Tag Archives: Illlinois Sierra Club

Happy Holidays: Environmental Groups Take on IDNR

December 16, 2012

IDNR: “arbitrary and capricious decision” to approve Starved Rock mining permit – in other words, they’re being sued

It’s been exactly a year since I first got wind of the plan to site an open pit frac sand mine just outside the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park in LaSalle County. I went back to look at the website entry I posted for December 18, 2011 and, at that time, the LaSalle County Board of Zoning Appeals had just met and unanimously approved the special use permit to allow Mississippi Sand LLC establish its operation on 350 acres of farmland on the south side of the Illinois River.

In the twelve months since that initial decision, the mine has come closer and closer to being a reality. The full county board voted to approve the action of the zoning board, and Mississippi Sand began the process of submitting permits to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Office of Mines and Minerals (OMM) and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).

Meanwhile, local and state activists began making their voices heard. Groups like the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, Openlands and Prairie Rivers Network led the charge, but other groups and individuals have worked tirelessly to get the word out to the general public that the very character of this beloved state park could possibly be changed forever–and for the worse. I have interviewed countless people on my program–those representing environmental groups, and residents who stand to be directly affected by this affront to the beauty of the area.

Three weeks ago, to the dismay of those involved in the battle, IDNR OMM approved Phase I of the Starved Rock mine. But the latest chapter in this struggle between industry and the environment was written this week when the Sierra Club , Prairie Rivers Network, and Openlands filed a complaint in Circuit Court in Springfield, Illinois demanding judicial review of that sand mining permit.

It reads in part:

Defendant Mississippi Sand, LLC…failed to comply with SMLCRA [Illinois Surface Mined Land Conservation and Reclamation Act] by submitting a Conservation and Reclamation Plan…a Reclamation Map and Affected Area Map with its application for a surface mining permit, which inaccurately and inadequately describe its proposed silica mining project adjacent to the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park…in LaSalle County. Defendants Michael Woods, Michael Falter. OMM (collectively the “OMM Defendants”) and IDNR violated SMLCRA in that they approved the flawed Reclamation Plan. Reclamation Map, and Affected Area Map, and, as evidenced by their written findings, failed to consider adequately all of the thirteen factors relating to the short and long-term impacts of the proposed mine as required by SMLCRA…As a result, OMM Defendants and IDNR made an arbitrary and capricious decision to approve the Mississippi Sand surface mining permit. [Empasis mine.]

The “thirteen factors” cited above include the short and long term impact of the proposed mining on vegetation, wildlife, fish, land use, land values, local tax base, the economy of the region and the State, employment opportunities, air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, noise pollution, and drainage, as required by the Surface Mined Land Conservation and Reclamation Act and its regulations.

The petition continues:

The actions and inactions of Agency Defendants will allow the degradation and destruction of private and public interests. The mine and its operations will injure the enjoyment and health of park users specifically and persons generally, as well as the healthfulness of properties near the proposed mine. Neighbors to Starved Rock, visitors to Starved Rock and wildlife will experience intermittent bursts of loud noise from explosive blasting at the mine site. Noise and air pollution will harm and directly disturb neighboring businesses including a nearby apiary. Aesthetic and health impacts on the park will likely reduce the number of visitors to the park and thereby harm businesses that rely on park visitors for revenue. Nearby properties may flood. Visitors to Starved Rock and neighbors may suffer from, and will fear harm from, carcinogenic respirable silica dust and other airborne pollutants from the proposed mine. Defendant Mississippi Sand will partially destroy and wholly alter the flow characteristics of Horseshoe Creek, which flows into Starved Rock. All of these impacts, and the community perception of such impacts, may reduce the value of nearby private property. Finally, Defendant Mississippi Sand may be unable to reclaim the mined land as its Reclamation Plan and Reclamation Map indicates and the law requires.

