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.

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Boarding the Bus to Support Clean Jobs in Illinois

"Climate avengers" from Lake County, Illinois, visit the state capital to ask their elected officials to pass the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. [Photo courtesy of Barbara Klipp/Clean Power Lake County Campaign.]
“Climate avengers” from Lake County, Illinois, visit the state capital to ask their elected officials to pass the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. [Photo courtesy of Barbara Klipp/Clean Power Lake County Campaign.]
By Maryfran Troha

I felt courageous as I showed up at the parking lot of Most Blessed Trinity Church and stepped onto a Springfield-bound bus to participate in the Illinois Environmental Council’s annual Lobby Day. I, of course, had written letters, signed petitions and made telephone calls—as active citizens in a democracy are supposed to do. I had even had one-on-one meetings in local officials’ constituent offices. However, I had never gone to our state capital to meet with lawmakers.

Boarding that bus, I had not a clue what I was supposed to do to advocate for the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. Needless to say, I did not want to make a fool of myself or come home without making contact with any elected officials.

Fortunately, wonderful lobbying pros on the bus gave us a really good rundown during the four-hour trip. They gave us a map of the Capitol building showing the locations of our reps’ offices. They also suggested we write letters to our senators because senators do not come out of session to meet with constituents.

As our bus pulled up alongside a long string of buses near the Capitol, I stepped into the bright sunshine to find myself among hundreds of neophyte activists.

Divided into groups according to which senators represented us, we marched up the Capitol steps, passed through security and gazed around a massively crowded rotunda. My sense of confidence grew as my group, led by the Sierra Club’s Alex Morgan, wove through droves in colorful T-shirts representing our cause and many other causes and dodged awestruck hordes of eighth graders on school trips.

We climbed many flights of stairs to Senator Terry Link’s office. One by one, we presented our letters to the aide at the reception desk. The aide smiled politely and offered regrets that the senator could not meet with us. This was a crowded affair since senators in adjacent offices were receiving delegations from various environmental groups.

I started feeling a little panicky. How would we pull Representative Rita Mayfield out of the House session? Fortunately, Alex knew the ropes. He explained that we’d go to “the rail” to meet a page, who’d take our lobbyist cards to the member. Then we’d wait in a long corridor, hoping Representative Mayfield would be able to meet with us. Imagine all the advocacy groups smashed into one 8′ by 20′ space. Really? Yes, really!

We lounged along the walls watching representatives dash out to meet with individuals in smart suits as well as people like us in T-shirts representing different issues. After a wait, Representative Mayfield bustled into the corridor, smiling and appearing pleased to see us. She took our literature, listened to our message and kindly posed with us for a photograph to show the folks back home. This crazy meeting in a packed corridor was actually democracy in action!

It was awesome to be part of an impressive show of strength for an important cause and to connect with my elected officials in a powerful way. It truly was grassroots activism. I urge others to “board the bus” at the very next opportunity.

Maryfran Troha, a lifelong resident of Waukegan, Illinois, represents Christ Church of Waukegan in the Clean Power Lake County coalition. She has been involved in the Clean Power campaign for almost two years.

Leading the Charge for Clean Jobs in Illinois

The Clean Power Lake County delegation is ready to lead the charge for passage of the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill . [Photo by Alex Morgan/Sierra Club.]
Members of the Clean Power Lake County Campaign visit the State Capitol in Springfield to help lead the charge for passage of the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. [Photo by Alex Morgan/Sierra Club.]

While most of you have been dodging April showers, filing your tax returns and mustering hope that this year will be the year for the Chicago Cubs, Clean Power Lake County’s “climate avengers” have been helping lead the charge to pass the bipartisan Illinois Clean Jobs Bill in Springfield.

The Illinois Clean Jobs Bill (HB 2607/SB1485) will cut energy use through efficiency, increase use of renewable wind and solar energy, and create an estimated 32,000 jobs annually. The bill is supported by more than 41 co-sponsors in the Illinois House, 21 co-sponsors in the Illinois Senate and a coalition of more than 70 businesses and 30 organizations.

