Category Archives: Illinois DNR

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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Asian Carp Advance On Lake Michigan; Trump Halts Project to Stop Them, Threatens To Cut Off All Great Lakes Funds

Yesterday an invasive adult silver carp was caught within nine miles of Lake Michigan in the Calumet River. The 8-pound fish was captured in a gill net by a commercial fisherman working for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (ACRCC) as part of their seasonal intensive monitoring program looking for this invasive species within Chicago’s waterways. This critical work is funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which President Trump has proposed to eliminate all funding for beginning October 1. More information about current carp control efforts is available here.

The Trump Administration has also halted efforts to upgrade the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, downstream of the electric barriers, to prevent the movement of Asian carp upstream. The Army Corps of Engineers was set to release the study for public review in late February when the White House blocked its release.

Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter Clean Water Program Director Cindy Skrukrud released this statement:

“The capture of a silver carp past the electric barrier and just 9 miles from Lake Michigan is a potent reminder of how the Trump Administration is failing to address the huge problem that aquatic invasive species pose to the Great Lakes. While alien invaders are headed towards Lake Michigan, Trump and his team are halting projects to keep them out and dismantling Great Lakes protection programs. It is urgent that Governor Rauner and our entire Congressional delegation call on President Trump to release the Brandon Road Lock and Dam study that his administration is holding hostage, and demand that he commit to fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. If Trump is allowed by Congress to cut off all Great Lakes funding October 1, Illinois DNR will not be able to continue the critical work underway right now to catch and control these dangerous invaders.”

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Want to take action? Here’s how you can help:

Sign the Great Lakes Protection Pledge and tell your Member of Congress to do the same

Tell your Members of Congress to support legislation to stop Asian carp

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Silver carp captured in the Illinois Waterway on June 22, 2017 below T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam.
Image courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
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The Brandon Road Lock and Dam upgrade would increase protection for Lake Michigan

 

Quinn Vetoes Bobcat Hunting

Today Governor Quinn vetoed legislation that would have allowed bobcat hunting in Illinois. Bobcats had been on Illinois’ threatened species list due to hunting and habitat loss, but have begun to return to some parts of Illinois.

Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois issued this statement:

“This action will ensue that these magnificent predators will continue to return to Illinois’ forests. Bobcats were once an important part of the ecosystem here in the Prairie State, and their recovery is an important victory and milestone for conservation in Illinois.

We applaud Governor Quinn for taking action to protect Illinois bobcats, and for all he has done to protect the Prairie State for future generations. Pat Quinn and his team worked hard to protect Illinois’ last wild places, and restored Illinois’ ability to preserve our natural heritage after a decade of devastating cuts to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He leaves Illinois a legacy that includes newly protected lands across Illinois, and dedicated funding for the professionals at IDNR we count on to protect our natural resources.”

Gov. Quinn Signs New Law Protecting IL Cougars, Bears, and Wolves

Mountain-lionToday Governor Pat Quinn signed Senate Bill 3049 into law, which adds cougars, black bears, and wolves to the list of species protected in the Illinois Wildlife Code. The legislation was an initiative of Gov. Quinn and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The possible return of large predators like cougars, bears, and wolves to Illinois is a sign that decades of investment and effort to restore natural habitat in Illinois and the Midwest are paying off. We applaud Governor Quinn and his team for taking this critical step to ensure Illinois is prepared for the return of these magnificent animals. Protecting these species under the Illinois Wildlife Code will now enable the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to manage populations of these animals safely. These predators were once at the top of the food chain, and their return would be a significant benefit to Illinois’ ecosystems and a major economic asset, as wildlife viewing continues to grow as a popular vacation activity. We can all be proud of Illinois’ conservation efforts to date, and that Illinois will be prepared to welcome back these animals to the Prairie State.

We also thank State Senator Linda Holmes and State Representative Kelly Cassidy for sponsoring SB 3049, and the thousands of Sierra Club members and others across Illinois who contacted their legislators to help pass the legislation. Congratulations!

IDNR Funding Package Goes to Gov Quinn!!

Today the Illinois Senate approved legislation (SB1566) to provide desperately needed funding for Illinois’ state parks and conservation efforts. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has been devastated over the last decade by severe cuts to their budget and payroll, leaving them stretched beyond capacity.

We applaud the terrific work of the lead sponsors of the legislation, House Deputy Majority Leader Frank Mautino and State Senator Toi Hutchinson, in building support for this new funding. We also thank Governor Quinn and IDNR Director Marc Miller for their efforts to rebuild the Department and win the confidence of bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate for this legislation.

We count on the IDNR to provide safe, quality outdoor recreation experiences that improve our quality of life and boost local economies, to protect our water supplies, and watch out for the health of our environment. With new, sustainable funding, the professionals at IDNR will continue to do their critical work, and us and future generations to enjoy Illinois’ great outdoors.

Find out how your Senator voted here.