In one of the more interesting aspects of this action, the environmental parties bringing suit contend that the Office of Mines and Minerals violated the Illinois Surface Mined Land Conservation and Reclamation Act (SMLCRA) by “Failing to Consider Adequately its Statutorily-Required Factors.” However, they then turn around and declare that “SMLCRA Violates the Due Process Guarantee in the Illinois and United States Constitutions as it was Applied by the Agency Defendants in This Case.”

SMLCRA is unconstitutional to the extent that it is held to provide that no notice or predecisional hearing is required for the members and supporters of Plaintiffs whose protected property interests are placed at risk by the issuance of this permit.

A. Due Process requires that IDNR hold a hearing on a non-coal surface mining permit application at the request of persons whose property interests will be jeopardized by the permitted activity.
B. Due Process requires IDNR to consider comments on a non-coal surface mining permit submitted by persons whose property interests will be jeopardized by the permitted activity.
C. Therefore, if SMLCRA is held to allow IDNR to issue permits for activities that endanger protected property interests while denying those whose interests are at stake any opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time, in a meaningful manner, SMLCRA violates the Due Process Clauses of the United States and Illinois Constitutions.

Finally, the plaintiffs charge that IDNR Defendants’ Violated the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act by Failing to Fulfill Consultation Requirements.In the end, the suit seeks to void the permit; “providing such further and additional relief as this Court deems just and proper.”

Today, I’m pleased to have Cindy Skrukrud, Clean Water Advocate for the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, return to the show to talk about the law suit and where we go from here. From an article in the NewsTribune out of LaSalle, Illinois:

Tony Giordano, president of Mississippi Sand, LLC, said the sand mine project was ready to begin next spring but now that a lawsuit has been filed it could delay the project for as long as a year.

“This has been the most scrutinized sand mine in the state of Illinois,” Giordano said. “It’s frustrating. This lawsuit has little merit. There are multiple state agencies that have examined mines and given us permits. In the end, we’ll get our permits and have to look at that time what the market will bare [sic].”

Or maybe the project will be scuttled entirely. ‘Tis a consumation devoutly to be wished.

If you want your voice to be heard, there’s still time. Here’s how you can contact Governor Pat Quinn. He’s been awfully silent on this issue. Makes me nervous.

Lisa, Sarah and Mike offer great books for holiday gifts… Part Deux

Last week we interviewed a few authors of books that we thought would make good holiday gifts. However, as you know, my show is only two hours long, which means that a number of good books didn’t get discussed.

So welcome to the second part of our discussion. Let’s start with some books recommended by Lisa Albrecht, who really got short shrift last week. My apologies, Lisa. Take it away:

Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy — and Our Planet — from Dirty Energy by Danny Kennedy
Obviously I am biased but this is my favorite. Danny Kennedy likens the move toward solar to the Industrial Revolution, hence the name. He predicts a “Solar Assent” as we move from dirty energy to clean sources that each of us can own individually. My favorite part – each chapter has a section called “What You Can Do as a Rooftop Revolutionary”. I like action and often I am inspired by a book or message but lack a “next step”. Danny not only offers them but his website includes the links and back ground that you need to join the revolution.

Power Trip, The Story of America’s Love Affair With Energy by Amanda Little
I recently met Amanda Little, who shared her exploration of the energy industry first hand, including a journey to the top of an oil rig and the catacombs of NY tunnels. Although I am not finished, the book reads like a Lonely Planet of the energy industry and is engaging adventure, painting pictures of technology few get to see firsthand. Sectioned into two parts, the first reveals the evolution of oil/energy over the last century. The second discusses new possibilities, offering hope and vision.

Clean Break: The Story of Germany’s Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn from It by Osha Gray Davidson
As a solar professional, Germany is revered as the Meca of Clean Energy, both a source of shame and inspiration as an entire country with the sunshine of Alaska successfully shifts to renewable energy. Osha Gray Davidson visited Germany this summer to witness the success and tell the story of Germany’s desire to break up with dirty energy after Chernobyl in 1986 and the movement that is known as Energiewend or “energy change”. He explores the social climate that has driven their success and a nationwide commitment toward a cleaner, self-reliant future and how we might be able to do the same in the US.

