Tag Archives: Environment Illinois

July 1, 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly environmental laws coming out of Springfield

[Note: The podcast of this conversation is now available at

As usual, the end of the legislative session in Springfield was a whirlwind of activity–much of it focused on environmental issues. Some of the measures that were passed by the General Assembly were clear successes for the environmental movement, others were defeats and some measures were left as unfinished business.

To help sort through the laundry list of legislation, I’m pleased to have an impressive panel of environmental leaders in studio. They include Jack Darin of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, Max Muller from Environment Illinois, Jennifer Walling of The Illinois Environmental Council and Tom Shepherd from Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF).

Here are just some of the issues. (My thanks to Jennifer Walling for her assistance in helping with the summaries of the various bills.)

The Good

HB 3881, Cook County Landfill Moratorium This bill, which includes a provision banning landfill operations in Cook County, passed the House and Senate and sits on Governor Pat Quinn’s desk, awaiting his signature or his veto. If you’re a regular listener to my radio program, you know that I have been covering this issue for months. Tom Shepherd and the SETF have been attempting to rid Chicago’s southeast side of landfills for decades, and they now seem to be within reach of this elusive goal. They’re hoping that their Facebook page, No Chicago Landfills, will no longer be needed. They urge you to call the governor at 312-814-2121 (Chicago number) and tell him to sign the legislation.

HB 5642, CAFO Permit Feel BIll – It took two years of hard work, but the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation permitting fee bill made it through the General Assembly.  CAFOs have long been exempt from paying fees for the permits they receive under the Clean Water Act.  This bill establishes a series of fees for discharging CAFOs.  The funding from this fee will help the IEPA to monitor and regulate violations from CAFOs.

HB 5539. Agriculture Pollution Prevention – This agriculture pollution bill also made through both houses.  It creates a voluntary tax on fertilizer to fund research and implementation of agriculture pollution prevention.  The environmental community will be working with the fertilizer industry to implement this legislation.

HB 1261, Ban Mercury in Hearing Aid Batteries –  This bill has been amended to prohibit “zinc air button cell batteries” from containing mercury.  Mercury is no longer contained in these batteries made in the United States, but is contained in some batteries manufactured overseas.

HB 4119 Shark Fin Ban – This law will end Illinois’ contribution to the shark fin trade by banning the sale, trade and possession of shark fins. Globally, an estimated 26-73 million sharks are killed every year, simply for their fins, which are used in shark fin soup.  This legislation is part of a national and international movement to reduce shark fin demand.

SB 2897, Benefit Corporation Act This law allows benefit corporations to have missions supporting their communities, improving the environment or promoting social responsibility. Under current law, corporations must maximize profits and legally cannot take into consideration other factors in business operations.  Benefit corporation legislation is a completely voluntary new corporate form that does not affect existing corporations and does not provide tax incentives, but rather provides a free market opportunity for businesses to consider society and the environment in addition to profit.

HB 4496, Update to Illinois’ Plumbing Code – This bill requires the Illinois Department of Public Health to update the plumbing code to make the codes “consistent with the leading technologies and methods that more efficiently utilize natural resources and protect public health.” This legislation provides legislative support for the Illinois Department of Public Health to address plumbing code updates that will allow the reuse rainwater or greywater in households and businesses.

Defeat of Tenaska Inc.’s proposal to build a $3.5 billion “clean coal” plant in Taylorville. After unsuccessfully lobbying Illinois legislators for five years, Tenaska finally threw in the towel…for now. It was an interesting coalition of environmental groups, businesses like Commonwealth Edison and groups like the Illinois Chamber of Commerce that came together to defeat the measure, which would have put Illinois citizens on the hook for the cost of the plant for 30 years. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) will continue with legal steps to challenge their construction permit, so that if they do decide to build the plant without the assistance of Illinois taxpayers, they will be forced to use state of the art pollution controls.

The Bad

SB 1566 – Sustainable Funding for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources did not pass – Eight years of budget cuts have left the IDNR budget in shambles. If you wonder why IDNR isn’t doing more to preserve Starved Rock State Park from an open pit sand mine just outside its eastern entrance, that might have something to do with the fact that it simply has no money.  Efforts are underway to supplement the general revenue fund portions of the IDNR budget with user fees such as park entrance fees or passes and service or consulting fees related to department operations. The Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club urges you to contact your state legislators to tell them how important this funding is for our state natural resources.

