CPLC: 2022 highlights

  • Dulce Ortiz in video clip
  • Dulce Ortiz at podium in Waukegan City Hall
  • CPLC interns in Facebook post
  • Eddie Flores poses with environmental coloring book.
  • Fire and smoke from explosion in a middle of a cityy

WE DID IT! In 2022, after working together as a community for more than 10 years, we shut down the last two coal-burning units at the Waukegan Generating Station’s Lake Michigan site.

The coal plant’s closure definitely stands out as the biggest milestone of the year for Clean Power Lake County (CPLC). Yet it is just one of several moments in 2022 worth noting.

January

January 11: State Rep. Rita Mayfield and State Sen. Adriane Johnson introduced legislation (House Bill 4358/Senate Bill 3073) requiring removal of all coal ash from the Waukegan Generating Station site. The toxic waste has contaminated groundwater at the Lake Michigan site for more than 10 years.

February

February 18: CPLC supporters met virtually with state legislators to lobby for bills addressing environmental injustices in the issuance of permits, requiring removal of all coal ash from the Waukegan Generating Station site, and more.

February 25: The Illinois Senate passed a bill requiring removal of all coal ash from the Waukegan Generating Station site. If enacted, it would safeguard Lake Michigan, the main source of drinking water for nearly 6 million people.

April

April 7: Despite widespread community support and Illinois Senate approval, a bill requiring removal of all coal ash from the Waukegan Generating Station site did not advance in the Illinois House during the last week of the spring legislative session.

April 27: ComEd filed new rates with the Illinois Commerce Commission to give direct credits of more than $1 billion to customers—a result of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA).

June

June 1: NRG shut down the last two coal-burning units at the Waukegan Generating Station. Huge win for our community! Closing the lakefront coal plant has been CPLC’s top priority for almost 10 years.

June 9: WBEZ-Chicago and WGN-TV highlighted serious concerns about hazardous coal ash waste left behind at the newly closed Waukegan Generating Station. CPLC co-chair Dulce Ortiz, Sierra Club’s Christine Nannicelli, State Rep. Rita Mayfield, and Waukegan Mayor Ann Taylor were interviewed.

June 13: CPLC celebrated the delivery of the first of six battery-electric Pace buses slated for Waukegan. The transit agency decided to make the North Division in Waukegan its first Zero Emission Facility in response to a strong campaign led by CPLC Steering Committee member Leah Hartung.

June 27: Citing newly identified flood risks at the Waukegan power plant, CPLC co-chair Dulce Ortiz demanded NRG be held accountable for cleaning up toxic coal ash at the site as soon as possible. Joining the call for action were Waukegan Mayor Ann Taylor, State Rep. Rita Mayfield, State Sen. Adriane Johnson, and Congressman Brad Schneider.

July

July 28: CPLC offered a fond farewell to Summer 2022 interns: Waukegan native Michelle Aguilar, a government and politics major at Scripps College in Claremont, California; and Maddie Young, an environmental studies major at American University in Washington, D.C.

August

August 16: President Joe Biden signed a sweeping $750 billion health care, tax, and climate bill into law. Thanks to the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA), Illinois is in a strong position to use the historic climate funding included in the Inflation Reduction Act.

August 20: CPLC co-chair Eddie Flores signed copies of Eddie’s Environmental Justice Journey during a downtown Waukegan event. The bilingual coloring book was a collaborative effort by Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods, CPLC, and local artist Diana Nava.

August 25: Earthjustice—on behalf of CPLC and other groups—sued the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for exempting 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.

September

September 15: One year after the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) was signed, the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition saluted volunteers across Illinois—including CPLC supporters—who fought like the planet depended on it (it does) for a #FossilFreeIL.

September 2628: CPLC Steering Committee member Celeste Flores urged the US EPA to require chemical facilities to prepare for climate change by implementing safer chemicals and processes. Our message during the virtual hearing: Voluntary measures aren’t enough to prevent chemical disasters.

November

November 4: A project to monitor ethylene oxide (EtO) in Lake County will receive a US EPA grant funded by President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. “ Testing is a good start,” said CPLC Steering Committee member Celeste Flores in a Lake County News-Sun article.

December

December 14: Earthjustice—on behalf of CPLC and other groups—sued the US EPA for failing to take legally required action to protect the public from carcinogenic air emissions from ethylene oxide (EtO) sterilization facilities.

2023 vision 

Now that pandemic lockdowns are behind us (forever, we hope!), we are excited about the opportunity to work with you in person once again!