Meanwhile, a couple of other selections popped up on my radar screen, thanks to the good folks at The Mountaineers Books.

On Arctic Ground: Tracking Time Through Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve by Debbie S. Miller
What if I told you that there is a tract of U.S. land that is larger than the state of Maine and that is largely untouched by our all-too-greasy-hands? Well, it does exist in Alaska (where else?) and it has the unfortunate name of the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska. Yup, what might be the most pristine place left on the planet (with the possible exception of Antarctica (and who wants to go there besides me?) is ready to be exploited by the people who have turned exploitation into a science (yes, I’m talking about us…as in U.S.!) Debbie Miller has explored just a fraction of this territory and in this very cool and important book–made even cooler by the fabulous photographs– explains why we might want to preserve this area instead of milking it dry for its oil and gas.

Cairns: Messengers in Stone by David B. Williams
What do I know about cairns? Pretty much nothing. And what do YOU know about them? I’m guessing the same. Which is why we need David Williams to tell us about what are essentially piles of rocks that have meaning. For thousands of years cairns have been used by people to connect to the landscape and communicate with others, and are often an essential guide to travelers. Cairns, among other things, can indicate a trail, mark a grave, serve as an altar or shrine, reveal property boundaries or sacred hunting grounds, and even predict astronomical activity. Who knew? (Apparently, David did.)

Books recommended by Ron Wolford at Illinois Extension

Wyman’s Gardening Encyclopedia

Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs

Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest – University of Illinois

Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers – The American Horticulture Society

Crockett’s Victory Garden

Step-by-Step Gardening Techniques Illustrated

Bad Day at Starved Rock

January 15, 2012

A message from LaSalle County: “Piss on Starved Rock.”

Those of you who follow my Facebook or Twitter posts already know that last Thursday’s meeting of the LaSalle County Board did not go well for supporters of Starved Rock State Park. In a 20 to 6 vote, board members voted to Mississippi Sand LLC to create an open pit sand mine on what is now a slightly more than 300 acre farm adjacent to Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois.

According to a number of accounts, the two hundred or so people crowded into the Ottawa Knights of Columbus Hall were evenly split on the issue. However, my sources, who were also at the meeting, report that the sentiments ran decidedly against approval of the sand mine. This, despite the presence of union workers, who are hoping to see the sand mining jobs brought to the county.

What is undeniable is that it is an emotional issue on both sides. One of the people I interviewed on my show last week was told by a high-ranking LaSalle County Democratic official and union leader, “Piss on Starved Rock.” Nice. This is what happenswhen the old “jobs v. the environment” meme is trotted out. It doesn’t help when the Chicago Tribune reinforces this tired, discredited concept in the headline “Sand mine proposal near Starved Rock pits company against environmentalists.” Oh, and by the way, Trib and Sun-Times, thanks for getting on board with this story the day before the vote. Well played.

Even a last-minute plea from Lt. Governor Sheila Simon to delay the vote until more study could be done failed to budge the board members from their laser-like focus on approving the 90-foot deep pit outside the eastern entrance to the jewel of the Illinois State Park System. LaSalle County Board member Rick Scott, who appears on the show this morning, introduced a motion to postpone the vote, but it was defeated handily. His concern was that people who own property next to the proposed mining site have had very little time to present their side to policy makers in the county.

Also on the program this morning is Cindy Skrukrud, Clean Water Advocate for the Illinois Sierra Club, who has had her hands full lately trying to prevent a coal strip mine from being approved near Canton in Fulton County. John McKee, President of the Starved Rock Audubon Society, who joined me last week, also stops by. The focus now shifts to agencies like the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), which is not only responsible for natural areas like Starved Rock but is charged with regulating the mining industry. Some people, like McKee, are concerned over what has been a deafening silence so far from DNR.