SB 3280, Fracking oversight did not pass – For the second year in a row, llinois failed to pass legislation regulating hydraulic fracturing. High concern about the environmental impacts of this new technology has been expressed by the attorneygGeneral, the Illinois speaker’s office, and the governor’s office. When comprehensive regulation failed on the final day of session, a bill was introduced to put a moratorium on fracking for two years, until comprehensive regulations can be put together.  This amendment moved out of the House Environmental Health committee, but did not receive a vote on the House Floor.

HB 6153, Clinton PCB Landfill – Residents in East Central Illinois are concerned about a proposed landfill expansion that would put PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) in a landfill on top of the Mahomet Aquifer in Clinton, Illinois.  Local legislators have introduced HB6153, which would prohibit the disposal of PCBs in this landfill.  Over half a million people rely on the Mahomet Aquifer for drinking water. This bill has not yet passed.

HB BPA receipts – A bill that would have banned BPA from receipt paper, failed to pass the House Environmental Health Committee by one vote. Representative Karen May was the sponsor of this legislation.

The Ugly

SB 3766, Leucadia Coal Gasification Plant on Chicago’s Southeast Side This bill, which passed and is now sitting on Governor Quinn’s desk, would guarantee funding for the plant at 115th Street & Burley Avenue. As you can imagine, SETF is dead set against this bill and wants the governor to issue a veto because of pollution concerns for this already over-polluted area. Not only that, but the bill would force customers of Nicor Gas and Ameren to pay 95 percent of the cost to build and operate a $3 billion coal-to-gas plant and be stuck with that cost for 30 years. No wonder that even the Chicago Tribune wants the governor to issue a veto. Call the Gov, tell him to just say no. 312-814-2121

SB 3442, Statewide Plastic Bag Recycling – Sounds good, doesn’t it? Until you look at the fine print. While the bill was written ostensibly to require plastic bag manufacturers to set up collection and recycling programs, pay fees and register with the state, it would also–with the exception of Chicago–prohibit Illinois communities from passing stronger laws, even if they wanted to tax or ban plastic bags altogether. If enacted, this would be the most restrictive law in the country banning municipal plastic bag reduction programs. While this bill purports to create a statewide recycling program for bags and film, would only increase plastic bag and film recycling by only one tenth of one percent [.1%]. As an example of how transparently dishonest this bill is, Abby Goldberg , a 12-year-old girl from Grayslake, Illinois started a petition on Change.org to get the governor to veto the bill and she has already gotten more than 152,000 signatures (including mine). In fact, I’m going to be at the Thompson Center in Chicago at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, July 3, in my capacity as president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition to watch her deliver those signatures to the governor. Environment Illinois will be there, too. Call Gov. Quinn today and tell him to veto this very bad bill. 312-814-2121

Solar & Wind Energy Rebate funding swept In a last minute addition to the budget, $3.7 million was swept from the Renewable Energy Resources Fund (managed by DCEO) to go to the Illinois Green Economy Network (IGEN).  This is a loss of 75% of DCEO’s renewable energy funding, which makes continuing the solar & wind energy rebate program unlikely.

Whew! That’s a lot. We need to get to work. .

The irrepressible LaManda Joy celebrates the 4th of July at the Peterson Garden Project…and drags me into it

Here’s all you need to know about The Peterson Garden Project:

Gardens – 6
Plots – 763
Volunteers – 450
gardeners – 3,000

Well, that and LaManda Joy, who is the sparkplug who keeps the gardens going. This in spite of the fact that they lost their signature garden at Peterson and Campbell in the 40th Ward this year. It was for a good cause, however. That land will soon be home to a neighborhood health center. And PGP has already found new spaces where people can grow their own vegetables.

If you have watched my new local TV gardening and cooking show, Dig In Chicago (and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?!), you know that PGP is also a force behind the Edible Treasures Garden at the Field Museum.

Today, LaManda stops by to plug The Peterson Garden Project’s4th of July event, GnomeDependence Day. I will be the genial MC for the celebration, though I drew the line at dressing up like a gnome. Regardless of what you see or hear about me, I have my limits. Anyway, everybody is invited to come to Global Garden at 3000 W. Lawrence Avenue in Chicago from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. on the 4th. There will be gnome decorating, food trucks, live music and edible garden tours.

The wonderful LaManda Joy joins me in studio this morning to give you all the details.

The Great Herb Debate

February 5, 2012

Which side are you on? The Great Herb Debate” is here!