On April 22—Earth Day—nearly two dozen Clean Power Lake County coalition representatives rallied alongside more than 500 other Illinoisans at the state capitol to support the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, clean energy and climate action. (Check our our Facebook photo album and watch WAND-TV video coverage of the rally.)

Illinois State Representative Rita Mayfield speaks with Waukegan resident Maryfran Troha at Clean Power Lake County's Clean Jobs Forum in Waukegan on April 8. [Photo by Karen Long MacLeod/Clean Power Lake County Campaign.]
Illinois State Representative Rita Mayfield speaks with Waukegan resident Maryfran Troha at Clean Power Lake County’s Clean Jobs Forum in Waukegan on April 8. [Photo by Karen Long MacLeod/Clean Power Lake County Campaign.]
A constituent speaks with Illinois State Senator Julie Morrison at Clean Power Lake County's Clean Jobs Forum in Waukegan, held April 8. [Photo by Karen Long MacLeod/Clean Power Lake County Campaign.]
A constituent speaks with Illinois State Senator Julie Morrison at Clean Power Lake County’s Clean Jobs Forum in Waukegan, held April 8. [Photo by Karen Long MacLeod/Clean Power Lake County Campaign.]
 

On April 8, two of the bill’s co-sponsors, State Representative Rita Mayfield and State Senator Julie Morrison, received rounds of applause during a Waukegan forum when they said the measure would lower consumers’ utility bills, bring clean energy investment to more communities, strengthen local tax bases, create thousands of family-sustaining jobs and reduce dangerous pollution from coal-fired power plants. The forum was sponsored by the Clean Power Lake County Campaign.

The Clean Jobs Bill improves upon the 2007 Illinois Renewable Portfolio Standard in several ways:

  • Increases the share of power coming from renewable sources to 35% by 2030
  • Raises the state’s energy efficiency standard with 20% energy reductions by 2025
  • Proposes a market-based strategy to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, which is required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan

The bill also contains several provisions to help disadvantaged communities, such as bringing more solar installations and workforce development to low-income communities, and building solar arrays on contaminated lands often located in disadvantaged communities.

Equally important for residents of a cash-strapped state, “this legislation doesn’t cost the taxpayer anything,” Mayfield said during the Waukegan forum.

Ready to help? Please sign the official Illinois Sierra Club petition to ask your representatives to support the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill.

Clean Jobs Forum Focuses on Economic Opportunity for Lake County

Illinois' existing Renewable Portfolio Standard has already created more than 20,000 jobs. Standards in the new Illinois Clean Jobs Bill could create 32,000 additional jobs.
Illinois’ existing Renewable Portfolio Standard has already created more than 20,000 jobs. Standards in the new Illinois Clean Jobs Bill could create 32,000 additional jobs.

Policy leaders participating in the Clean Jobs Forum 2015, to be held April 8, 2015, in downtown Waukegan, will discuss the main components of the recently introduced Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, and how the bill can bolster clean energy development and jobs in communities like Waukegan and North Chicago.

Featured speakers include State Sen. Julie Morrison (29th District); State Rep. Rita Mayfield (60th District); Jack Darin, director of the Illinois Sierra Club; and Sarah Moskowitz, outreach director for the Citizens Utility Board.

The bipartisan Clean Jobs Bill (HB 2607/SB1485) would strengthen energy efficiency policies, ramp up Illinois’ wind and solar industries, and pursue market-based strategies to meet new federal carbon limits. Once fully implemented, the standards would create an estimated 32,000 jobs annually across Illinois. They also would protect Illinois residents from the impacts of climate change while maintaining a reliable and affordable electricity system.

Event Summary
What: Clean Jobs Forum 2015
Where: Most Blessed Trinity Academy, 510 Grand Ave., Waukegan, IL 60085
When: Wednesday, April 8, 2015, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
RSVP and questions: Alex Morgan, alex.morgan@sierraclub.org

The Clean Jobs Forum is organized by the Clean Power Lake County Campaign, a grassroots coalition of community, faith and environmental groups dedicated to building a healthy, clean energy future for Lake County.