Priorities for 2023: 

  • Ensuring all coal ash is removed from the Waukegan Generating Station site. It should not be allowed to contaminate Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for 6 million people in four states.
  • Working to ensure workforce training programs under the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) increase access for marginalized communities and include community-driven approaches that lead to jobs, capital to complete projects, and more.
  • Supporting federal action to protect our community from emissions of ethylene oxide and other harmful chemicals.

To support CPLC’s work, please make a gift today.

CPLC, allies sue EPA for exempting half a billion tons of toxic coal ash from health protections

US Environmental Protection Agency building
The US Environmental Protection Agency faces a lawsuit for exempting 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. [Image: Skyhobo-Canva]

Clean Power Lake County and other environmental, civil rights, and community groups today filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in federal court for letting hundreds of toxic coal ash landfills off the hook from complying with important federal health and environmental protections.

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.

On August 1, more than 100 organizations in dozens of states and Puerto Rico wrote to the EPA urging them to stop exempting these abandoned landfills filled with coal ash (which is also known as “coal combustion residuals” or “CCR”).

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.”

Additional resources
Related case documents and news

CPLC: 2021 highlights

  • Clipping of Chicago Tribune front page
  • Volunteers in Zoom room
  • Volunteers with rainbow "Love Wins" sign
  • Youths with signs at Illinois statehouse
  • Volunteers with trash bags at park
  • Youths at desk in CPLC office
  • Governor Pritzker at Chicago lakefront
  • Dulce Ortiz of Clean Power Lake County
  • CPLC leaders at Chicago lakefront
  • Man with award at Brushwood Center
  • Dulce Ortiz on beach by coal plant

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

  • 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

  • April 15: The Illinois Pollution Control Board adopted rules for closing more than 70 coal ash ponds across the state—including two on Waukegan’s lakefront. CPLC members worked hard to make this happen!
  • 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.

May

  • May 17: “Transparency is key,” said CPLC co-chair Celeste Flores in a Chicago Tribune front-page story about Medline’s failure to report toxic ethylene oxide emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • May 24: CPLC organized one of several phone banking events supporting the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA).

June

  • June 2: CPLC participated in the Waukegan Pride Drive for the second consecutive year to help celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month. 
  • June 14: CPLC and allies told the Chicago Tribune that toxic waste left behind by coal-fired power plants could endanger drinking water for years to come.
  • June 15: CPLC volunteers journeyed to Springfield to advocate for passage of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s comprehensive, equitable climate bill.
  • June 17: NRG announced plans to close the coal-fired power plant in Waukegan. “Hundreds of volunteers, thousands of hours, helped make this day a reality,” said CPLC co-chair Dulce Ortiz. 

July

August 

  • August 2: Big win! After meeting with CPLC, the Environmental Protection Agency decided to revise rules for how coal-fired power plants—including the one in Waukegan—can dispose of contaminated wastewater.
  • August 7: CPLC partnered with Illinois Sen. Adrianne Johnson to organize a clean-up at North Chicago’s Foss Park. 

September 

October

  • October 2: CPLC steering committee member Eddie Flores received the Environmental Youth Leadership Award from Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods. 

December 

  • December 5: CPLC’s fight for clean air, clean water, and healthy soil in Waukegan was the subject of the front-page story in the Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune. CPLC co-chair Dulce Ortiz and steering committee members Eddie Flores and Karen Long MacLeod were interviewed.
  • 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.  

2022 vision 

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).

CPLC: New Illinois Law Will Help Build Equitable Clean Energy Future

Governor Pritzker at Chicago lakefront
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the historic Climate and Equitable Jobs Act. [Photo courtesy of Celeste Flores]

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.

Dulce Ortiz of Clean Power Lake County

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.

—Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County

CPLC Co-chair Joins Illinois EJ Commission

Dulce Ortiz of Clean Power Lake County in a video clip
Dulce Ortiz, seen here in a 2020 video stressing the urgency of passing CEJA.

Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County, recently was appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to Illinois’ Commission on Environmental Justice. She will serve through September 2022.

Ortiz currently is one of three commissioners who stand for communities concerned with environmental justice. She is the only voting member from Lake County.

The EJ Commission advises state entities and the Governor on environmental justice and related community issues. Members analyze current state laws and policies for their impact on the issue of environmental justice and sustainable communities. They also prioritize areas of the state that need immediate attention.

Voting members include 10 representatives of various state agencies and 14 members of the public.

Gubernatorial appointees include residents of EJ communities, experts on environmental health and environmental justice, and representatives of business, labor, and environmental organizations.