[Update: Audio of “Decision Chicago! The Great Herb Debate” is now posted here. ]

Are you strapped in? Ready to rumble? “Decision Chicago! The Great Herb Debate” is finally here on The Mike Nowak Show.

Today’s debate is part of the One Seed Chicago 2012 vote to determine which of three herbs will be the plant of the year. Here are the teams, the people who will be speaking for each herb, and a short statement about the plant.

#TeamBasil is represented by Anthony Todd (@FoodieAnthony), who is food and drink editor for Chicagoist. His statement on Basil:

“I’m Italian, so I was practically born with a sprig of basil in one hand and a tomato in the other.   It’s the tastiest, most useful herb I know, and you should vote for Basil for One Seed Chicago.

Unlike my colleagues, I’m not a gardening expert; in fact, I’m something of a novice.  I have tried to grow herbs in my windows and on my porch countless times, and the I have the skeletons of thyme, lemon verbena and, yes, cilantro plants to show for it.  But Basil has never let me down.  It’s almost laughably easy to grow – and it lasts forever.  Most people have never seen a full-grown basil plant, just the babies at the store.  They can grow to be the size of a small bush!

Basil originally came from India (and is prominent in Indian cuisine) but most Americans identify it with Italy.   Pasta sauce would just be red goo without it, and pesto would be nothing but pine nuts soaking in olive oil.   I dry it, freeze it, and put it in my canned goods so I can use it all year round.

Basil comes in many varieties, each of which is a little different.  Purple basil, licorice basil, lemon basil, thai basil.  Once you’ve grown one, you’ll want to try the whole rainbow of options.  Is it healthy?  It might help fight arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.  Plus, basil essential oil can repel mosquitos.  What’s not to love?”

#TeamChamomile, is represented by Linda Tyson (@ssgardengirl), who blogs as Garden Girl. Her statement:

“I chose chamomile for it’s pretty, daisy-like little blooms.  I’ve never grown it, but would like to give it a try in the garden.  I buy, and use chamomile tea often.

Chamomile is an aromatic plant, and makes a good companion for vegetables in the brassica family. It’s said to enhance their flavor, discourage cabbage worms, host hoverflies and wasps, and to accumulate minerals such as calcium, potassium and sulfur in the soil.

The January, 2005 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published a study showing chamomile tea is an immune system booster, and helps relieve muscle spasms and cramps.  Other studies have shown it provides relief from anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia, soothes the digestive tract, and can be  helpful for relieving migraine headaches.

As a compress, chamomile can help relieve under-eye circles and other skin discolorations, and the tea is an effective treatment for mild cuts and burns.  It may also be beneficial for hair and scalp as a rinse, and is sometimes included in chemical-free shampoos, conditioners, and skin-care products.

Camomile is drought-tolerant once established, and will grow in full to part sun.  Camomile tea can help prevent damping off of seedlings, Because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties, chamomile tea can be used to treat fungal diseases including black spot and powdery mildew.”

#TeamCilantro is represented by Jessica Rinks (@SnappyJDog) a regular contributer to this show who is a blogger for and President of the Forest Park Community Garden. Here’s her statement:

“Multicultural appeal and easy to grow!  You should vote for Cilantro!

Coriandrum sativum , commonly known as either coriander or cilantro, is an ancient herb native to southern Europe and the Middle East.  Coriander is mentioned in the Old Testament and coriander seeds were recovered from King Tut’s tomb in Egypt.  Historically the leaves, seeds, and essential oils were used for various medicinal, religious, and culinary purposes.

The herb was brought to the Americas by European explorers and was eventually popularized as a culinary herb particularly in Mexican cuisine.  However, cilantro’s utility goes far beyond just salsa.   Worldwide, cilantro is used in many cuisines including Indian, Chinese, and southeastern Asian cultures.

Cilantro is an easy herb to grow in a home garden, as it can be directly sown into your garden plot (no need to start indoors under lights) and grows quickly (harvest leaves in as little as 6 weeks and seeds in 9 weeks after sowing). It works well as a container plant too.  Cilantro can tolerate cooler temperatures, so you can sow seeds a few weeks prior to last spring frost to get a head start.   Also, it is very easy to save seeds from cilantro to replant in your garden.  Cilantro seeds will not cross-pollinate with any other of your garden crops.  Also, cilantro will often self-seed on its own.  Cilantro plants are also good garden neighbors as it is thought to repel undesirable insects such as aphids and to attract beneficial pollinators.

