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 Call for Stronger Coal Ash Rules

It is part of Clean Power Lake County’s DNA to support state action on toxic coal ash ponds.  So when the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) held its August hearing on proposed rules for the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, we were there to call for stronger rules. 

Why was that important? Because the groundbreaking Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act provided an important framework for addressing toxic coal ash waste (see CPLC Celebrates as Governor Signs Milestone Coal Ash Cleanup Bill Into Law) and a rulemaking process. However, it did not establish enforcement standards. Instead, it tasked the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) with drafting the actual rules for enforcing the law. 

The August hearing was IEPA’s first opportunity to testify in defense of its proposed rules. It also was the first time that industry representatives, environmental groups, and other public stakeholders could ask IEPA about the proposed rules.

Several Clean Power Lake County members—including folks who participated in IEPA coal ash listening sessions in Waukegan last September—made virtual statements during the public comment periods of the August hearing. 

Mary Mathews represents the League of Women Voters of Lake County, a coalition member of Clean Power Lake County. Mathews demanded strict measures for coal ash: “In order to protect the groundwater’s chemical integrity, rules for cleanup and closure of coal ash sites must provide permanent protection from coal ash pollution.”

She also stressed the importance of public participation in the decision-making process: “The public has the right to know about pollution levels, dangers to health and environment, and proposed policies and options. Accordingly, the rules should include expanded outreach and require that opportunities, materials, and documents be made available to non-English speaking stakeholders. Additionally, hearings should be held in easily accessible locations, at convenient times, and, when possible, in the area concerned.”

Leah Hartung, an intern for Clean Power Lake County, stressed that improper coal ash management makes drinking water unsafe: “Since groundwater monitoring began in 2010, the groundwater at the Waukegan power plant has been found 400 times to have the contaminants related to coal ash above allowable levels. This is unacceptable. Safe drinking water is a human right, not a privilege.”

When IPCB holds its September 29-October 1 hearing—its second and final hearing on the proposed coal ash rules—Clean Power Lake County members will be there once again. We will stress the importance of adopting the strongest possible rules to protect us and residents of other communities burdened by coal ash pollution. 

Here’s how you can help: Email your comments to Clerk of the Board Don Brown by October 15.

Want background information to use to prepare written comments? Download Coal Ash Rulemaking Document by Prairie Rivers Network and Coal Ash Backgrounder by Earthjustice.

Illinois has the highest concentration of coal ash impoundments in the country.

There are two unlined coal ash ponds at the NRG Energy coal-fired power plant on Waukegan’s lakefront.

CPLC to Host Prep Meeting for IEPA Sessions on Waukegan Coal Plant

Lake County residents line the Lake Michigan shoreline to demand a fossil fuel-free, clean energy future for their communities. [Karen Long MacLeod/CPLC photo]
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will hold two public sessions in Waukegan in October on issues related to the Waukegan coal plant—and we want to be ready!

Please join Clean Power Lake County for an important community information and work meeting on Wednesday, September 25, 7 pm to 8:30 pm, at Whittier Elementary School, 901 N. Lewis Ave., Waukegan, Illinois.

We’ll work on comments for two upcoming IEPA visits to Waukegan:

RSVP now.

For more information, contact CPLC at cleanpowerlc@gmail.com or 224-212-9156.

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.

 

Demanding a Forward-Looking Plan for NRG Coal Plant Site

Clean Power petitioners
Clean Power Lake County coalition members gather in the lobby of Waukegan’s City Hall, ready to deliver 2,082 petitions to public officials. [Photo by Karen Long MacLeod/courtesy of Clean Power Lake County Campaign]
Earlier this month, we proudly delivered 2,082 petitions from Waukegan residents to Mayor Wayne Motley and members of the Waukegan City Council, asking them to convene a task force of key stakeholders to address the future of NRG Energy’s coal-fired power plant on the Waukegan lakefront.

The NRG plant, the largest source of air and water pollution in Lake County, was named one of the nation’s worst environmental justice offenders in a 2012 NAACP report.

We know that the 57-year-old plant endangers the health of people living in Waukegan and other Lake County communities. We believe that the plant also stands in the way of meaningful lakefront revitalization and economic growth in Waukegan.

Representing each of the city’s nine wards, we delivered a powerful message: Residents throughout the city want a transition plan that establishes a retirement date for the plant, provides pathways to new opportunities for workers who aren’t eligible for retirement, provides a site remediation plan, and provides recommendations for site reuse that account for Waukegan’s tax base.

For detailed comments, see Waukegan Residents Deliver 2,082 Petitions to City Council Demanding Forward-Looking Plan for NRG Coal Plant Site.

Five of the nine city council members thanked us for actively reaching out to community members and demonstrating a strong commitment to bettering our city.

Mayor Motley has not yet committed to convening the transition task force, but said he has reached out to NRG Energy about coming to the table to talk.

