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Illinois Governor Candidates Commit to Bold Actions At Sierra Club Forum

Sierra Club held its first ever Illinois Gubernatorial Candidate Forum Saturday, October 14th at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a crowd of over 500 witnessed a spirited exchange between candidates who are rivals for the Democratic nomination, but in broad agreement that Illinois should do much more to lead on the environment.

“It is crystal clear, given the rollbacks, the cuts, the denial of science, and attempts to divide our communities that are coming at all of us from the Trump administration, that Illinois must step up to lead,” said Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin. “Illinois must lead if we are to make progress against threats like climate change and toxins in our drinking water, and even to protect the tremendous progress we have made together as a society.”

Trump’s moves against climate action, and steps by Governor Rauner’s Illinois EPA to weaken clean air standards for coal plants drew strong rebukes and commitments to move Illinois in an entirely different direction – to a 100% clean energy future.

State Senator Daniel Biss said “I strongly support a firm commitment to move Illinois to 100% clean energy mix, and was the first candidate to do so.” Tio Hardiman agreed, saying “I plan to be a champion for renewable energy, and as a community organizer will build a movement for this goal.” Chris Kennedy pledged to begin with state properties, saying “we can make the State of Illinois commit to using 100% renewable energy for its buildings, and put the entire state on that same trajectory as well.”  J.B. Pritzker said “we need to move this state to 100% renewables, and we must invest in clean energy and battery technology, as I have as an individual, in order to get to that goal,” before apologizing for leaving the event early to attend an event downstate, and introducing State Senator Heather Steans as his surrogate for the remainder of the forum.

The health of Illinois’ water supply was top of mind, with candidates sharing plans for protecting drinking water and Illinois’ rivers and lakes. Kennedy pledged to involve the public in the fight for clean water by informing residents about their water quality to inspire them to action.

Biss said that truly universal access to clean water would come at a cost, but that is clearly worth it to stop poisoning our children and put people to work on water projects in communities that need it most. Steans said Pritzker plans to replace 100% of lead service lines in Illinois, expand existing nutrient control programs, and develop a state water use plan to ensure sustainability of community supplies.

Biss and Kennedy each expressed opposition to the proposed Route 53 extension in Lake County. Kennedy also described the proposed Illiana expressway as “like one of those zombies in one of those movies – it’s time to put a stake in the heart of that thing and move on.” Biss said “investing in mass transit and sustainable transportation is an important part of acting on climate change and reducing carbon emissions. We have to have a holistic view of what transit means across the state – trains, buses, and access to economic opportunity.” Steans did not take a position on specific projects, but said that Pritzker would understand that we cannot look at road projects based on political considerations, but on technical merit. Hardiman also declined to take a position on specific projects, while noting his support for mass transit.

Each of the candidates lamented the long decline in staffing and budget at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and shared their personal connections to Illinois’ outdoors.

Steans pointed out that Illinois ranks 48th out of 50 states when it comes to protected open space per capita, and stressed Pritzker’s commitment to rebuilding the DNR and recognizing the economic benefits of state parks and natural areas. Biss said that the “hollowing out” of IDNR was “unthinkable”, and a result of the Governor “throwing the environment under the bus” when it comes time for budgeting decisions. “People protect what they love, and I love places like our lakefront, the savannahs along the Des Plaines River, the Mississippi bluffs, and the Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge,” said Kennedy.

Each candidate acknowledged the importance of planning for the transition to a clean energy future, and the importance of including workers and communities historically dependent on fossil fuels in the benefits it will bring. Biss said  “We need a clear, focused plan to match specific opportunities with impacted workers in the communities where they live, not someplace else.”

Kennedy said his approach to utilities operating in Illinois communities would be “when you stop, you need to clean up the mess you made, and return your site to the community in the condition you found it, and you need to make sure your employees’ pensions are safe. Hardiman agreed, and added that we need to expedite renewable energy in these areas.  Steans said Pritzker “knows this transition is coming, and that his economic plan includes support for infrastructure, clean energy, and agriculture investment to help” and said he is  “100% against fracking – we’ve seen the impacts for water and seismic activity.” All pledged their support for rules requiring cleanup of

All candidates pledged a focus on environmental justice, and focused on the connection between environmental threats and racism and income inequality.

