The EPA wants to regulate tractor dust. Can you believe that? It’s getting to the point where a man can’t even drive his tractor down a dirt road without big government getting in the way!
That’s what Congressman Rodney Davis wants you to believe anyway. It’s a good soundbite and the fact that it’s complete nonsense hasn’t stopped some politicians from peddling this conspiracy theory no matter how many times it’s debunked.
Davis sponsored an amendment to let the Department of Agriculture comment on EPA regulation. In speeches and press statements, he argued that EPA is out of touch with rural America by reviving the old yarn that they want to regulate tractor dust on dirt roads.
The passionate push to save Illinois from poorly regulated fracking continued at the state Capitol Wednesday.
Internationally recognized ecologist and Living Downstream author Sandra Steingraber made a return trip to her native central Illinois to support the push for a public, science-based examination of fracking.
After meeting with an aide to Governor Pat Quinn who worked on the inadequate fracking regulatory bill, Sandra Steingraber and author Jeff Biggers spoke to Illinois residents feverishly pushing for a moratorium on fracking during the final days of the legislative session.
Sandra Steingraber referenced several recent scientific studies, and others which will soon be published, about the deadly public health and environmental consequences of fracking. The studies tackle issues that haven’t been discussed in public hearings because the legislature waited until the final weeks of their session to rush through a regulatory bill negotiated in private.
Steingraber noted that Natural Resources Defense Council has used the anecdote of a single fracking well operating in Illinois as an argument for passing a pro-fracking regulatory bill. She called the news a distraction and responded, “from my perspective, that’s like discovering a rapist in the community and deciding that we need a law mandating that all those planning to commit sexual assault must wear condoms.”
A second person in two days has been arrested for demanding that Governor Pat Quinn meet with citizens about proposed fracking legislation. Southern Illinois resident Dayna Conner was arrested for refusing to leave the Capitol building Wednesday after two days of waiting outside his office with others who want a meeting.
Governor Quinn and members of the legislature brag about the fracking bill being negotiated with lobbyists from multiple interests groups. It’s how controversial issues are often dealt with in state government. Legislators vote after lobbyists from all sides emerge from a back room with a deal. Fracking negotiations were done behind closed doors by invitation only.
This time, citizens aren’t standing for it. Residents in fracking regions like Dayna Conner are demanding that they have a voice in a public process.
I spoke with Dayna earlier Wednesday outside the Governor’s office while she waited for a meeting. Here’s a short clip of why she felt her arrest was necessary.
She believes that citizens in regions threatened by fracking and grassroots activists haven’t been heard by the Governor and his coalition of lobbyists. After 18 months of citizens requesting a meeting, she says the Governor is siding with industry over residents in fracking regions.
After the bill regulating fracking passed the House Executive Committee, opponents told me they felt ignored and dismissed by their elected officials. Southern Illinois was represented in negotiations by the bill’s main sponsor, Representative John Bradley. He spoke about how much he cares for water quality in his area, but after taking thousands in campaign donations from fracking interests, he has zero credibility.
The League of Conservation Voters released their 2012 scorecard, and it shows that the Illinois Congressional delegation is much greener today than it was last year. Most of those who had the worst environmental voting records were defeated in the 2012 election. One exception, who scored lowest of them all, wants to run for Governor.
Notoriously anti-environment, anti-science Congressmen like Bobby Schilling, Joe Walsh, and Don Manzullo (who all scored 6%) were defeated in the recent election, thanks in part to newly drawn districts.
The lowest scoring Democrat was Jerry Costello, who retired. We can hope for a better record from his replacement, Democrat Bill Enyart, but his pandering to the coal industry is discouraging. You would think more Southern Illinois politicians would have noticed that a coal-based economy has never brought stable prosperity to the region before, and it isn’t going to suddenly start now.
Two members of the Illinois delegation scored 100%! Northside Chicago Congressman Mike Quigley and my favorite Senator, Dick Durbin.