All in all, cilantro’s ease of culture and breadth of use make it the best  choice for One Seed Chicago.”

I will moderate the debate, since I have not decided which seed I will support…yet. In addition, I will have a true herb expert on board–Sal Gilbertie, co-author of Herb Gardening from the Ground Up: Everything You Need to Know about Growing Your Favorite Herbs. Gilbertie is the third generation owner/proprietor of Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens located in Westport, Connecticut. Established in 1922, Gilbertie’s is the largest herb grower and supplier in the United States today.

My thanks to Mr. Brown Thumb, who helped to pull this debate together. I understand that he will be working Twitter and Facebook this morning during festivities. Don’t forget to go to One Seed Chicago 2012 to cast your vote.

Fighting for a clean, healthy environment in an election year

Who said this?

“We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years…Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.”

A) An oil and gas industry lobbyist
B) The current President of the United States

If the quote sounded familiar to you, it might be because you watched President Barack Obama‘s State of the Union Address, where he made the above statement (I removed the phrase “and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy” because I didn’t want to give away the answer.) He also said that he will direct his administration to open more than 75% of the nation’s potential offshore oil and gas resources for development, and indicated that nuclear energy and so-called “clean” coal are on his list.

This had organizations like Food & Water Watch scratching their heads. I guess that’s environmental politics in an election year. But Environment Illinois Program Director Max Muller says it’s important to remember tha,t at the same time, the Obama Administration has been moving ahead with a number of rules required under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to protect public health and the environment. The Bush administration put these on hold, creating a backlog of rules that the Obama administration has been making progress on. These Include:

But make no mistake. If enviros have problems with some of Obama’s decisions, they need only look at what Republicans would do if they regained the White House. They are already incuding hundreds of anti-environmental riders and amendments in budget bills.

And, much like Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction,” the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline threatens to rise out of its oily bathtub and grab America by the throat. It might be attached to a transportation funding bill that would, among other things, open the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, while cutting all funding for biking and walking safety and stifling environmental review for transportation projects.

Gotta admire the consistency of those Republicans. It’s the consistency of oil, I think.

Of course, there are always local environmental issues to be concerned about. For instance:

  • “Clean Coal” in Illinois (the Tenaska bill). The State House will be voting on this soon and Environment Illinois is strongly opposed.

Max Muller stops by the new WCPT studios this morning to discuss all of the above…and possibly more. So much environmental degradation, so little time, eh?

What does climate change look like?

Meteorologist Rick DiMaio and I often discuss climate change when he does his weather segment on my show. I don’t think I’ve seen it brought into starker terms than on this post I found on Daily Kos. Please read and be prepared to discuss on my show Sunday morning.

Attack of the Congress and the Tweeters

March 6, 2011

Congress attacks the Clean Air Act…and that’s just for starters

As if it’s not bad enough that 80 years or more of collective bargaining rights in America are suddenly being trampled like so much turf at an outdoor rock concert, the quality of the very air we breathe is also in serious jeopardy. On Thursday, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would permanently block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Hey, and while we’re at it, why don’t we just legalize soot? All in favor…

It kind of feels like piling on, considering that the measure to fund the government through the
remainder of the fiscal year, known as the Continuing Resolution, is being calledthe
greatest legislative assault on the environment in decades by the League of Conservation Voters, which recently released its National Environmental Scorecard for the Second Session of the 111th Congress. However, given the extraordinary nature of the the proposed budget, the LCV put out an addendum, stating,

The introduced text of H.R. 1, the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011, contains numerous so-called “policy riders” that block enforcement of vital environmental and public health laws, which jeopardize the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the wildlife and wild places we hold dear. These include provisions undermining the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the federal “Wild Lands” policy that restores our ability to set aside backcountry lands for Congress to determine whether they merit the ultimate protection of Wilderness.

And that’s just the measure that would keep our country running for another few months. Isn’t politics fun, kids?

Another group that is keeping an eye on how well our elected officials are caring for our air and water is Environment Illinois. Director Max Muller returns to the program this morning to talk about the Illinois delegation scorecard. If you want to know whether or not your representative is interested in protecting you from environmental harm, tune in or catch the podcast.

