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.
From floods to air pollution to wildfire smoke to severe droughts, climate change has reached Illinois. Right now is our only opportunity to prevent the worst effects of the climate disaster, and I’m calling on Congress to prioritize climate action.
Illinois’s climate is changing: This summer brought the worst drought in over 30 years and record-breaking heat, and storms are eroding Chicago’s lakeshore and filling our basements with sewage. Yet we are also in a moment of opportunity. Congress’s infrastructure package has the capacity to make the 2020s an era of transformation and secure a just and sustainable future for all of us—but only if Congress goes bigger to match the scale of the crises we face.
Investments in improving schools and housing create good jobs, protect communities’ health, and fight climate change. A $600 billion investment in energy efficiency, weatherization, electrification, decarbonization, and other building upgrades is a critical step in America’s fight against climate change and racial injustice. The students in Illinois’s most dilapidated public schools and the residents of our crumbling public housing are overwhelmingly low-income people of color.
As a college student in the middle of a pandemic, graduating soon into a global recession while the news is filled with disastrous climate change-related events, I feel anxious about the future. Still, I remain hopeful that this could be a turning point in human history. Our fight today to go bigger on the infrastructure package will influence the climate trajectory of our country. This is our time to address climate change and build thriving communities. Congress, go bigger and fight for my future!
Leah Hartung is a rising senior at Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia), where she is double-majoring in environmental science and economics. She is a fellow for Clean Power Lake County as well as a member of our steering committee and our representative for the Illinois Green New Deal Coalition.
As a community organization committed to justice for all people, Clean Power Lake County is pleased to celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month. We gratefully acknowledge the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have had on local, national, and international history.
To kick off Pride Month, we are excited to participate for the second year in Waukegan’s PrideDrive. Members of our steering committee will decorate a car to show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.
PrideDrive 2021 is Saturday, June 5, from 1 pm to 3 pm. Vehicles will roll out from 269 W. Clayton St., near Jack Benny Plaza in downtown Waukegan. For route information, visit the PrideDrive Facebook page.
The celebration will continue with an after-party in front of Nightshade and Dark’s Pandemonium Brewing, 216 W. Clayton St.
The Lake County Health Department (LCHD), Waukegan Main Street and the LGBTQ+ Center of Lake County will fill the streets with friends, fun and pride.
This event will follow CDC, Illinois Department of Public Health and LCHD social distancing guidelines.
Earth Month lasts another seven days. That’s plenty of time to make a planet-friendly difference close to home.
In years past, Clean Power Lake County volunteers have gathered during Earth Month to clean up the beach. This year, with the pandemic continuing, we had to think of a safer way our volunteers could make a difference. Hence, a do-it-yourself clean-up!
Our communities could certainly use a good clean-up right about now. Thanks to the pandemic, we’re seeing more trash than ever. People get more take-out food more often. Grocery stores don’t allow reusable shopping bags. Coffee shops don’t allow reusable cups. And face masks are scattered everywhere.
So we encourage you to organize your own Earth Month clean-up with your pod! Clean-ups are super easy to do on your own. They also are a great way to see tangible results in a short amount of time.
Here are our best practices for organizing your clean-up:
Keep an eye out during walks or bike rides for places nearby that look like they could use a clean-up.
Recruit members of your pod to help with the clean-up and pick a good time to meet up. (Whether it’s 30 minutes or 3 hours, everything helps.)
Grab trash bags and think about where the trash will go when you finish. If you don’t expect to pick up much, you can just throw the bags into your own trash bin. If you think you will collect more than your personal trash can handle, identify a place you can drop it off or ask your alderman for help arranging a pickup.
Wear reflective or bright clothes, long pants, and closed-toe shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. If you anticipate going off the trail or into an area with brush, first make sure you’re allowed to enter that area. (You don’t want to disturb a restoration in progress!).
Wear gloves. The thicker the better, so nothing can poke through. (Trust us, you don’t want to pick up trash with your bare hands.)
Bring a speaker! Everything is more fun with music.
When you finish, tell us about your clean-up. We want to know how much trash you collected (by weight and/or number of bags). Even better, we’d love to see photos of your pod as the star in the effort to improve your environment for yourself, your friends, and neighbors.
Now an updated version of the bill is generating new support. Last month, more than 1,500 people submitted pro-CEJA witness slips before a House Energy & Environment Committee hearing. A majority of the committee’s members voted to send CEJA to the House for a vote.
Let’s look at four ways that passing CEJA will help Lake County residents.
1. Relieve the heavy burden of toxic pollution
CEJA will transition our power sector away from fossil fuels by 2030 and significantly expand clean energy generation. That will lead to significant improvements in air and water quality as well as in human health across Lake County.
How? Coal-fired power plants emit vast quantities of heat-trapping carbon dioxide (which leads to climate change) plus dangerous mercury, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter (soot). Solar energy systems do not produce air pollution or greenhouse gases. Wind turbines do not release emissions that can pollute the air or water, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“The shift to clean energy offers a chance to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, while lessening the toll that dirty fossil fuels are currently wreaking on some of our most vulnerable communities,” the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a 2015 report.
Waukegan, Lake County’s largest city, is one such vulnerable community. Its residents have been paying a heavy toll for dirty fossil fuels for more than 100 years—thanks to the local coal-fired power plant. The plant, owned by NRG Energy, is the largest point source of air and water pollution in Lake County, according to the Sierra Club.
“Breathing polluted air contributes to an increase in health problems, including asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, respiratory and cardiovascular harm, reproductive harm, lung cancer, and early death. Some groups are particularly at risk—including children, older adults, communities of color, and those with existing health issues,” according to the American Lung Association.
CEJA also will provide economic development incentives for communities where coal plants have recently closed, help protect workers’ benefits and give them access to higher education and vocational training, and ensure that polluters pay for the environmental damage they cause.
