Helping the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) become law was CPLC’s most important achievement in 2021.
Now the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) seeks public input on the curriculum to be used in several workforce training programs under CEJA. This process will only be successful if it engages with a diverse group of stakeholders and community members across Illinois.
Here’s how you can help:
Attend a public listening session where you can tell DCEO what you think.
It is critical that we speak out! We want to ensure the curriculum standards that come out of these meetings amplify access to the training. If we do not participate in these meetings, the hub training may not meet our equity expectations, and could easily be defined and awarded to traditional training providers that have not historically met the needs of marginalized communities, students, and workers.
The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition supports:
Standards and curriculum components that increase access for marginalized communities.
Approaches that are based in the community and are delivered, supported by, and facilitated by community-led instructors, facilitators, and experts. The students should have instructors that reflect the diversity of state.
Instructional techniques that are mindful of traditional barriers that negatively impact performance of marginalized students (in other words, we want programs that address barriers).
Approaches that are community-driven and supported by community leaders.
Training that is delivered by organizations with proven experience training and placing marginalized workers.
Approaches that lead to jobs, access to mentors and capital to complete projects, and access to the hundreds of millions of dollars in solar and energy efficiency incentives for marginalized workers.
Approaches that ensure the diversity and access goals associated with training, and job creation are tracked, monitored, and publicly reported.
Waukegan, Gurnee, and other municipalities in Lake County, Illinois, are surrounded by dangerous chemicals, like ethylene oxide (EtO). We know it is up to us to push for further protections.
That’s why members of Clean Power Lake County spoke out last week during public Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearings on a proposed update to the Risk Management Program (RMP) rule. The update would partially restore critical chemical facility safety standards that were rolled back in 2019 by the Trump administration. It also proposes—for the first time ever—to require regulated facilities to account for the accelerating impacts of climate change.
Whitney Richardson, a member of Clean Power Lake County, shared her concerns:
I’m a mother, wife, daughter, human rights and environment researcher, legislative professional, and community member. The nearest RMP facility from me is 3 miles away in Mundelein, Illinois, but there are many others in Lake County where I live—like Waukegan and Gurnee—and where many friends and family live within the state and nationally.
I’m here today to urge the EPA to take responsibility on behalf of all and require that facilities do all that is in your power to prevent chemical disasters and protect all those at risk in the event of a disaster, taking into account the dire need to prepare for guaranteed climate-driven extreme weather events and power loss.
Already, I understand that about 150 serious chemical disasters occur at RMP facilities annually, leading to deaths, injuries, and other harms. There are many current climate-change scenarios panning out and future scenarios to come—both in which we know climate change poses certain risks, though the degree to which is still unknown. It is not only prudent but incredibly necessary to anticipate and protect against worst-case scenarios in the face of such uncertainty.
EPA must require implementation of external hazard mitigation and backup power systems. We already know that one-third of RMP facilities are located in areas at risk of flooding, storm surges, and wildfires so the rule must require facilities to consider and protect against these scenarios and concurrent risks like power outages.
The EPA should also account for cumulative health impacts of these facilities on communities overburdened with multiple polluting facilities, strengthen prevention requirements so harm to communities doesn’t predicate action, include workers in disaster prevention planning, and expand coverage of the program no later than next year (e.g., redefining “stationary source” definition, expanding list of covered substances to include ammonium nitrate and other reactive chemicals involved in crises).
Oftentimes, the focus on protecting against climate change—and hazards more generally—is cast into the future. This dangerously overlooks our responsibilities today to address already present and known issues and to take the necessary actions to prevent and reduce serious risks into the future.
Last week, members of Clean Power Lake County spoke out during public Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearings on a proposed update to the Risk Management Program (RMP) rule. The update would partially restore critical chemical facility safety standards that were rolled back in 2019 by the Trump administration. It also proposes—for the first time ever—to require regulated facilities to account for the accelerating impacts of climate change.
Waukegan, Gurnee, and other municipalities in Lake County, Illinois, are surrounded by dangerous chemicals, like ethylene oxide (EtO). We know it is up to us to push for further protections.
Celeste Flores, a member of Clean Power Lake County’s steering committee, shared her concerns:
I am calling today on behalf of 703,462 residents of Lake County, the third most populous county in Illinois, to urge the EPA to strengthen its Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule.
While the rule is a step forward, it does not go far enough to prevent chemical disasters, keep workers safe, and advance environmental justice. I will suggest three specific ways the rules need to go further for community members.
1:As a community member, the EPA has not made it easy for me or others to access information about chemical facilities. Anyone should be able to access relevant chemical hazard information and how this information can help them protect themselves and their communities in the event of a chemical release.