Ortiz has been a leading voice for clean air, clean water, and healthy soil for every Lake County community member—especially those disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution—since 2013.

CPLC: 2020 Highlights

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After the year we just had, the term “2020 vision” will never sound quite the same. 

2020 brought more than its share of tragedies and challenges, yet Clean Power Lake County (CPLC) had moments worth celebrating. We’re excited to share some of these moments with you because they highlight the many ways our supporters continue to show up to fight for environmental justice in Lake County. 

January 

  • January 6: CPLC joined Illinois Communities for Coal Ash Cleanup to comment on the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s draft rules for coal ash impoundments. 
  • January 6: The Waukegan City Council passed a resolution to support Illinois’ Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). The resolution recognized that environmental risks and burdens fall disproportionately on communities of color—and that these burdens cumulatively contribute to climate change. CPLC supports CEJA as a solution to both environmental racism and climate change at the local level.
  • January 14: CPLC co-chair Celeste Flores traveled to Texas for EPA public hearings on the proposed Miscellaneous Organic Chemical Manufacturing rule. The proposed rule included regulations on ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions. Representatives of environmental justice organizations from across the nation attended the hearings. 
  • January 20: CPLC co-chair and Mano a Mano Executive Director Dulce Ortiz received a Drum Major Award from Waukegan Township. Announced on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the awards recognize people who stand up for human rights and civil rights in their personal and professional lives.
  • January 21: CPLC joined other members of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition (ICJC) at a press conference to demand that legislators block Trump-backed fossil fuel bailouts. ICJC said the bailouts exacerbate climate change, pollution, and energy inequity.
  • January 21: The public finally learned that Medline Industries in Waukegan had initiated a temporary shutdown of EtO operations on December 13.
  • January 27: CPLC helped deliver 38,000 petitions from Illinois residents urging Gov. J.B. Pritzker to pass CEJA. Colin Byers of Waukegan spoke on our behalf. He was accompanied by Steering Committee members Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts, Eddie Sandoval, and Celeste Flores.
  • January 29: Gov. J.B. Pritzker mentioned clean energy as a priority during his State of the State address. (Let’s continue to urge the governor to act on this priority in 2021; see actions at the end of this post.)

February

  • February 4: Co-chair Celeste Flores attended the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., as a guest of Sen. Tammy Duckworth to help shine a light on environmental justice and “raise awareness of the fact that these communities face public health challenges at alarming rates while too many in power look the other way.”
  • February 18: CPLC signed a joint organization letter calling on the EPA to reduce EtO and other emissions from chemical plants to decrease the risk of cancer.
  • February 21: Co-chair Dulce Ortiz spoke at an Illinois House Public Utilities Committee hearing, urging legislators to protect communities against the harmful impacts of continued fossil fuel bailouts by passing CEJA and growing an equitable clean energy economy.

March

April  

May

August

  • August 11: CPLC joined national environmental justice organizations in sending a letter to the EPA opposing attempts to undermine the independent scientific standard for EtO.
  • August 12-13: Ten CPLC volunteers delivered public comments at the first of two sets of coal ash hearings hosted by the Illinois Pollution Control Board. 

September

October

  • October 7: Anticipating that CEJA might come up for a vote during the scheduled veto session, CPLC partnered with ICJC to create a video with our perspective on the need for CJEA.  Although the veto session was cancelled, the video remains a strategic tool to help move legislators during the next session.
  • October 31: As of this date, 1,712 people had signed a joint Sierra Club/Faith in Place/Eco-Justice Collaborative/CARE petition calling for strong coal ash rules. More than 310 petitions contained personalized messages.

November

December

Last, but not least

  • CPLC, partnering with the Illinois Environmental Council Education Fund, launched the “Support CPLC” fundraising campaign. Proceeds will help us ramp up public work to transition northeastern Lake County toward a clean, sustainable future and to fight environmental injustice in our community. As of today, we are more than halfway toward our $30K goal. To support CPLC, please make a gift here.

2021 vision

We predict that CEJA will pass in 2021—with your help! So we must tell our elected officials to pass CEJA now!

We have much justice work to do this year. Despite 2021’s disturbing start, we look forward to continuing this work, together, to create a more livable, more just world.  

CPLC Members to Lawmakers: Pass CEJA Now

Clean Power Lake County activists urge Illinois lawmakers to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act in 2020.
Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County, and other Waukegan activists urge Illinois lawmakers to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act in 2020.

