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.