CPLC Environmental Justice Rally: Highlights

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Activists representing Waukegan’s immigrant, low-income, and working-class families came together for a rally on June 22, 2019, united in the hope that achieving social and environmental justice will help them build a healthier, more sustainable community.

Here are some highlights from speeches given at the rally.

Edgar Sandoval: Environmental justice

Environmental justice is a movement that seeks to broaden the social assumptions we have about what the environment is and who can be an environmentalist. Historically, mainstream environmental groups have framed the environment as something that existed over there, in nature preserves and national parks. Many people who do environmental justice work have reframed the environment to consider three arenas: where we live, where we work, and where we play.

Championed primarily by African Americans, Latinxs, Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans, the environmental justice movement addresses a statistical fact: People who live, work and play in the US’s most polluted environments are commonly people of color, immigrants, and living in impoverished conditions. Environmental justice advocates have shown that this is no accident. Communities of color, which are often poor, are routinely targeted to host facilities that have negative environmental impacts—say, a landfill, a dirty industrial plant or a truck depot. The statistics provide clear evidence of what the movement rightly calls environmental racism.

Environmental justice is about environmental racism. To address one requires addressing the other. Race is the commonsense ideology that explains difference based on biology. Racism is the exercise of unequal power relations on the basis of racial ideologies. In other words, racism is about power.

The US EPA is addressing five sites in the city of Waukegan through its Superfund program, which allows the EPA to clean up contaminated sites and forces parties responsible for the contamination to either perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup work. Three sites are listed on the National Priorities List: Johns-Manville Corp. (a former asbestos manufacturing plant that operated from the 1920s to the 1980s) and Outboard Marine Corp.—both of which are along Waukegan’s lakefront—and Yeoman Creek Landfill. The other two sites—North Shore Gas North and South plants—are being addressed under EPA’s Superfund Alternative Sites program.

These various hazards indicate that the residents of Waukegan experience cumulative exposure to a range of toxins, which means that the effects of this accumulation of chemicals is not additive but exponential. This means that the harmful effects (feeling sick, for example) of one chemical are made a lot worse by the introduction of other chemicals into your body.

Andrew Rehn: Coal ash

I work for Prairie Rivers Network, a nonprofit based in Champaign that works to protect water, heal land, and inspire change in Illinois. Some of you may be familiar with coal ash. It’s the byproduct of burning coal. Coal itself has trace elements of toxic heavy metals, and those trace elements end up getting concentrated in the coal ash, which is then stored in large holding ponds.

At the Waukegan power plant just a few miles from here, coal ash has been produced for decades over the operation and is stored in two huge ponds. Worse, coal ash has also been historically dumped across the site in unmarked areas.

Last year, a report we released in partnership with the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and Sierra Club showed that 22 of the 24 coal-fired power plants that we examined had groundwater above health-based thresholds.

The Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, Senate Bill 9, will force polluters to prove that they have the money to pay for cleaning up coal ash by requiring financial assurances. It funds the Illinois EPA to regulate coal ash with fees from polluters. It ensures that the public has a voice in the coal ash pond closure process. And it prioritizes environmental justice communities for cleanup.

We also won a major lawsuit, which began in 2012, that will hold NRG Energy’s subsidiary liable for the pollution at four of their coal-fired power plants, including Waukegan.

We’ve had a lot of good news, but there’s still more work to be done. Our coal ash bill is going to be drafted into rules—and the devil is in the details. We’re going to need continued grassroots support to ensure our bill becomes a good rule. And the lawsuit itself isn’t over—legal matters are never that simple. NRG’s subsidiary is found liable for their pollution. The next legal battle is remedy. We’re going to work to ensure that the coal ash is removed and stored in a safe location. I’m hopeful that we’re on the right track to solving coal ash in Illinois

Guadalupe Bueno: Coal ash

Canoeing with other Eco-Ambassadors last summer, we saw coal ash leaching into the beautiful Vermilion River, visibly discoloring the water and staining the sandstone.