The current EPA proposal to access information is too limiting; frankly, it makes me feel like y’all don’t want me to access it. Rather than provide limited access to chemical hazard information based on proximity to a facility, EPA should develop, no later than December 2023, a public, multilingual online database where any public member can access RMP facility information and risk management plans.
I am here this morning on my own time, starting work late, because I know how critical access to information is. Why should I continue to be expected to take time off, travel, and get through red tape to access this virtual information?
2: The EPA should ensure that workers are included in disaster prevention and planning. The current rule must go further by requiring employers to have employees and their representatives at the decision-making table in developing risk management plans rather than merely requiring employers to consult with employees.
In Waukegan, Illinois, AB Specialty Silicones plant had an explosion in 2019. We lost 4 community members. Workers acted fast and alerted colleagues to get out but the loss of those 4 lives was preventable. Strengthening employees’ input can be done by this agency and that will lead to lives being saved.
3: The EPA must require timely, multilingual community notification and real-time fenceline monitoring. We have seen the devastation one president can have on environmental justice communities. CPLC has been advocating for federal protections since 2013. We saw our wins taken away in the last administration. This agency has the opportunity to not only bring back protections but strengthen them and act with urgency to protect our lives. Lake County, Illinois, is 25% Hispanic/Latino. Waukegan, Illinois, is 60% Hispanic/Latino. It is critical for information to be multilingual.
It was not until late 2018 that I learned about the dangers of breathing ethylene oxide (EtO) on a daily basis. I have serious concerns about the lifelong impacts of breathing EtO daily. One of the community’s biggest questions when speaking about EtO is how much was being realized before late 2018. We will never know because this agency has not implemented fenceline monitoring.
My community deserves real-time fenceline monitoring to detect releases and provide the public with information about potentially toxic emissions like EtO. I know we have other chemicals being emitted into the air. Fenceline monitoring is also a critical tool for detecting unplanned releases and monitoring emissions following incidents. EPA must require RMP facilities to use real-time fenceline air monitors and make this information available to the public and first responders.
Today, Earthjustice—on behalf of Clean Power Lake County and other environmental and health advocacy groups—sent a 60-day Notice of Intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the agency’s inaction to regulate harmful carcinogenic air emissions from ethylene oxide (EtO) facilities as the law required.
The Clean Air Act directs the EPA to review its EtO standards every eight years. However, the agency has repeatedly missed this deadline—first in 2014 and again in April 2022.
The EPA admits the chemical is 60 times more toxic than previously estimated and that facilities that emit EtO, including commercial sterilizers and chemical manufacturers, pose an elevated cancer risk to nearby communities. Children are particularly sensitive to ethylene oxide when exposed.
Ethylene oxide is a colorless, typically odorless, flammable gas used to sterilize medical equipment and in the production of chemicals needed for antifreeze, plastics, detergents, and adhesives. It is one of the most toxic air pollutants EPA regulates. This toxic chemical is a known carcinogen to humans, especially when inhaled.
Facilities that emit ethylene oxide are typically found in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, many already grappling with elevated toxic exposure and health risks from multiple forms of industrial pollution.
“EPA has delayed for too long to update sterilizer rule while communities suffer unnecessary toxic exposure and unacceptable cancer risks,” said Earthjustice attorney Marvin Brown. “Congress passed the Clean Air Act to protect communities from the harmful effects of air pollution, and tasked EPA with ensuring that industry emissions do not threaten public health. By failing to timely revise its sterilizer rule, EPA has left communities to fend for themselves against a deadly, cancer-causing chemical. We are calling on the EPA to finally remedy this injustice without further delay.”
As each day passes, ethylene oxide threatens the health of many communities that continue to wait on EPA to fulfill its legal obligations under the Clean Air Act. Today’s letter provides notice that community and environmental groups cannot wait any longer—and will sue EPA to compel the agency to enact stronger, science-based standards that are protective of public health.
“Excuse after excuse has led to death after death and EPA refuses to act. The agency waited more than eight years after the first deadline, and now missed a second deadline to properly regulate ethylene oxide, even as it recognized that the chemical was causing cancer to people in communities across the country,” said Raul Garcia, legislative director of Healthy Communities at Earthjustice. ”Our letter intends to compel long overdue protective action from EPA, but should also serve as reminder to state and local officials that their inaction is leaving people exposed to severe risk of cancer and other illnesses in the very communities they serve. Cancer-causing chemicals must be properly regulated at every level of government immediately.”
“The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment. They are failing my community and communities across the country with their inaction to regulate harmful air emissions from ethylene oxide facilities. It’s unacceptable that everyday community members have been forced to file this suit in order for the EPA to be accountable and update their standards as required by law. Our rights have been violated and the EPA must do its job,” said Celeste Flores, steering committee member with Clean Power Lake County.
