Clean Energy Voter Contact Campaign in Key IL Battlegrounds
Organizing Staff & Volunteers on the Ground For Clean Jobs Bill Supporters

Chicago – The Illinois Sierra Club today announced its endorsements in races for the Illinois General Assembly and its largest ever voter contact campaign in some of Illinois’ most hotly contested battleground state legislative districts. Sierra Club’s full list of endorsements can be found here.

“We are proud to support candidates who want to fight through gridlock in Springfield to protect our drinking water, open spaces, and create clean energy jobs to cut carbon pollution,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.  “These are leaders who take a stand for our future by supporting the Clean Jobs Bill and other policies to protect our environment and create good jobs, and we are proud to recommend them to Illinois voters.”

Sierra Club’s Illinois endorsements can be found at https://illinois.sierraclub.org/vote2016. To support these candidates, Sierra Club has fielded a staff of paid organizers and is mobilizing its grassroots membership base in swing districts in southern, central, and northeastern Illinois to inform voters about where candidates stand on energy and environmental policy.

“Across Illinois, we are finding that voters are fed up with partisan and personal attacks, and eager for information about where candidates stand on the issues that are so important to our future,” said Kady McFadden, Deputy Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.  “That’s why we’ve sent smart, well trained organizers out to mobilize our members and have face to face conversations with voters in communities across Illinois. We aim not to attack, but to inform, and be a breath of fresh air in an all too often negative campaign season.”

Sierra Club has fielded 12 paid organizers in recent weeks to mobilize voters to elect Sierra Club endorsed candidates, as well as activate the organization’s 80,000 members and supporters across Illinois to volunteer and vote for these candidates.  Already, Sierra Club staff and volunteers have knocked on over 8,000 doors to talk to voters about endorsed candidates, and identified over 1,500 voters who have committed to voting for clean jobs supporters.  By Election Day, Sierra Club aims to have 50,000 contacts with Illinois voters about these candidates and issues.

Sierra Club’s contacts with Illinois voters on behalf of endorsed candidates are funded by Sierra Club Illinois PAC.  Copies of our reports are available from the State Board of Elections in Springfield, Illinois.

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Lead pipes: In Chicago, out of sight should not mean out of mind

Joint op-ed by Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin and Rick Terven Jr, Legislative and Political Affairs Director for the Illinois Pipe Trades Association published in Crain’s Chicago Business August 23, 2016.
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Lead may be out of sight but it is not out of mind.
When we turn on the faucet, we expect that we’ll be drinking and using clean, safe water. As we’ve seen in Crain's LogoFlint, Mich., and in cities around the country—including Chicago, Highland Park,Galesburg and probably many others—that isn’t always the case. There is lead in the water of many cities, schools and homes. And it is something we need to solve now, not later.
There are over 1,700 community water systems in our state overseen by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. They serve more than 11.9 million residents. While the agency says 96.5 percent of these community drinking water systems are in full compliance with all health requirements, it also reports that “there are still more than 400,000 people in Illinois at health risk due to aging infrastructure.”

 

One of the hurdles to addressing this problem is that there isn’t nearly enough data. We can’t get the lead out of our water supply until we know where the lead is. And in many cases, we don’t. Communities may not even know they have a problem, much less where the lead pipes actually are in their systems. Under our streets and in buildings, these pipes are often hidden from view—out of sight, out of mind—but they pose a real threat to our safety. It’s long past time for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in and update its Lead and Copper Rule to make sure Americans know whether the pipes below them present a danger. We need a national inventory of these pipes—like we have for the natural gas pipes under our feet—and we need it now.

 

There’s an effort underway in Springfield to find these pipes and other infrastructure that needs to be modernized or replaced. The Illinois Senate has approved Senate Bill 550—a step forward in the fight for clean, safe water. This bill will also protect schoolchildren from lead poisoning by requiring testing of all drinking fountains and other sources of drinking water in our schools. We applaud state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, and state Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago, for sponsoring this proposal and urge the Illinois House and governor to quickly enact it into law. These are strong first steps, and combined with action from local, state and federal leaders, it will begin to help Illinois reduce the potential of lead exposure in our water.

Another example of action is happening in Galesburg. The city received a $4 million state grant to cover the cost of replacing approximately 2,000 lead service lines, which is nearly half its total lead lines. The principal of that loan will be forgiven, leaving the city to only pay the interest. This is exactly the type of program into which our state should be investing. Cities won’t be able to do this alone; we have to come together as a state and do the right thing by our children and grandchildren.

At the federal level, there are continued attempts to secure funding for Flint and other cities that are facing lead problems. Aside from congressional action, however, labor and environmental organizations are urging the U.S. EPA to update the Lead and Copper Rule with the requirement of a national inventory of pipe materials and to provide communities with more education on the dangers of lead in our water.

There are other benefits to taking action beyond making sure that our children are protected from the dangers of lead. Good middle-class jobs can be created and sustained cleaning up this mess. A recent report from the University of Illinois found that the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District that serves greater Chicago boosted the regional economy by $1.27 billion and created over 13,000 jobs in 2014. Increasing that investment also increases both the economic impact and the jobs impact.

With a concerted effort, we can face and overcome this problem. In doing so, we will both protect communities and grow quality, family-supporting jobs here in Illinois and around the country.

Jack Darin is the chapter director of the Illinois Sierra Club. Rick Terven Jr. is the legislative and political affairs director of the Illinois Pipe Trades Association, a collaboration of 19 local unions and 1,500 union contractors in Illinois, Iowa and Indiana.