In Vermilion, the coal-fired generating station was retired in 2011. The company fulfilled the minimum requirements for capping the three coal ash ponds, which are located feet from the river itself. Within five years, those ponds began leaching into the river, poisoning a scenic waterway that supports fish, animals, and farms as it flows into the Illinois River.

Seeing the Vermilion river made me realize that this could occur in Waukegan, as well. The NRG plant is located on the shore of Lake Michigan, which supplies our drinking water.

Daniela Lopez: Ethylene oxide

The most recent threats of breathing ethylene oxide (EtO) are the most recent example of environmental injustices being played out not only in our state but across the nation.

When EtO was identified as a concern in Willowbrook (Sterigenics)—a 77 percent white suburb with an average per capita income of more than $71,000 a year—US EPA officials met with residents almost immediately. They began monitoring air three months later and put a seal the plant three months after that.

In Waukegan (Medline Industries)—where the neighborhoods most affected are only 25 percent white and have a per capita income of about $14,000—residents learned about the dangerous chemical in the air from a newspaper article in November when our elected officials were informed of the elevated levels in August. Residents are still waiting for the US EPA and the Illinois EPA to act.

If you have been following these government agencies, you know that we have received the ambient air testing results for the first phase of testing. Unfortunately the results confirmed our suspicions that the levels of EtO are on par with those found around the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook, and at the highest 500 times higher than the EPA’s actionable limit for EtO (50,000 higher than the levels linked to an increase in rates of cancer). This is also the location closest to Alice’s Discovery Academy, a daycare center for children 6 weeks to 12 years old, and the Landings at Amhurst Lake, a large apartment complex.

Celeste Flores: Clean Energy Jobs Act

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition is working to expand on the success of the Future Energy Jobs Act, advocating for more urgent active at the state level.

Our partner, Faith In Place Action Fund, is working to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act. This legislation would make Illinois a national clean energy leader by bringing the state to 100% renewable energy, a carbon-free grid by 2030, and a significantly cleaner transportation sector, creating jobs and economic opportunity throughout Illinois.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act also would:

  • Generate more than $30 billion in new infrastructure and thousands of jobs in the state.
  • Create an equitable distribution of economic benefits for communities that stand to gain the most through Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs and Clean Energy Empowerment Zones.
  • Increase investments and incentives for clean transportation and electric vehicle charging.
  • Grant more residents access to popular cost-saving community solar programs

The Clean Energy Jobs Act will ensure an equitable energy transition that benefits all of Illinois and doesn’t leave communities like Waukegan behind.

Advertisements

CPLC Helps Raise $5,200+ for Puerto Rico Hurricane Victims

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.”

In Lake County, 17 public officials have joined Lawlor in signing the bipartisan Lake County Climate Action Pledge.

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.

The Lake County News-Sun published a nice recap of the December 6 benefit.

Launching the Lake County Climate Action Pledge

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At a time when the federal government has abdicated its role in climate leadership, public officials and residents across the country are stepping forward to take local action against the climate crisis.

Leading the way in Lake County, Illinois, is Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor. He recently launched an initiative in partnership with the Sierra Club to encourage local community leaders and public officials to deliver local, bipartisan action on the climate crisis.

“With vision and determination, Lake County can move beyond coal, toward a 100% clean energy future, and invest in fiscally and environmentally sustainable infrastructure. Climate action isn’t just an issue for our president to fail on or Congressional leaders to ignore. Climate action needs local leaders to step up and lead us forward, and it’s going to start right here in Lake County!” Lawlor said.

Lawlor announced the initiative, the Lake County Climate Action Pledge, before a crowd of 175 Lake County residents and public officials who gathered at the Waukegan lakefront for the 4th Annual Clean Power Lake County Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup.

The new initiative consists of three pillars:

  • Move Lake County beyond coal
  • Adopt ambitious clean energy goals
  • Build climate-resilient infrastructure

The solutions to these issues are related to solutions to serious social issues, said Dulce Ortiz, a Waukegan resident who spoke at the rally on behalf of the Sierra Club.