Pritzker began his remarks by quoting the Old Testament: “Justice, justice, shall you pursue”, and then continued “Bruce Rauner and his Koch Brothers, right-wing network, has sold out this state, and put profits over people. We’ve got to stand up to them, to say ‘no’ when they say it’s OK if we pollute the air and make it harder to breathe to help the profits of the fossil fuel industry.  We need a Governor who stands up for environmental justice in particular.” Biss said “It is the responsibility of our movement to protect communities of color and those who have been left behind.  This is about the white privilege that exists in every corner of our policymaking system, our economy, and our country, and we have to do something about that. Hardiman stressed his background in community organizing and peacemaking, and the fact that he would be Illinois’ first African-American Governor. Kennedy talked about diesel pollution in Chicago neighborhoods, the vulnerability of poor communities to storms, and “terrible environmental hazards in poor communities” as violations of Catholic social justice doctrine.

Governor Rauner was invited to participate but did not respond.

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Protecting the Great Lakes, One Pledge at a Time

Earlier this year, President Trump proposed a budget that would completely eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and drastically cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, the entity responsible for protecting human health and the environment. We were appalled by this abandonment of crucial, successful efforts to protect our health, our drinking water and the most important natural asset for our entire region.

Halting the incredible work of the men and women who are cleaning up and restoring the Great Lakes would be a huge mistake today and have drastic implications for the future. Folks in Cleveland, Chicago, Gary, Detroit and many more communities on the Great Lakes know the toll of dirty industry. Funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to clean up and protect the land and water in the Great Lakes region keeps communities safe and restores property values. Work by the EPA to minimize or mitigate the impacts of pollution on our health and environment is critical.

We knew we needed to respond to this shocking proposal and show decision makers in D.C. that restoring the Great Lakes and protecting our health and environment are broadly supported, bipartisan priorities for people across our region. In March, we held a press conference with the Alliance for the Great Lakes and other advocates calling on our elected officials to reject these outrageous proposed cuts and invest in our Great Lakes and the communities across our region.

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We knew we couldn’t be the only voices calling for the protection of resources that so many people depend on, and the incredibly rare source of freshwater we are fortunate to have in our region. Over the summer, our volunteers collected Great Lakes Protection Pledges online and at events throughout Illinois. By the end of the summer, over 15,000 people had signed the pledge, calling on their Members of Congress to:

  • Support full funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
  • Oppose policy rollbacks that threaten to increase pollution of our Great Lakes; and
  • Support increased investment in clean water infrastructure, to supply clean drinking water for all.

In September, we visited district offices in Illinois to ask our Representatives to be the voice of thousands of Great Lakes supporters and ensure that the new budget includes full funding for the Great Lakes, the EPA and needed water infrastructure projects. We visited ten offices, delivering our message and a list of all the people from each Congressional district that signed the Great Lakes Protection Pledge. Some of our champions even signed the pledge themselves, committing to vote for clean water and healthy Great Lakes (shout out to Representatives Foster, Lipinski, Schakowsky and Quigley!).

During the last week of September, a small team from Illinois traveled to DC to participate in the first “Defend Our Progress” Sierra Club Lobby Week with staff, volunteers and partners from across the country. One the final day of our trip, we delivered our boxes of pledge cards to Senators Durbin and Duckworth, asking them to continue to advocate on behalf of the Great Lakes supporters they represent.

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As the budget process plays out in DC, we are glad to see full funding of the GLRI in the package of spending bills passed by the House. But the 10% cut to the EPA budget and the dangerous riders and cuts to other critical agencies and programs are unacceptable. We now look to the Senate to restore common sense by prioritizing our health and the protection of resources that our economy and communities depend on.

We are so grateful for all of the people who contributed to this effort. Thank you to every person who signed a pledge, collected pledges at a farmer’s market, festival or other event, participated in a meeting with your Member of Congress, amplified our message on social media or other outlets, and helped with databasing and other behind-the-scenes work to make this happen. We appreciate you, and the millions of people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, business or recreation will benefit from your efforts. Onward! 