2. Hold utility companies accountable to consumers
CEJA includes strong provisions to protect consumers from rate hikes and prevent corruption, such as the yearslong bribery scheme to which ComEd recently admitted (Capitol News Illinois).
One such provision is capacity market reform.
Utility companies say the capacity market is a form of insurance: They are paid to guarantee that energy will be available during predicted peak use times. In reality, the capacity market has operated as a fossil fuel bailout mechanism: Coal-fired power plants are paid years in advance to supply energy to consumers during peak usage times that may or may not come down the line.
CEJA will remove Illinois from the multistate capacity auction (conducted by the federally regulated PJM regional transmission organization). Instead, it will allow the Illinois Power Agency (IPA) to buy capacity. The IPA could then emphasize purchasing solar and wind energy rather than power created by burning fossil fuels.
“If we implement CEJA, [Illinois] will stop paying $1.8 billion on fossil emitting coal plants and that’s something we’ll be able to tangibly see the impacts of on day one,” Rep. Ann Williams, chief House sponsor of CEJA, said in a February news conference.
In other words, CEJA can remove undue economic and environmental burdens on Illinois residents while taking the fossil fuel industry off life support.
Another provision is ending automatic rate hikes for utility delivery services. CEJA calls for performance-based rate settings: The Illinois Commerce Commission would be allowed to approve only utility investments, programs, and rates that are cost-effective and contribute to a renewable energy electric grid.
3. Create environmental justice empowerment zones
CEJA will create Clean Energy Empowerment Zones (or Environmental Justice Empowerment Zones). These will offer tax breaks and other types of support for new clean energy businesses in areas where coal plants have closed in the past 10 years or where they may close in the future, according to an October 27, 2020, article by Kari Lydersen in Energy News Network.
The point is to help fossil fuel workers who might otherwise be left behind in the shift to clean energy as well as communities that have suffered disproportionately from environmental harms, unjust permitting, and limited job opportunities.
CEJA also will create Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs. The statewide network of frontline organizations will offer direct, ongoing support to minority and disadvantaged communities. For example, hubs could connect workers with job opportunities in the clean energy sector.
As a recognized environmental justice community, Waukegan is slated under CEJA to become a Clean Energy Empowerment Zone as well as a Clean Jobs Workforce Hub. Among other things, this means Waukegan will get funding, job training resources, and guidance for economic development and revitalizing the Waukegan coal plant site (once it closes).
These measures will be funded through emissions fees and coal severance fees.
4. Protect public health and our children’s future
CEJA will help Illinois avoid the worst impacts of climate change in three ways:
Transitioning Illinois’ power sector completely away from fossil fuels by 2030
Supporting workers and communities impacted by the decline of coal
Significantly expanding clean energy generation and good-paying clean energy jobs
It’s a vicious circle: Burning fossil fuels—coal, natural gas, gasoline, and diesel fuel—decreases air quality and emits carbon. Carbon release contributes to climate change. Climate change can put our health and safety at risk. Climate change also can make it harder to clean up pollution.
Extreme heat and flooding have already cost Illinois more than $6.5 billion and hundreds of lives in recent decades. According to Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition estimates, if no action is taken, climate change by 2050 will cause nearly 1,200 deaths and more than $6 billion in damage each year in the Midwest.
The damages will be even greater in areas with poor air quality, such as Lake County.
Illinois can’t afford to wait: We need to pass CEJA this spring.
Let’s make it happen!
CEJA is headed to the House floor for a vote this spring. If you haven’t contacted your representatives about CEJA, now is the time to voice your support. If you have contacted your representatives about, now is the time to remind them you hold them accountable for supporting this important bill. You can write them here.
Next, ask your families, friends, and neighbors to contact legislators, too. We need legislators to hear, loud and clear: “Lake County supports CEJA!”
Last, but not least: Join friends and neighbors in your district and coalitions across the state for Spring Virtual Lobby Day on April 26. You will have the chance to talk with your legislators about the need to pass CEJA.
Our clean energy future can’t wait any longer.
Whitney Richardson lives in Vernon Hills, Illinois. She recently completed an MSc abroad in International Environmental Studies and conducts legal, legislative, and policy research.
Leah Hartung is from Libertyville, Illinois. She is a rising senior at Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia) studying environmental science as well as a member of Clean Power Lake County’s steering committee.
Political appointees in the Trump administration blocked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from investigating ethylene oxide (EtO) polluters and prevented staff from warning Lake County residents about the carcinogen, according to a new report issued by the inspector general for the EPA.
Clean Power Lake County is deeply troubled to learn of yet another example of Trump’s EPA standing with polluters instead of communities. But we are not surprised.
Although the EPA was aware of the dangers posed by EtO, it buried this information. EPA’s action put tens of thousands of disproportionately Black and brown Lake County community members in harm’s way. The EPA failed in its mission to protect human health and the natural environment by allowing corporations to continue jeopardizing the well-being of our already overburdened communities and exposing us to highly carcinogenic toxins.
It should not be radical for us to demand a healthy living environment.
We will hold the Biden administration to its promise to address these findings and demand continuous, independent, fenceline monitoring for EtO in every impacted community across the nation.
We applaud the Biden administration for creating the Environmental Justice Advisory Council—and we remind council members that tailored action must follow for each EJ community.
The EPA must provide the necessary support and proper communications to state EPAs and county health departments. This administration must hold the EPA accountable for communicating with local governments and EJ leaders; supporting state, county, and local priorities; and enforcing federal regulations.
We look forward to continuing to work with Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin of Illinois—two of the four members of Congress who requested an investigation into EPA’s handling of ethylene oxide emissions—and all of our elected officials to hold the EPA accountable and to address the many EJ issues our community members face.