Storms are becoming more intense. Sea levels are rising. Disastrous wildfires are destroying record acreage (2.5 million this year) and impairing air quality over multistate regions. Climate change and COVID-19 are causing unprecedented public health and economic crises. There is no time to wait for cleaner, healthier, more affordable energy.

And we don’t have to wait. The Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) will create thousands of jobs in Illinois’ growing clean energy industry—without raising taxes or hiking utility rates. No wonder 82% of Illinois voters support CEJA, according to a May 2020 poll released by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition. 

The thing is, Illinois lawmakers have yet to pass CEJA. So Dulce Ortiz, David Villalobos, and Eduardo Flores of Clean Power Lake County want to know: What is Gov. J.B. Pritzker waiting for?

CEJA will:

  • Put jobs and equity at the center of a clean energy future, creating well-paying jobs in the communities where they are needed the most
  • Guarantee cost savings on electricity bills for consumers through capacity market reform
  • Put Illinois on a path to 100% renewable energy by 2050 by taking advantage of the falling cost of wind and solar power and focusing on energy efficiency
  • Provide a just transition for fossil fuel workers and communities
  • Reduce air and water pollution from the fossil fuel industry

As we approach the final legislative session of 2020, will you stand for clean energy, clean air, and clean water? Tell lawmakers that CEJA must take precedence in the November veto session: Sign our “Pass CEJA” petition today.

 

CPLC Celebrates as Governor Signs Milestone Coal Ash Cleanup Bill Into Law

The NRG Energy coal-fired power plant on Waukegan’s lakefront has two unlined coal ash ponds. [Lisa Long/CPLC photo.]
For years, Clean Power Lake County has called for state action on toxic pollution from two unlined coal ash ponds at the NRG Energy coal-fired power plant on Waukegan’s lakefront. On July 30, 2019, our calls were answered as Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed SB9, the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, into law.

The most significant step to protect clean water in years, the new law will result in stronger rules for coal ash cleanup, fund cleanup programs, and require companies to set aside money to close and clean up coal ash ponds.

“This is a great win for coal ash communities, especially for Waukegan residents that have been continuously affected by corporate polluters,” said Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County.

“The governor is putting the State of Illinois in a good trajectory in signing SB9 into law, by sending a message that environmental justice communities across the state are being put before profitable industrial polluters like NRG Energy. Waukegan residents commend Gov. Pritzker and our state legislators for making SB9 into law. Our land is our children’s future and we look forward to the State of Illinois continuing to strengthen protections for our vulnerable environmental justice communities,” she added.

The Lake County News-Sun published a nice summary of the law’s potential impact on Waukegan.

The groundbreaking bill addresses the many waste pits filled with coal ash, the toxic byproduct of burning coal, located all over the state:

  • Creates a regulatory framework to ensure polluters, not taxpayers, pay for needed closure and cleanup.
  • Guarantees public participation and transparency around cleanups for affected communities.
  • Provides the Illinois EPA the funds it needs to properly oversee closure and cleanup.
  • Requires Illinois to put in place standards for coal ash impoundments that are at least as protective as federal coal ash rule requirements, with additional protections against dust and water pollution.

Now the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) will begin writing and proposing draft rules. The Illinois Pollution Control Board will finalize the IEPA rules.

Read about the requirements for the new coal ash regulations.

“Illinois joins other states that are putting residents’ health before industrial polluters’ profit. We look forward to working with IEPA to engage communities most affected by coal ash in the rulemaking process,” said Celeste Flores, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County and Lake County Outreach Director for Faith in Place.

Once again, we thank the many Lake County elected officials who supported this important legislation: State Senators Melinda Bush, Terry Link, and Julie Morrison; and State Representatives Rita Mayfield, Joyce Mason, Dan Didech, Mary Edly-Allen, Bob Morgan, and Sam Yingling.

 

CPLC Celebrates Passage of Landmark Legislation to Clean Up Coal Ash

Coal ash pollution seeps into the Vermilion River in central Illinois. [Prairie Rivers Network photo]

Clean Power Lake County joined a dozen statewide and regional partner organizations on May 28, 2019, in celebrating the passage of SB9, The Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, by the Illinois Legislature. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. J.B. Pritzker for signature.

The groundbreaking bill addresses the many waste pits filled with coal ash, the toxic byproduct of burning coal, located all over the state:

  • Creates a regulatory framework to ensure polluters, not taxpayers, pay for needed closure and cleanup.
  • Guarantees public participation and transparency around cleanups for affected communities.
  • Provides the Illinois EPA the funds it needs to properly oversee closure and cleanup.
  • Requires Illinois to put in place standards for coal ash impoundments that are at least as protective as federal coal ash rule requirements, with additional protections against dust and water pollution.