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Metro East Mayors Sign the Mayor’s 100% Clean Energy Endorsement

Local leadership on clean energy is more important than ever. With this being said we cannot overlook the significance of  three Mayors in the Metro East taking bold steps playing a  powerful role in making 100% Clean Energy a reality and using their voices and influence to help spread the message.

On August 11, Granite City Mayor, Ed Hagnauer, became the first downstate mayor to sign the Sierra Club’s Mayor’s for 100% Clean Energy Endorsement — an initiative calling on all mayors — regardless of political party, from big cities and small towns – to support a vision of 100% clean and renewable energy in their cities, towns, and communities, and across the country.. 

Mayor Hagnauer has worked closely with the Granite City Cool Cities Committee to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in municipal operations since 2012. Many of the initiatives the City has undertaken such as replacing an aging municipal fleet with fuel efficient hybrid models have been significant steps towards reaching these reductions.  Mayor Hagnauer commented that “it has always been our goal to be as energy efficient as possible, transitioning to 100% renewable energy, like wind and solar will protect our community from pollution, create new jobs and local economic opportunities.”

To date, Edwardsville’s Mayor Hal Patton and Alton Mayor Brant Walker have also signed on. Mayor Walker commented that “In light of increased flooding events the City of Alton has endured during my administration our resolve is strengthened to a build a more resilient community and transitioning to 100% renewable energy is a logical step in achieving this.”

We are witness to disasters happening all across the country and the globe that threaten lives, our energy security and public health.Local action to mitigate these threats is the foundation on which the transition to 100% clean energy is built upon. We commend the Mayors of the Metro East region for their leadership towards this goal.

Harvey, Labor Day, and the Fight for $15

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As most Americans enjoy a Labor Day weekend of barbecues, beaches, and the last days of summer, millions in Texas and Louisiana are dealing with a stunning human tragedy from a rain event without precedent.

Harvey’s devastation has been tragic, unprecedented, shocking, and yet, to be expected. For decades now, scientists have been warning that climate change would lead to just this kind of devastation.
So why haven’t we, as a society, done more to prevent it?
Unfortunately, one reason is that climate change and severe weather threaten poor and communities of color the most, and yet these most vulnerable are unable to fully protect themselves as long as they are marginalized by systemic poverty and racism.  People who are struggling to put food on the table and afford health care, who are terrorized by violence, and who are targeted by hate have less time, resources, and power to stand up against climate change and the dumps, smokestacks, floodplain development, toxic sites and other environmental risks that tend to be clustered in minority and disadvantaged communities.
Earning a living wage and the right for workers to organize are critical to breaking these cycles of poverty, and empowering each and every one of us to participate fully in our economy and society.  That’s why the Sierra Club supports policies that raise wages for our most vulnerable, like the $15 minimum wage that the Illinois General Assembly passed this year, only to be vetoed by Governor Rauner.  Sierra Club opposes “right to work” or other attacks on the rights of workers to form unions, because we need a skilled workforce to build safe and clean water, transportation, and energy infrastructure. Unions also protect workers who call out unsafe conditions or violations of the law in the workplace, which protects them and the communities around them.
The threats to working people from climate change are mirrored by the economic opportunities offered by its solutions.  We need to prioritize communities of color for good jobs in clean energy, as we are doing with the Illinois Solar For All program under the Future Energy Jobs Act. We are counting on unions to provide the training for these jobs, and to help ensure this work pays a living wage in safe conditions.
To solve climate change and seize the benefits of the clean energy economy, we need to overcome the extremely powerful few who benefit from the status quo. We cannot do that until each and every one of us who want a better future for our communities and our children are empowered to join our movement, and for many a living wage in a good job are critical first steps.
That’s why the Sierra Club is marching with our labor and community allies on Labor Day in the Fight for $15 and union rights, and we invite you to join us.  Our thoughts will be with the millions suffering in the wake of Harvey and from injustice, and on building a bigger movement to win a better future.

Clean Energy Town Hall

Chicago residents, community organizations, and businesses are invited to participate in a clean energy town hall with Rep. Stratton on Tuesday, August 29, 2017.

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RSVP Link below:
0700-stratton-townhall-link

Our Neighbors in East Chicago Face Water Crisis — You Can Help

0700-EastChicagoEast Chicago, IN is facing a water crisis due to lead contamination. Residents have been organizing relentlessly to address this and other environmental injustices in their community. Let’s support our neighbors by helping ensure that until this crisis is fully addressed, they have access to clean, drinkable water.

