If Waukegan’s coal-fired power plant closed tomorrow, all of our lights would stay on—and 143 lives would be saved between 2022 and 2030, according to Soot to Solar: Illinois’ Clean Energy Transition, an analysis released October 24, 2018, by Union of Concerned Scientists.
In fact, the faster Illinois can retire its aging, inefficient coal plants—a critical step in the clean energy transition—the greater the benefits will be for communities across the state, according to the analysis.
Here’s how closing up to nine dirty coal plants will help Illinoisans:
Reduce CO2 emissions by up to 51%
Prevent more than 1,100 premature deaths
Save each consumer household nearly $100 a year on their electricity bills
Celeste Flores, Lake County Outreach Director for Faith in Place and co-chair of Clean Power Lake County, and Jessica Collingsworth, Lead Midwest Energy Policy Analyst/Advocate at Union of Concerned Scientists) discussed the energy and health benefits of a just transition to renewable energy report on WBEZ’s Worldview on November 13, 2018. Listen to the WBEZ program here.
Tens of thousands of residents in western Waukegan, Gurnee, Park City, North Chicago, Warren Township, and Naval Station Great Lakes, are at risk from ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions — the same cancer-causing chemicals that prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker to order the shutdown of Sterigenics in DuPage County.
And that is unacceptable!
Clean Power Lake County and Faith in Place have worked actively on this issue since November 2018, when an article about cancer-causing ethylene oxide gas emissions in Waukegan and Gurnee appeared on page 1 of the November 4, 2018, Chicago Tribune. Our own Celeste Flores and Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts were key sources in that article.
That was when we learned that Medline Industries in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee posed significant health risks to our communities.
Officials from Lake County, Waukegan and Gurnee knew about the hazards before the Chicago Tribune article was published. However, they did not warn neighbors of the hazards.
More than 19,000 people live within areas at risk from ethylene oxide emitted at the Medline Industries plant in Waukegan (near Skokie Highway and Casimir Pulaski Drive—just west of Greenbelt Forest Preserve).
More than 23,000 people live within areas at risk from ethylene oxide emitted at the Vantage Specialty Chemicals plant in Gurnee (near Route 41 and Delaney Road).
What’s happening on ethylene oxide in Lake County
February 12, 2019: U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), along with U.S. Representatives Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03), and Sean Casten (D-IL-06), introduced bills that would hold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accountable for its poor oversight of ethylene oxide emissions.
March 27, 2019: U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Carper (D-DE) sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler seeking information related to the agency’s recent decision to question EPA career staff’s assessment of the health risks and political appointees’ handling of potentially illegal releases of ethylene oxide (EtO). They also requested documents shedding light on the Trump EPA’s enforcement efforts at the Sterigenics Illinois plant and its management of risks posed by EtO at facilities nationwide.
March 28, 2019: Celeste Flores and Diana Burdette testified in Washington, D.C., on the need protecting members of marginalized communities from toxic ethylene oxide emissions.
April 2, 2019: U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked the Department of Homeland Security to revise its characterization of ethylene oxide, as required under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standard, as both flammable and explosive.
April 8, 2019: The Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center, City of Waukegan, and Village of Gurnee officials announced plans to hire one vendor to collect air quality samples from four sites near Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee and four sites near Medline Industries in Waukegan. Read more.
April 10, 2019: The Illinois Senate passed SB 1852, requiring facilities to alert nearby property owners and local government of ethylene oxide leaks, and SB 1854, restricting and testing for fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide.
April 12, 2019: U.S. Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), spoke on the House floor regarding the need for ambient air testing of ethylene oxide in Waukegan and Gurnee so families can have confidence the air they and their children breathe is safe.
What is ethylene oxide?
Ethylene oxide (EtO) is a colorless gas used in the manufacturing of several industrial chemicals and as a sterilizing agent for medical equipment and supplies. People can be exposed to EtO through direct inhalation, ingestion, or contact to the skin, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In December 2016, the U.S. EPA updated the risk status of ethylene oxide from “probably carcinogenic to humans” to “carcinogenic to humans.”
It’s time for 100% clean energy in Illinois. Are you in?
Clean Power Lake County is definitely in! We are proud to support the Clean Energy Jobs Act (HB 3624/SB 2132), which would set a path for Illinois to be 100% powered by renewable energy, increase energy efficiency, and invigorate the state’s clean energy sector in an equitable way.
Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County, explains why this bill is so important:
Communities like Waukegan deserve a clean energy future and it’s time for the state of Illinois to be a leader and pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act!
For far too long, frontline communities have historically borne and, to this day, continue to bear the greatest brunt of injustice when it comes to the environment. This legislation says that that no community should be left behind as Illinois builds up its clean and renewable energy economy.
We can do this!
One of the pillars on this bill is to achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2030.
This bill directs the Illinois EPA to begin a comprehensive stakeholder process to reduce harmful pollution from power plants to zero by 2030.