One Congressman holds the dubious distinction of earning 3%, the lowest ranking in Illinois: Aaron Schock. That surprised me because he ran for Congress as a pro-environment moderate. I thought he might have a record similar to Republican Tim Johnson, who at least scored 60%. It takes effort to have an even lower score than a climate-change denying zealot like John Shimkus.
The argument downplaying EPA action bothered me. First, because I think it was somewhat disingenuous. You can’t honestly go from bragging one week about how many proposed coal plants activists have stopped, often by using EPA regulation as a tool, and the next week pretending the movement doesn’t exist. It’s the kind of defensive, weak-kneed messaging that gives tree-huggers and liberals a bad reputation. The low price of natural gas may be the bigger factor in determining the future of coal, but compliance with regulation is an important part of the cost/benefit analysis companies do when making decisions about building or retiring coal plants.
That rhetorical retreat was troubling because EPA may be our last best hope of dealing with carbon pollution during the next 2-4 years. The climate change movement will be forced to rediscover their conviction to cheer EPA action as a positive.
It’s not hard to see why. The House is still controlled by a Republican majority in the pockets of oil and coal. Even though most of them campaigned on being bipartisan, they made similar promises in 2008. We saw how that turned out.
The Senate has a small Democratic majority, but the Democratic caucus still includes fossil fuel Senators like Mary Landrieu and Joe Manchin. Plus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems uninterested in exposing oil and coal Democrats to controversial votes. He refused to bring cap-and-trade to the floor two years ago because it didn’t have 60 votes to pass, but then allowed three failed votes on stripping EPA authority to limit carbon emissions.
So, a big legislative solution like cap-and-trade is about as realistic as “clean coal.” I’ve seen suggestions about a carbon tax. As much as Congressional Republicans hate the idea of any tax increase, I can only imagine the category 5 hissy fit they would throw over a tax increase to deal with a problem they won’t even admit exists. I’d be happy to see someone try, but I won’t hold my breath.
What I’ll hold out small hope for in Congress is another jobs bill focused on energy efficiency, improving the grid, and promoting renewables. That was the best part of the stimulus bill, and we need another big round of green jobs spending in term II. Preferably, they should target spending in coal regions to offset job losses.
That leaves us with the authority a previous, more functional Congress already granted EPA to limit air pollutants. Obama moved forward with expanded EPA protections after Congress failed to act during his first two years in office. Some regulations have been stalled, like CSAPR. That needs to be completed along with better rules on mountaintop removal, coal ash, and air emissions like carbon.
David Roberts has an interesting article at Grist in response to a reader asking how energy journalism can be better. It got me thinking about my experiences giving interviews and pitching stories on energy topics in Illinois.
He writes that journalists and politicians are mostly sleepwalking into the great crisis of our time. With rare exception, we don’t have energy-specific journalists.
There are finance and business journalists who cover energy as a commodity business, tracking global supply and demand flows, prices, futures trading, all that sort of stuff. There are business and tech journalists who focus on cleantech. There are environmental journalists, who tend to cover energy (when they do it) through the lens of enviros vs. polluters. And there are political journalists who cover energy as a campaign and/or policy issue, sometimes as a specialty, more often as part of a portfolio.
He goes on to write that journalists generally view energy stories from the angle of of their beat, and that isn’t well suited to an issue like climate change that intersects so many national and international problems. How do journalists used to looking through one lens paint the bigger picture?
That is not necessarily something that comes easily to journalists, especially old-school reporters. Pushing climate change or energy poverty into a conversation where it hasn’t typically appeared and isn’t typically taken seriously can feel like advocacy or moralizing. It pushes against some quiet but insistent social and professional pressures. Right now, frankly, think tanks, NGOs, and bloggers are doing a better job of it.
Roberts’ observations make a lot of sense when I think about my interactions with the regional press.
Like most papers, the State Journal-Register doesn’t have a writer dedicated to energy. Several years ago I never would have expected to write that the best reporter on energy at the SJR is the business editor. Tim Landis covers developments in the regional coal industry without the critical view I would take. But, when there’s a controversial story, he does a good job of getting different perspectives and explaining complex issues. I’m consistently impressed by his work.