Among other places to look for help might be the Illinois EPA, the Lt. Governor’s office (how does Ms. Simon feel about being summarily ignored at the LaSalle County board meeting?), the Governor’s office (any comment, Mr. Quinn?) and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (ditto, Mr. Durbin).

This story is a long way from over…but Thursday’s action in LaSalle County just made saving Starved Rock State a lot harder.

Winter arrives…a month late. How are plants holding up?

Well, we knew it wouldn’t last forever. In fact, I’m one of those people who was actually happy to finally see some snow. But a lot of folks are concerned–and rightly so–with how their outdoor plants will react to getting faked out by warm weather and then whupped upside the head by Mother Nature.

Never fear: Cindy Baker, Manager of Horticultural Services at the Chicago Botanic Garden, is here to tell you what–or what NOT–to do. She should know her stuff. After all, she has been at the Garden for 24 years and she supervises more than100 acres there, including the Berm garden along the Edens Expressway. And if you can keep plants alive along an expressway, you must know what you’re doing.

One Seed Chicago update: Nope, no decision yet

For those of you who are wondering which seed I have decided to favor in the One Seed Chicago 2012 competition, I’m still deciding. The choice is among basil, chamomile and cilantro, and I’m still waiting to be bribed to throw my support to one of them. In the event that nobody wants to bribe me, I will make a sudden, petulant decision, then throw my entire media empire behind one of the seeds.

On the other hand, somebody suggested to me on Twitter that I should have a debate on the show among the three contestant and then declare a winner. Hmm. It certainly would be a lot less stupid than the continuing reality show that are the Republican presidential debates.

Perhaps chamomile will have an “oops” moment. Could be fun.

Super sowing, green banks and not-so-clean air

January 30, 2011

Stand by for “Super Sow Sunday”!

Last week, I talked about ordering and swapping seeds with the ubiquitous Mr. Brown Thumb, and Jessica Rinks from The Forest Park Community Garden. But this seems to be the week of big events in the seed world. First, there’s National Seed Swap Day, which is either January 29, 30 or 31st, depending on what you read (they need to take a vote).

Of course, we all know what most people will be doing next week, February 6. Why, planting seeds! It’s the second annual Super Sow Sunday on Twitter. The way you get involved is to type #supersowsunday into your search function (assuming you’re on Twitter), which will hook you up to all kinds of people who love to plant seeds and who aren’t particularly found of football.

The event goes from about 6:30 -8:30 p.m. ET–you know, basically during the football game. During that time tweeters will connect with hundreds of gardeners from across the world and share planting tips, how to sow, and what seeds were successfu. You’ll also be able to ask questions of seed representatives from around the country. Apparently, there will also be some big seed giveaways. So, if you hate the Green Bay Packers as much as most Chicagoans do, and don’t give a rip about the crop of new commercials, this is one way to stay entertained.

The only caveat I have is that it’s still a little early to be starting seeds in this neck of the world. But you can do something called winter sowing. It’s a method for planting seeds in containers now and putting them outside, so that they begin to sprout when nature gives them the right conditions. Our Little Acre blog site provides a step by step photo essay on one way to accomplish this.

What does it mean to be a “green” bank?

That’s what I’m going to ask Steve Sherman this morning. He just happens to be one of the founders of GreenChoice Bank, which calls itself the “the Midwest’s first green community bank… committed to taking care of its customers, its community, and its planet.” Sherman is also a LEED AP ( Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional), chief operating officer and director of the bank.

There will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house to launch two GreenChoice Bank branch facilities, recently retrofitted and seeking LEED EBO&M (Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance) certification. Each building is nearly 100 years old. One is at 5225 W. 25th St. in Cicero (ceremony 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 1) and the other at 838 S. State St. in Lockport (10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 8). However, the flagship LEED Platinum location hasn’t yet opened, as it is in the long-delayed Green Exchange at 2545 W. Diversey Avenue in Chicago.