Many coal plant communities around the state have suffered the impacts of coal pollution just like Waukegan. A responsible transition beyond coal would address the largest point source of carbon pollution in Lake County, which is located on the Waukegan lakefront.
We recognize that there are real people, our neighbors, who have worked for years in the fossil fuel industry. That is why this bill calls for the creation of Clean Energy Empowerment Zones, to support communities and workers who are impacted by the decline of fossil fuel generation.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act — introduced February 28, 2019, by partners in the Illinois Clean Jobs coalition — would move Illinois to 100% renewable energy by 2050, cut carbon pollution from the state’s power sector by 2030, and create steps to electrify the transportation sector. At the same time, the legislation would help keep a lid on energy bills and lead to economic benefits, especially in the form of new jobs, for communities that need them the most.
The bill was drafted with the input of communities across the state, including participants in more than 60 “Listen. Lead. Share.” events.
Currently, the Clean Energy Jobs Act is working its way through House committees in the Illinois General Assembly.
Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor and U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois’ 10th District recently wrote a joint guest column in the Lake County News-Sun to express their commitment to delivering bold, local action on climate. They also expressed support for the guiding principles of the Lake County Climate Action Pledge, an initiative launched in August in partnership with the Sierra Club.
This July, Lake County was hit with the worst flood in recorded history, inundating neighborhoods and businesses. It was the second time in five years a major flood event triggered a county and state disaster declaration. Just weeks later, California was ravaged by wildfires and southeastern coastal states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were battered by three devastating hurricanes that devastated so many lives and impacted local economies.
The frequency and severity of major weather events are an unmistakable warning of the escalating impacts of climate change around the globe and here at home. President Trump’s cynical exit from the Paris Climate Accord and Congress’s stubborn refusal to act leaves our economic future more uncertain and the destruction of our environment more rapid.
In these unpredictable times, we can’t count on the White House or State House to deliver bold leadership. Tackling climate change will require leaders that cross party lines and generational divides. That’s why we, one a Republican, the other a Democrat, are standing together to advance bold local action on climate change with the help of local leaders and grassroots organizations.
In August, we proudly joined with the Sierra Club to launch the Lake County Climate Action Pledge on the shores of Lake Michigan with a diverse, bipartisan and passionate group of environmental champions ready to take on climate change in our own backyard by:
— Creating a responsible transition plan beyond coal, which would address the largest point source of carbon pollution in the county on the Waukegan lakefront.
— Making a long-term commitment to pursue 100% renewable energy that delivers consumer savings and new jobs for our local workforce.
— Building green infrastructure that incorporates plans for sustainable transportation.
Advancing these priorities will demonstrate that reducing carbon pollution and increasing economic opportunity can go hand and hand. By committing ourselves to these goals we can reduce some of the most avoidable public health threats our area faces and enhance quality of life for all of our neighbors.
President Trump’s direct attacks on efforts to tackle climate change at best ignore and, more dangerously, reject reality. And no argument is more disingenuous than the assertion that we must choose between growing our economy and protecting our environmental legacy.
The indisputable fact is that the clean energy economy is growing rapidly in red and blue states alike. In 2015, clean energy created jobs at a rate 12 times faster than the overall economy. It’s the lower costs of wind, solar, and natural gas that are pushing coal plants to retire at the same rate as before President Trump’s election and his Administration’s roll back of critical EPA protections.
We are inspired by the many local residents, youth leaders, pastors and parents have marched, lobbied, prayed and demonstrated that they have the courage to forge a clean energy future for Lake County. We are calling on our colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to show the same courage and join us in this important work.
We must come together to leverage new clean energy policies in Illinois and make smart investments in energy efficiency across public and private sectors. This is how we can finally begin to realize a future for Lake County where climate action and economic development go hand-in-hand; where cities and workers don’t have to react unexpectedly to rapidly changing economic forces but are prepared to adapt and seize new opportunities, ensuring no community is left behind.
Delivering bold, local action on climate will not be easy. It will require leadership across political parties, all levels of government, and the private sector. That’s the task we’re now called to, and if we as public officials can match the courage of our families and constituents, we know Lake County can lead the way.
Clean Power Lake County joined forces with other environmental, faith and civic organizations in Waukegan and surrounding Lake County communities on December 7, 2017, to raise $5,236 to help Puerto Rico hurricane victims and highlight the critical need to act on the climate crisis.
The climate action event, held at the Puerto Rican Society in Waukegan, was hosted by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, Sierra Club, the Puerto Rican Society and Clean Power Lake County.
At the time of the benefit, more than 10 weeks after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, the majority of the island still lacked reliable electrical power and safe drinking water.
The ongoing needs of Puerto Rico residents, especially in light of inadequate response by President Trump’s administration, motivated people attending the benefit to act.
“I am determined to make a difference for Puerto Rico. Like a small grain of sand, from a small organization in Waukegan, I will make a difference,” said Lucy Rios of the Puerto Rican Society.
Among those making donations to help hurricane victims were members of the Waukegan High School JROTC. They presented $1,000 to Rios.
Community members also donated supplies such as bottled water, diapers, flashlights, and batteries.