Earthjustice filed the Notice of Intent on behalf of Rio Grande International Study Center, Clean Power Lake County, California Communities Against Toxics, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Sierra Club.
Earthjustice mined databases buried in EPA archives and found that the agency exempted at least half a billion tons of coal ash in nearly 300 landfills in 38 states from standards designed to protect people from cancer-causing chemicals. The landfills are sited disproportionately in low-income communities and communities of color (see map). It is enough coal ash to fill train cars that could go around the earth two times.
Plaintiffs’ Attorney Mychal Ozaeta from Earthjustice said, “Power plant records reveal that about half of the toxic coal ash waste in the US is entirely exempt from any federal health protections. This is outrageous. The coal power industry is poisoning drinking water sources and the air we breathe while causing global warming.”
When the EPA adopted the first-ever rules in 2015 for toxic ash generated when burning coal, the agency excluded coal ash landfills and waste piles that stopped receiving new waste before the law went into effect. It also didn’t cover landfills at power plants that had already stopped producing power.
The EPA has noted that the risks to humans associated with exposure to coal ash include “cancer in the skin, liver, bladder and lungs,” “neurological and psychiatric effects,” “cardiovascular effects,” “damage to blood vessels,” and “anemia.”
The lawsuit says what we know about the extent of water contamination from coal ash “is just the tip of the iceberg.”
The suit describes an Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice study of industry data: “Groundwater contamination exceeding federal health-based standards was found at 76% of the regulated CCR [coal combustion residuals] landfills. Regulated landfills are newer and more likely to be lined than the older landfills EPA exempted from the CCR rule. Thus, the exempted inactive CCR landfills are likely to be releasing even higher levels of toxic contaminants.”
The lawsuit states, “Coal-fired power plants generate one of the largest toxic solid waste streams in the United States. In this voluminous waste stream are large quantities of heavy metals and metal compounds such as arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, lithium, mercury, molybdenum, radium, selenium, and thallium.”
Nonprofit legal organization Earthjustice filed the lawsuit in US District Court in Washington, DC, on behalf of plaintiffs Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (Tennessee), Indiana State Conference and LaPorte County Branch of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, Hoosier Environmental Council (Indiana), Sierra Club, Clean Power Lake County (Illinois), and Environmental Integrity Project.
Among the hundreds of landfills the EPA has exempted from their protections is NRG Energy’s Waukegan Generating Station, where an unregulated coal ash fill has been contaminating groundwater since at least 2010.
“For years we have fought hard for our community to be protected, for our community to be respected and for our community to be seen,” said Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County. “For starters, this can be done by ensuring the EPA protects our community by addressing the coal ash landfill that sits on our lakefront. Minority and economically disadvantaged communities are disproportionately burdened by pollution and the Waukegan community is no different. The EPA must do what it was intended to do, to protect our community residents and our environment.”
Sierra Club Attorney Bridget Lee said, “The continued storage of toxic coal ash in unlined landfills without groundwater monitoring flies in the face of EPA’s own science and risk assessments and threatens fenceline communities across the country. The agency must act now to close this dangerous loophole.”
According to the lawsuit, if the EPA had followed the law (the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act), “basic safeguards would be in place for inactive CCR landfills that would keep coal ash toxins out of our drinking water, air, rivers, lakes, and streams, and require remediation at the scores of sites already known to be contaminating water at dangerous levels.”
Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released results of a study identifying 100 communities impacted by exposure to ethylene oxide (EtO) released from sterilizing facilities. The EPA named 23 high-risk ethylene oxide sterilizer facilities that have a cancer risk rate above EPA’s 100-in-a-million unacceptable risk rate. Waukegan was not among the named communities. This is great news for our community. We are grateful for this small, positive sign that our local sterilizing facility has followed through on its promise to Clean Power Lake County to install additional pollution controls.
We stand in solidarity with the named communities and urge the EPA to do more than simply engage communities about the dangers of EtO. It is essential that at-risk communities be supported through continuous fenceline monitoring for accurate emissions data.
Moreover, we challenge the EPA to recognize that distribution and storage facilities also pose a potential risk for EtO emissions. They should be monitored as well so that all potential sources of exposure to EtO used for sterilization can be identified.
Clean Power Lake County also recognizes that the study applies to a very specific industry. In Illinois, medical sterilization facilities are regulated by strict controls.
However, the communities of Waukegan and Gurnee are impacted by a less regulated source of EtO emissions—Vantage Specialty Chemical, which uses ethylene oxide in the manufacture of other products. This industry is currently exempt from many EPA regulations. We urge EPA to close those loopholes and undertake monitoring of the neighborhoods surrounding that facility as well.