Among the ways that GreenChoice positions itself apart from other banks, in their words:

  • Sustainable principles guide every aspect of the bank’s operations.
  • They focus on supporting the local community, fostering green collar jobs creation
    and growth, and improving the sustainable business economy.
  • They understand sustainability because they are involved with the sustainable business
  • Customers know that, when they bank with GreenChoice, their funds are being leveraged
    responsibly and invested back into the community.

It’s time to stop the “clean coal” movement in Illinois

It was almost by accident that the subject of two coal gasifications bills came up during my show last week. I can’t exactly remember how they came into the conversation, but when I mentioned SB 3388 (Leucadia) and SB 1927 (Power Holdings), which have already passed the Illinois General Assembly and are now sitting on Governor Pat Quinn’s desk, I received a phone call from Tom Sheperd, who lives in the southeast side neighborhood that will be affected by passage of the Leucadia law.

The story, basically, is that Leucadia National Corp. proposed a $3 billion coal gasification plant to be located on the south side of Chicago on the site of a coke facility that has sat unused for about a decade. The Chicago Tribune lays out the issue in an article called “Seeking Permission to Pollute.” One of the more controversial aspects of SB 3388 is that the bill would require natural gas utilities to enter into a thirty year contract for power from Leucadia, which could total 8% of the state’s energy from natural gas.

Power Holdings has proposed a coal gasification plant to be located in downstate Jefferson County. That bill would require the state’s natural gas utilities to enter into a ten year contract for power from its facility.  According to an Illinois Environmental Council bulletin, Crain’s Chicago says that the natural gas from these facilities would be sold at prices that are roughly double the current market price of natural gas.

This is on top of the environmental risk that both of these plants pose. Coal gasification is often promoted as “clean coal.” Yet, many environmental groups will tell you that there is no such thing as “clean coal.” One of those groups is the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. Director Jack Darin says that Illinois Sierra Club has posted a petition on its website, urging Governor Quinn to veto both pieces of legislation. I’m talking to him about that on the show today.

Chicago’s Clean Power Ordinance put on hold…again.

It’s hard to imagine why, even as “clean coal” plants are proposed for the city’s southeast side, two major contributors of life-shortening pollutants continue unabated in Pilsen and Little Village. I’m speaking, of course, of the Fisk and Crawford coal-fire power plants that are an embarrassment to Chicago, as long as it wants to be considered the “Greenest City in America.”

Last year, 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore introduced the Clean Power Ordinance in an effort to force those plants to reduce their emissions or shut down permanently. The measure, which is co-sponsored by 16 aldermen, was referred jointly to the City Council’s Committee on Health, now chaired by Ald. James Balcer and the Committee on Energy, Environmental Protection and Public Utilities, chaired by Ald. Virginia Rugai. Last week I received a message from the Chicago Clean Power Coalition, comprising more than 50 health, community, environmental and business groups, stating that Ald. Balcer would be holding a hearing on the Clean Power Ordinance on February 14 at 10:00 a.m.

Not so fast.

On Friday, word came that that the hearing would be delayed indefinitely. Since a majority vote of the joint committee is needed for the legislation to advance to a vote by the full City Council, this makes the legislation dead in the water.

It’s doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Daley administration has put the heat on aldermen to make sure that nothing happens for the remainder of Hizzoner’s term. “I know the Administration would like us to just go away,” says Ald. Moore, “but the health and well-being of Chicago residents and the future health of our children and grandchildren are at stake.”

So now what? Moore says that he intends to go through with the hearing on the 14th, even if it’s unofficial. He will invite allies of the proposed ordinance to attend, as well as members of the Chicago Clean Power Coalition and citizens who are simply concerned about air quality in the city.

Meanwhile, there are mayoral and aldermanic races to be run, and Alderman Moore is having a fundraiser next Tuesday evening, February 1 at Uncommon Ground Restaurant on Devon Avenue. It’s called Greener Together: A Benefit to Re-Elect Joe Moore and I wiil be there to support this champion of environmental causes in Chicago. Even if you don’t live in the “Fightin’ 49th” Ward, consider making a contribution to a man who is working hard to make our city’s air clean.