“We sit at an unprecedented and, frankly, dark moment in our country’s history that has to be spoken to—when the President refuses to denounce racism and white supremacy, when immigrant communities and Muslims are under attack, when the head of the EPA is a climate denier and is actively rolling back critical environmental policies, leaving us to protect our own communities,” Ortiz said. “These are not separate issues: They are absolutely interconnected and so, too, are their solutions. We are called to new levels of courage to speak out on these threats to our community and environment and to take decisive action at the local level in partnership with one another.”

Eight public officials have already joined Lawlor in taking the Lake County Climate Action Pledge:

  • Lake County Board Members Vance Wyatt, Diane Hewitt, Judy Martini, Mary Ross Cunningham, Sandy Hart, and Ann Maine
  • State Senator Melinda Bush
  • State Representative Sam Yingling

Both the Lake County News-Sun and Daily Herald published good recaps of the August 26 rally.

Waukegan Beach Rally Focuses on Need for Countywide Transition to Clean Energy

More than 100 people who live near Waukegan’s coal-fired power say they are “Moving Toward a #CleanWaukegan” during Clean Power Lake County’s Annual Beach Cleanup. [Photo by Dylan Blake]
At time when the federal government has abdicated its role in climate leadership, Lake County residents who support local action against the climate crisis will gather at the Waukegan lakefront on Saturday, August 26, for the 4th Annual Clean Power Lake County (CPLC) Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup. We will join elected officials in focusing on the need to transition Lake County beyond coal in order to create new jobs in the clean energy economy and make sure Lake County’s communities are healthy for decades to come.

In July, Mayor Sam Cunningham and the Waukegan City Council responded to the climate crisis by passing a resolution committing the City of Waukegan to uphold the carbon reduction goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Waukegan is the only Illinois city with an operating coal plant to sign on to the agreement. The Waukegan coal plant, owned by New Jersey-based NRG Energy, is the largest point source of carbon dioxide emissions in Lake County, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The coal plant also is a major source of water pollution, discharging more than 8 million gallons of tainted water, including coal ash wastewater, every day directly into Lake Michigan, according to Dulce Ortiz, co-leader of Clean Power Lake County, a grassroots campaign supported by community, faith, health, and environmental groups.

Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor will be the keynote speaker at the lakefront rally. The Republican official, recognized in 2014 as one of six rising stars in Illinois politics, has worked tirelessly to promote economic development and investments in transportation infrastructure. In December, at an event promoting a national documentary that featured Waukegan as a symbol of the debate over our country’s energy future, Lawlor said that redevelopment of the Waukegan harbor cannot happen with a coal-burning power plant on the lakefront.

Also speaking at the rally will be Angelina Jose, a Waukegan High School graduate who now attends Northwestern University. As an organizing fellow with Clean Power Lake County, Jose has spent the summer helping community members understand how Waukegan can become a leader in sustainability by saying “yes” to clean energy, sustainable economic development, and local job creation.

Event Summary
What: Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup
Where: Waukegan Municipal Beach, 201 E. Seahorse Drive, Waukegan, IL
When:  Saturday, August 26, 2017, 10 a.m.

The Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup is organized by Clean Power Lake County.

 

Clean Power Lake County Campaign Is Showcased in One Earth Film Festival

Clean Power Lake County activists and campaign supporters appear in “Years of Living Dangerously: Uprising," one of five environment-themed films to be screened in Lake County as part of the One Earth Film Festival.

Several Clean Power Lake County activists appear in one of five environment-themed films to be screened in Lake County as part of the One Earth Film Festival, March 4-11.

Dulce Ortiz, Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts, Sister Kathleen Long, Karen Long MacLeod, Julio Guzman, Celeste Flores, and Christine Nannicelli appear along with hundreds of campaign supporters in “Years of Living Dangerously: Uprising.” The documentary will be shown at 5 p.m. on March 5 at Christ Episcopal Church in Waukegan.

In the documentary, actress America Ferrera follows Clean Power Lake County activists as, over the course of nearly a year, they collect and deliver petitions to the Waukegan City Council, journey to Springfield to advocate for clean energy policy that can provide green jobs, and appeal directly to NRG Energy to work with the community to transition its Waukegan power plant beyond coal.