“Hurricane Maria may have fallen out of the headlines, but our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico still need us to step up for them,” Lawlor said. “Frequent, severe storms like Hurricane Maria are unmistakable warnings of the escalating impacts of climate change. Washington’s failure to act leaves our economic future more uncertain and the destruction of our environment more rapid.”
Faith in Place, which works with houses of worship throughout Illinois to protect our land, air and water, is the first community organization to sign the pledge.
Other organizations participating in the event included Citizens Utility Board, Livable Lake County, Mano A Mano, Moms Clean Air Force, Sierra Club Woods and Wetlands Group, Waukegan Township, and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.
A letter by Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs for the Respiratory Health Association—a lead partner in the Clean Power Lake County campaign—appeared in the December 7, 2017, edition of the Lake County News-Sun.
Compared to NRG’s coal plant on Waukegan’s lakefront, WE Energies’ Pleasant Prairie coal plant two miles north of the state line is nearly twice as big, half the age and 10 times less polluting. Yet WE Energies is shutting down that power plant this spring and will instead install 1.3 square miles of solar panels in the area by 2020.
That cleaner, newer, less health-damaging coal plant is closing and Wisconsin will see thousands of new solar jobs. Yet Waukegan keeps NRG’s daily deadly pollution and tiny solar projects built for show on a few local schools.
The utility industry has changed dramatically and Waukegan is behind the curve. In 2012, 19 coal power plants ringed Lake Michigan. None had pollution scrubbers. By late 2018, 10 of those will have ceased burning coal. Four more will have installed modern pollution controls that slash lung-damaging emissions 80 percent or more. Of the last five, NRG’s plant is by far the largest polluter operating on 1,600 miles of lakeshore across four states.
Many Lake County leaders, from County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor and County Board member Mary Ross Cunningham to Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and Zion Mayor Al Hill, have signed the Lake County Climate Action Pledge, aiming to move Lake County beyond coal, adopt ambitious 100 percent clean energy goals, and build climate-resilient infrastructure. In order to protect the health and livelihoods of their constituents, all public officials in Lake County need to sign that pledge.
The Lake County Climate Action Pledge is an initiative launched by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor in partnership with the Sierra Club. For details about the central pillars of the pledge, see our September 17, 2017, Launching the Lake County Climate Pledge post.
U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois’ 10th District recently wrote a letter to Lake County residents to express his support for the three guiding principles of the Lake County Climate Action Pledge, an initiative launched in August by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor in partnership with the Sierra Club.
Climate change is very real and perhaps our most urgent present threat. Experience tells us and scientists confirm that failing to address climate change as a priority puts thousands of miles of coastline at risk, devastates frontline communities experiencing unexpected weather changes, and threatens the environment that generations to come should have the opportunity to cherish.
As part of this effort to address climate change as a priority, I am committed to taking steps to move our nation to cleaner, renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, and geothermal. By doing so, we can move toward reducing, and eventually ending, our dependence on fossil fuels that produce harmful greenhouse gases.
I support a responsible transition plan beyond coal and other fossil fuels and toward sustainable investment opportunities into clean, safe renewable energy sources. Our vision should be striving for 100% clean, sustainable energy solutions that address climate change and will create quality jobs in our communities. That must include reimagining and investing in climate-resilient infrastructure and transportation designs integrating vibrant walkable and bicycle-friendly communities.
In addition, I believe that we must continue to rebuild our infrastructure—highways, bridges, ports and tunnels—which are a foundation for economic growth. We must also expand investments in green energy technologies with a focus on both conservation and alternative energies. Any infrastructure package must include a focus on improving energy efficiency and promoting sustainability.
As your representative in Congress, I have, and will continue to actively fight to address the impending threat of climate change. For example, following President Trump’s misguided decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement, I introduced H. Res. 390, a resolution strongly condemning the decision and commending cities like Waukegan and other towns across the Tenth District that have pledged to continue honoring the emission reduction goals of the Paris Agreement. The resolution also urges the Administration to reverse its position on the Paris Agreement. I am honored and proud that more than 180 of my colleagues have signed on this resolution as cosponsors.
Earlier this year, I introduced H.R. 1812, the Congressional Leadership In Mitigating Administration Threats to the Earth (or CLIMATE) Act to prevent the implementation of the executive order undercutting the Clean Power Plan and weakening restrictions on coal mining. I also remain committed to, and spoke on the House floor in defense of, one of our most magnificent natural wonders: the Great Lakes, as well as the important work of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The five lakes contain one-fifth of the world’s fresh water and are vitally important to the economy and quality of life of our District. Unfortunately, President Trump has proposed to completely eliminate this critical program while also proposing severe cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That is why I sent a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment in support of full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in FY 2018 and was pleased to see that the bill passed out of the Appropriations Committee restored funding for this important program.
Rolling back regulations and laws designed to ensure we have clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment is unacceptable. I invite you to join me in the fight against such actions that would result in degradation and incalculable damage to our environment and to work together to protect our environment for generations to come.