So far, NRG has said “no.” According to a December 17, 2015, article in the Lake County News-Sun, NRG spokesman David Gaier said the Waukegan Generation Station will continue to function as a coal-burning plant indefinitely.

 

 

Embracing a Vision of a More Beautiful Lakefront

Volunteers pick up trash on Waukegan's beach.
More than 120 people who live near Waukegan’s coal-fired power plant collect bags of trash at Waukegan Municipal Beach during Clean Power Lake County Campaign’s second annual beach cleanup. [Photo by Karen Long MacLeod/Clean Power Lake County Campaign]
As morning showers gave way to afternoon sunshine on August 23, approximately 120 Lake County residents headed to the beach on Waukegan’s beautiful lakefront to rally for clean air, clean water, and clean energy.

First, we swept the beach and the adjoining dunes to take care of the pollution we can control–like litter–as part of our second annual beach cleanup. Then we called for NRG Energy to act to retire its old and dirty coal-fired power plant, which stands less than a mile north of Waukegan’s swimming beach.

Clean Power Lake County volunteers hold "We Are Waukegan" canvas banner
With NRG Energy’s dirty coal-fired power plant in the background, volunteers hold a canvas banner proclaiming why Waukeganites care about clean air and clean water. [Photo by Karen Long MacLeod/Clean Power Lake County Campaign.]
The NRG plant, the largest source of air and water pollution in Lake County, was named one of the nation’s worst environmental justice offenders in a 2012 NAACP report.

“For too long, corporate polluters like NRG Energy have taken advantage of our lakefront and made our families sick,” Maryfran Troha told volunteers as they finished the August 23 cleanup.

Troha, a lifelong Waukegan resident, represents Clean Power Lake County coalition partners Christ Episcopal Church and the League of Women Voters of Lake County.

“I’m sick of it. I’m ready for a clean Waukegan for all of us because we deserve so much better,” Troha said.

Students with clean air and climate action signs
Students participating in the beach cleanup and rally make it clear that they want clean air. [Photo by Karen Long MacLeod/Clean Power Lake County Campaign.]
The most immediate thing we can do to help protect Waukegan’s lakefront is to attend the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Clean Air Act hearing on September 2, 2015. The hearing will focus on the operating permit for NRG’s coal-fired power plant in Waukegan.

RSVP to stand with Clean Power Lake County and Sierra Club to fight for clean air in Waukegan and Lake County!

Event Summary

What: Illinois EPA Hearing on Waukegan Coal Plant
Where: Illinois Beach State Park Resort, 1 Lakefront Drive, Zion, IL 60099 [map]
When: Wednesday, September 2, 2015, 7 p.m. .
RSVP and questions: Alex Morgan

Celebrating President Obama’s Clean Power Plan in Waukegan

CPLC at Waukegan lakefront to celebrate Clean Power Plan.
More than 50 people at Waukegan’s lakefront celebrate the release of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. [Photo courtesy of El Centro Padre Gary Graf.]
More than 50 residents of Waukegan and nearby Lake County communities had good reason to smile on Monday, August 10: We were gathered on the Waukegan lakefront—in the shadow of NRG’s coal-fired power plant—to celebrate the recent release of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, featuring the first national carbon pollution protections.

And then, of course, we had cake.

Clean Power Lake County's celebratory cake in Waukegan on August 10, 2015.
It wouldn’t be a celebration without a cake. Ours read, “Thank you, President Obama, for acting on climate by creating the first-ever federal standards on carbon pollution from power plants! #ActOnClimate”. [Photo courtesy of El Centro Padre Gary Graf.]
 

Now it’s up to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) to craft a statewide plan to comply with the federal plan.

Speaker montage 2_crop
Speakers called on the IEPA to prioritize environmental justice communities like Waukegan and Little Village: (clockwise) Kim Wasserman-Nieto, Jennifer Witherspoon, Alderman David Villalobos of Waukegan, and Yuridia Carbajal. [Photos courtesy of El Centro Padre Gary Graf.]
Illinois State Sen. Melinda Bush in Waukegan on August 10, 2015.
State Sen. Melinda Bush sees the Clean Power Plan as a huge opportunity to boost the economy and reduce dangerous air pollution. [Photo courtesy of El Centro Padre Gary Graf.]
However, it’s up to people like us to make sure the IEPA plan prioritizes environmental justice communities like Waukegan and Little Village, according to Alderman David Villalobos of Waukegan, Kim Wasserman-Nieto of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization in Chicago,  Jennifer Witherspoon of Lake County Branch NAACP, and Yuridia Carbajal of El Centro Padre Gary Graf/Most Blessed Trinity Church in Waukegan.

The Waukegan celebration was one of five events co-sponsored during the week by the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. Related events included a celebration and petition delivery in Alton, and press conferences in Springfield and Chicago.

For more details about the Waukegan celebration, read our press release and the Lake County News-Sun article.

If you’re interested in joining the fight for clean air, clean water, and clean energy in northeastern Illinois, contact Clean Power Lake County at cleanpowerlc@gmail.com.