Audience members will have the chance to meet local activists featured in the film, learn what Clean Power Lake County is doing to move Waukegan beyond coal, and talk with local leaders about how community members can work together to revitalize the Waukegan lakefront.

Here’s the line-up of Lake County showings:

The Lake County showings are free and open to the public. A $6 donation per film is appreciated. For more information, movie trailers and tickets, go to www.oneearthfilmfest.org/films-by-date.

The Lake County screenings are part of the Midwest’s premier environmental film festival. Local sponsors are Citizens Climate Lobby, Clean Power Lake County, College of Lake County, Faith in Place, Liberty Prairie Foundation, Prairie Crossing Charter School, Sierra Club: Woods & Wetlands Group, and Wild Ones: Lake to Prairie Chapter.

Our Story Brought an Emmy Award-Winning National Geographic Series to Waukegan

On December 4, 2016, you can hear the story that brought an Emmy Award-winning National Geographic series to Waukegan. [National Geographic/Years of Living Dangerously photo ]
[National Geographic/Years of Living Dangerously photo ]
In Years of Living Dangerously, some of Hollywood’s most influential stars reveal emotional and hard-hitting accounts of the effects of climate change around the planet. Now the Emmy-winning series is focusing national attention on the fight to bring clean energy solutions to Waukegan.

Years of Living Dangerously will feature actress America Ferrera along with members of the Clean Power Lake County campaign in an episode airing December 14 (10/9c) on the National Geographic channel. (Don’t have cable? The episodes will be available on Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, and NatGeo’s TV Everywhere app after midnight EST the next day.)

Ferrera, a project correspondent with the documentary series, met with Clean Power Lake County volunteers earlier this year to learn what we are doing to create a healthier, more livable community.

Clean Power Lake County will host a special Years of Living Dangerously  preview event on December 4. Guests will have the chance to meet local activists featured in the upcoming episode, learn what Clean Power Lake County is doing to move Waukegan beyond coal, and talk with local leaders about how community members can work together to revitalize the Waukegan lakefront.

Event Summary
What: Sneak Peek: National Geographic Spotlights Clean Power Lake County
Where: Greenbelt Cultural Center, 1215 Green Bay Road, North Chicago, Illinois 60064
When: Sunday, December 4, 2016, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
RSVP: sc.org/CleanPowerLCSpotlight
Questions: Celeste Flores, celeste.flores@sierraclub.org, 502-395-8683

 

Advocating Big Ideas for 2050

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Preventing urban sprawl, controlling carbon emissions, and protecting water supplies are among the top challenges facing Chicago regional planners, according to Lake County residents attending a June 29, 2016, workshop about the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) ON TO 2050 plan.

Approximately 50 members of the Clean Power Lake County Campaign, Livable Lake County, and other community groups participated in the recent workshop in Waukegan, Illinois. The workshop was organized by the League of Women Voters of Lake County.

The workshop touched on land use, water, open space, sustainability, community development, transportation, and other growth-oriented topics.

Here are some of the “2050 big ideas” that Waukegan workshop participants offered to address looming challenges:

  • Recognize that environmental opportunities are economic opportunities—especially when overlaid with equity considerations.
  • Adopt policies and regulations that foster sustainable transportation, clean energy, and recycling, to mitigate climate change.
  • Promote creative ways to reduce carbon emissions, including improved transportation planning.
  • Make mature cities more attractive and livable, with high-density cores, to limit urban sprawl.
  • Encourage new types of in-fill development to limit sprawl and the need to invest in new infrastructure.
  • Decommission the Route 53 corridor to preserve open space, clean air, and livability.
  • Connect public transit to jobs, especially for people who work second and third shifts.
  • Create corporate-sponsored van pools to job-heavy areas like business parks.
  • Promote express busses.
  • Coordinate brownfield solar redevelopment.
  • Consolidate overlapping governmental units.
  • Ensure that elected officials reflect the make-up of their communities

CMAP will continue to collect input about the ON TO 2050 draft snapshot through August 15, 2016.