Growing the good life, one vegetable at a time

[Update: Michele Owens’ appearance on the show prompted a flurry of Tweets from listeners who thought that she gave out bad information after a caller wanted to know how to plant a vegetable garden in an area of his yard that had previously been occupied by his dogs. If you want to hear the entire conversation, log on to my podcast of the show. The conversation with Michele starts about halfway through the file. She also wrote about the incident a few days later on the Garden Rant Blogsite.]

I’m thinking about posting something on Garden Rant. I’ll get to that in a second. You might recall that Garden Rant is a blog site devoted to…um, ranting about all kinds of gardening things. You might also remember that the four protagonists (conspirators?) of Garden Rant were in town last year for the annual Independent Garden Center Show at Navy Pier, where I served them mimosas. I am nothing if not a gracious host.

One of the four, Michele Owens, is back in the city for the Chicago Flower & Gardens Show, mainly because she has come out with a book, Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. Now to my rant:

I hate it when people write the book I wish I had written! And do it with wit and ease and charm. She writes in complete, understandable and often memorable sentences. What’s up with that? Geez, she makes growing vegetables sound like something everybody should do. Who is she kidding? She tells you that cultivating your backyard might actually be good for you on many levels–contributing to the health of your body, your psyche, your wallet and even your taste buds. Tell it to the judge, girlie! And if that isn’t bad enough, this Owens dame is fomenting revolution. A lot of you are going to finish the book, march out the back door, grab a pitchfork and scratch some soil with it. Then you’re going to plant seeds! Outrageous! What’s next? Watering and caring for your seedlings and watching them grown and harvesting them and eating them? Quelle 19th Century! So go ahead. Buy the book. I mean it. Buy the darned thing. Make Michele Owens rich. See if I care. I’m going back to bed.

Good Growing: Who the heck is MOSES?

Actually, I should be asking “What the heck is MOSES.” Because the answer is Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. Sheri Doyel, Program Director of the Farmer Training Initiative at Angelic Organics Learning Center, is just back from the 22nd Annual Moses Organic Farming Conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. It’s largest organic farming conference in the country, and this year set a new a new attendance record, as 3,000 attendees, mostly farmers, showed up. Sheri gives us the scoop on what she–and they–learned.

I’m speaking at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show

As I mentioned earlier, this is the week to get all hot and bothered about spring in Chicago…even though you really won’t be doing anything for at least another month. However, that’s what the Chicago Flower & Garden Show at Navy Pier is all about–whipping gardeners into a frenzy, and then sending them home into the snow to sulk. Hey, it IS Chicago, after all. And it IS still March.

Anyway, I’m speaking there this Wednesday, March 9 at 11:30 a.m. My topic: Trowel, Spade and Google. Don’t be frightened, little ones. It’s just a talk that will help you maximize your Internet use for gardening purposes. I hope you can stop by. Meanwhile, here’s when some of my friends are speaking:

  • Sun, March 6, 12:15 p.m. – Melinda Myers Year Round Garden-tainment
  • Sun, March 6, 2:30 p.m. – Jeff Lowenfels No More Chemicals in the Garden
  • Sun, March 6, 2:45 p.m. – John Eskandari Nativars in the Landscape
  • Mon, March 7, 12:15 p.m. – Rich Eyre Captivating Conifers for the Landscape
  • Mon, March 7, 6:15 p.m. – Rich Eyre Inspirational Gardens
  • Tues, March 8, 6:15 p.m. – Beth Botts Start Here: Basic Steps for the New Gardener
  • Wed, March 9, 2:45 p.m. – Doris Taylor Shade Gardening: Planting Under Mature Trees
  • Wed, March 9, 6:15 p.m. – Nancy Clifton What’s Hot in Pots: Trends for 2011
  • Thur, March 10, 2:30 p.m. – Christy Webber Green Roofs in Chicago: Leading the Way
  • Thur, March 10, 6:15 p.m. – Ken Benson Winners for the Midwest
  • Fri, March 11, 2:45 p.m. – Jim DeHorn Become Your Own Tree Expert
  • Sat, March 12, 12:15 p.m. – Beth Botts Taming the Wild Ones: How to Welcome Native Plants into a Well-Behaved Garden
  • Sat, March 12, 2:30 p.m. – LaManda Joy Chicago Victory Gardens: Yesterday and Tomorrow
  • Sun, March 13, 11:00 a.m. – Ken Benson Designing with Hydrangeas
  • Sun, March 13, 1:30 p.m. – Nancy Clifton A What’s Hot in Pots: Trends for 2011