The EPA statement is a positive step in the fight to end EtO emissions. There are many more steps to take before all communities impacted by EtO exposure—especially those at greatest risk of negative health outcomes—can feel safe in their own homes.
EPA must do more to hold corporate polluters responsible and require them to use the most effective emissions controls possible or develop new technologies that replace the use of EtO for sterilization.
Until he started high school, Eddie Flores had no idea that dangers hid in plain sight in Waukegan—and especially along its lakefront.
As a high schooler, he got involved with environmental groups. And that’s when he found out his hometown had five Superfund sites and a coal-burning power plant.
“Growing up, I was never really taught about the coal plant or our Superfund sites in school and feel like it is something that really needs to be taught,” Eddie said in his Clean Power Lake County bio. “I hope to connect people—especially youth—to this fight since we’re the ones that are going to be inheriting this planet.”
He has already begun connecting people to the fight for climate justice. This summer, he is sharing his story in Eddie’s Environmental Justice Journey, an environmental justice (EJ) coloring book.
The bilingual EJ coloring book is a collaborative effort by Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods, Clean Power Lake County (CPLC), and local artist Diana Nava.
The coloring book helps Lake County children understand how pollutants from lakefront industries affect them. It also shows how people can work together to bring about a better future for their community.
Primary elections are underway in Illinois. Therefore, we would like to remind our supporters that Clean Power Lake County does not endorse candidates running for elected office and does not participate in political campaigns.
CPLC partners with several 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations—charitable, educational, and religious institutions—that are prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office, under the Internal Revenue Code.
At the same time, we believe that practicing participatory democracy is one of the main ways we can build sustainable, healthy communities in Lake County. We respect and appreciate every individual who helps strengthen civic engagement or otherwise engages in the democratic process.
As we reflect on the events of 2021, we feel grateful for—and empowered by—our community and our shared vision to make our world a better place. Clean Power Lake County (CPLC) is proud to highlight some of our recent accomplishments.
February 7: CPLC co-chair Dulce Ortiz joined the Illinois Environmental Justice Commission as a voting member. The commission advises the Governor and state entities on environmental justice and related community issues.
February 8: Four members of CPLC’s steering committee joined a one-day hunger strike to protest the move of General Iron Industries’ metal shredding facility from Chicago’s affluent, predominantly white Lincoln Park neighborhood to Chicago’s predominantly Latino Southeast Side.
April 18: CPLC demanded that President Joe Biden’s administration address the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to investigate ethylene oxide (EtO) polluters in Lake County—or to warn residents about the carcinogen.
December 15-16: CPLC volunteers asked dozens of questions during Midwest Generation’s public meetings on proposed plans to close coal ash ponds on the Waukegan lakefront.
This year, we feel all the more energized to accomplish our mission: ensuring clean air, clean water, and healthy soil for every Lake County community member and achieving the self-determination of those disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution.
Priorities for 2022:
Continue pursuing a just transition for the Waukegan coal plant. This means ensuring that coal ash is removed so it cannot contaminate Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for 6 million people in four states. It also means ensuring proper notification and public engagement if and when the company plans any demolition at the site.
Monitoring efforts to implement the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act (signed into law in 2019) to hold coal plant owners accountable for clean-ups.
Serving in key working groups to ensure effective implementation of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (signed into law in 2021).
Illinois’ Climate and Equitable Jobs Act—designed to build an equitable clean energy future for Illinoisans—is now the law of our land.
Clean Power Lake County is proud to have joined fellow members of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition as well as Illinois House and Senate leaders in Chicago on Sept. 15 to see Gov. J.B. Pritzker sign the sweeping bill into law.
The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act combines appropriate pollution regulations with equity protections to help establish responsible transition timelines for fossil fuel plants like the one on Waukegan’s lakefront. These equity protections are essential to prevent abrupt retirement announcements that leave no room for planning and force communities to fend for themselves against profit-focused corporate giants.
Clean Power Lake County has been fighting for nearly a decade to end toxic pollution from the coal-fired power plant in our front yard.
Waukegan deserves a just transition from coal to a clean energy future. And now we will get it: The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act invests $41 million per year in former fossil fuel communities and workers. It will replace lost property taxes, help workers with training, and support equity-focused workforce programs to help communities like ours become part of our clean energy future.
For far too long, Black and Brown lives have been sacrificed for the sake of corporate profits. The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act finally stops putting the profits of inefficient and dirty fossil fuels over the health and safety of our Black and Brown sisters and brothers.
This act addresses the historic inequities of pollution, creates jobs in the communities that need them the most, and invests in projects critical to our communities. Most importantly, we will leave a better community, a better world for our many generations to come, a healthy and clean energy future beyond coal.