Throughout the month of July, we’ll be collecting bottled water and replacement filter cartridges (PUR Max Ion rf- 3375) at our Chicago office (70 E Lake St., Suite 1500) for residents of East Chicago. Email Katrina Phillips to arrange a donation drop-off or make a monetary donation online at www.teamsierra.org/illinois/waterdrive.

We know that long-term, we MUST have robust investment in our public water systems, strong public health protections, and a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency–all serving the concerns of the communities. We realize bottled water (and even home water filters) are NOT a long-term solution for any of our communities. In the meantime, we want to support the vital organizing work and urgent needs of East Chicago residents by being one of a number of parties helping to provide this resource.

Thank you for your help and to the Community Strategy Group for keeping us updated on the situation and needs of the community.

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References:

(1) chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/lead/ct-east-chicago-lead-water-20170302-story.html

(2) fox59.com/2017/02/06/epa-officials-up-to-90-of-homes-in-east-chicago-in-have-lead-water-lines

(3) chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2017/04/04/some-east-chicago-residents-fleeing-lead-contamination-are-being-moved-to-chicagos-toxic-doughnut

Service and Serenity in the Colorado Rockies

Last month, I spent a week in the Colorado wilderness with three high school students from Chicago and a small group of Sierra Club members from California, Oregon and France (yes, France!). The students participate in the Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO) program, which strives to empower youth from communities with limited access to connect and reconnect to the outdoors – for the benefit of both.

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The outdoors and the creatures who live there certainly benefitted from the hard work and dedication of these young people as we took down old barbed wire fence that harms wildlife, built new wildlife-friendly fencing and removed invasive weeds. And when we finally reached the peak of a 12-mile hike with a view of Elk Falls (on our “rest day”), the students felt the benefit of connecting with the natural world at 10,000 feet. Their willingness to challenge themselves and live outside their comfort zone was inspiring, which is where the benefit comes in for me. I’m filled with hope and motivation when I see the future in these young people, who could lead the next generation of environmental advocates and justice warriors.

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We spent the week camping near and working on the historic AG Ranch in Shawnee, Colorado, where the Rocky Mountain Specialty Pack String – 11 mules, 2 saddle horses, and lead packer, Glenn Ryan – have their home. One of only two full regional specialty pack strings, they provide low-impact heavy hauling into wilderness and limited-access areas, train others in packing, and educate the public. Their important presence serves to preserve wilderness values in our public lands by providing heavy hauling without the need for mechanization. We had the opportunity to support the protection and maintenance of public lands by helping to improve the facilities that are home to this exceptional operation of the U.S. Forest Service.

The service work we did was difficult and tiring, but the interactions we had with Glenn and his interns, who showed us how to do the work and explained why it’s important, made us feel satisfied and accomplished at the end of each long day. The time we got to spend with the horses and mules on the ranch was an added bonus.

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While we typically take Chicago ICO participants on day trips and overnight car camping trips in the Chicago region, the opportunity to take a few young people on a National Service Trip once a year provides a unique experience and a chance to deepen connections. I see huge value in all of us feeling connected to the environment in our communities, but there’s really nothing like spending some time in the mountains, sleeping in a tent and gazing at the stars. To get away from the city and be surrounded by wilderness was a gentle push from Mother Nature for us to calm our minds, open our eyes and breathe.

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I hope the students felt the calm and serenity that I found so refreshing, and enjoyed the break in normal life and routine. The other participants and leaders on the trip expressed that having the young people there brought a new energy (quite literally—the students were often the first ones up at the crack of dawn!) that added something special to the experience.

As we returned to Chicago, I felt refreshed and inspired to continue our work growing the ICO program, connecting people with the outdoors and empowering young people to be leaders in their communities and in the environmental and social justice movements. We need them, and the hopelessness that sometimes washes over us as we face the world’s current challenges seems to fade away as we see their energy and passion to do good and fight for the future.

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Chicago ICO at Red Rocks 2

To learn more about the Chicago ICO program, visit our webpage here

To find out more about Sierra Club service outings, visit our outings site.