Illinois — which has the highest concentration of coal ash impoundments in the country — now is the third state in the country to pass legislation providing significant coal ash protections above and beyond federal requirements. Virginia and North Carolina also are addressing coal ash through state-level legislation.

The NRG Energy coal-fired power plant on Waukegan’s lakefront has two unlined coal ash ash ponds.

“The passage of SB9 out of the general assembly is a historic step forward for environmental justice communities across the state, like Waukegan,” said Dulce Ortiz, co-leader of Clean Power Lake County. “Environmental justice communities still have a long fight to assure community members have the basic human right of breathing clean air and drinking clean water. We call on Gov. Pritzker to prioritize the voices of a community like Waukegan and protect them from polluters like NRG Energy.”

“The passage of SB9 is a historical win for environmental justice communities throughout our state,” said Celeste Flores, with the Faith In Place Action Fund and co-leader of Clean Power Lake County. “People of faith across Illinois applaud the leadership of our elected leaders in the Senate and House for taking action on coal ash contamination of our land and water and implore the general assembly to continue to hold polluters accountable for injustice, oppression, and environmental degradation.”

The Illinois EPA has found groundwater contamination from coal ash waste sites dating back to 2009. A 2018 report from environmental groups Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Prairie Rivers Network and Sierra Club analyzing data collected by ash dump owners under the federal coal ash rule found that 22 of 24 of Illinois’ reporting coal ash dump sites have unsafe levels of toxic pollutants in the groundwater.

We thank the many Lake County elected officials who supported this important legislation: State Senators Melinda Bush, Terry Link, and Julie Morrison; and State Representatives Rita Mayfield, Joyce Mason, Dan Didech, Mary Edly-Allen, Bob Morgan, and Sam Yingling.

We also thank everyone who signed petitions, made phone calls, and visited your elected officials. We are stronger together.

Clean Energy Jobs Act: Transformative Legislation

Dulce Ortiz at Clean Energy Day Rally, May 9, 2019.
Dulce Ortiz calls CEJA one of the most transformative pieces of state legislation in the country. [Karen Long MacLeod/CPLC photo]
 

Illinois’ Clean Energy Jobs Act (HB 3624/SB 2132) is one of the most transformative pieces of state legislation in the country.

Dulce Ortiz, co-leader of Clean Power Lake County, speaking at a May 9, 2019, rally for clean energy at the Illinois State Capitol, explains why:

It is amazing to see so many people from communities across Illinois here with us as we rally for the future we all deserve.

We are united by an unwavering commitment for Illinois to lead in addressing climate change. We are united by our commitment to power Illinois with 100% clean energy. We are united by our commitment to create quality careers in the clean energy economy and accessible to all communities — especially those left out of other sectors of our economy. And we are united by our commitment to transition beyond dirty fuels and to make sure that communities who carry the greatest burden of pollution and impacts from climate change are prioritized in this transition to 100% clean energy.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) is how we will get there.

Last year, the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition conducted its “Listen. Lead. Share.” campaign, which included more than 60 community-based conversations on energy policy across the state.

We listened, and the input we received from those conversations formed the foundation of CEJA, one of the most transformative pieces of state legislation in the country.

CEJA is built on a vision for a clean energy future for Illinois based on what communities across the state need and want:

  • A 100% clean energy economy by 2050 with quality jobs and new economic opportunities
  • A just transition beyond fossil fuels by 2030 so communities from Waukegan to Carbondale can have healthier and more prosperous futures for their children
  • More consumer savings as we double down on energy efficiency programs
  • Greater access to cleaner transportation and electric vehicles

This bill is about so much more than repowering Illinois with 100 percent clean energy. It’s also about transforming who holds the power in Illinois and building a sustainable economy that works for everyone — not just utilities and out-of-state energy companies.

That means that every part of the state — especially those communities that too often have been left behind — have access to the jobs and investments in the green economy.

CEJA works to build a sustainable energy economy that is no longer building generational wealth on the backs of underrepresented and environmental justice communities. Even when it may be politically challenging, we’re called to stand shoulder to shoulder with our black and brown sisters and brothers and our working class white brothers and sisters in Central and Southern Illinois to ensure this transition to 100% is just, helping to repair the legacies of pollution and divestment and deliver on the economic promise of clean energy.