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.


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.