On the political side, there has essentially been a blackout on climate change at the SJR. In last year’s Springfield city election, they failed to ask candidates about clean energy or climate change even though the city council oversees our public utility. The decision to build a coal plant and purchase wind power was one of the hottest local government issues in the past decade but the SJR felt the top issue to cover at the utility was patronage hiring.
Their election coverage this year is no different. Every candidate is asked about the conservative wedge issues of guns and gays, but nothing on climate change. Despite the fact that state and national legislators will spend far more time on energy issues than gun control or gay marriage; despite the fact that climate change is the subject of intense citizen interest; and despite the fact that every paper in the region believes the impacts of climate change are a front page story when droughts hit farmers and rivers flood. In the 13th Congressional district race, political reporters across the district have helped Rodney Davis continue ducking the most pressing issue of our time. It’s difficult for me to understand why. Continue reading Does downstate Illinois need better energy journalism?
I sometimes hear people say they wish Barack Obama had created more New Deal style programs to create jobs like the WPA or CCC. It would be even better if he did it to build clean energy projects and deal with climate change.
I often think, that’s a great idea! I liked it even better the first time when it was called the federal stimulus bill! Then I try to remember not to be such a sarcastic jerk and politely point out that Obama funded a lot of projects like that when he decided to make energy the main focus of the stimulus bill. Many forget or never knew.
Part of the trouble is that Obama didn’t advertise stimulus jobs with catchy acronyms like CCC or WPA. Sure, there were signs at some public works projects but it wasn’t mandatory. The vast majority of jobs saved or created by stimulus funding didn’t arrive with a sign to let people know where the money came from.
For example, energy efficiency and weatherization funding. I learned at Climate Progress that, after getting $5 billion in the stimulus bill, the Weatherization Assistance Program has weatherized 1 million homes as of September 27, 2012. Woohoo!
The program is a triple win. It creates jobs, helps deal with climate change by lowering energy use, and lowers monthly utility bills. The post at Climate Progress points out that “state governments have been using a network of over 1,000 local agencies and more than 4,000 private contractors while employing an average of more than 12,000 workers per quarter to perform weatherization services across the country.”
The Weatherization Assistance Program not only created jobs desperately needed in the construction industry, it also provided a boost for American manufacturing and small businesses. More than 89 percent of the materials used in home retrofits are made right here in America. In all cases, except refrigerators (which are 62.3 percent domestically produced), retrofitting homes exceeded the national average for domestic share of all manufactured products used in the United States of 76.5 percent. Recovery Act funding went through these channels to stimulate local economies, employ thousands, and create demand for American-made supplies.
I’m sure workers in some of the factories making those materials know they won new orders because of the weatherization program. But, I wonder how many people are aware that a factory in their town was able to stay open or hire new employees because of orders generated by the program. Not many, I bet.
Consider how it was implemented in my community as a typical example. Federal money was given to the states and passed down to agencies with weatherization programs. It allowed Sangamon County to dramatically expand their program during a time of major budget cuts. I’ll be cynical and assume that the heavily Republican Sangamon County government probably operated by their usual buddy system and hired contractors they knew.
Neither Republican county leaders nor the friends they hire to do the work will go out of their way to credit Obama. In fact, many of them are the sort of people who nod their head when a politician says “government doesn’t create jobs” even if they’ve spent most of their lives working for the government.
One might read in the newspaper or on the county website that the program was expanded thanks to stimulus funds, but there’s nothing obvious to point that out when the work is being done. No one from the federal CCC or WPA came to work on their house. A contractor sent by the county did. It’s likely that many program participants are unaware or quickly forget about the connection to federal stimulus funding. Continue reading A hidden Obama success story: weatherization and energy efficiency
Illinois Republican Congressional candidates Rodney Davis and Jason Plummer held a press conference in East St. Louis last week to talk about the flood levee system. Both candidates are running for open seats in two of the nation’s most competitive Congressional races. I decided to tag along and see how it went.
After speaking at length on promoting federal spending for levees, they answered questions about how the current drought is impacting farmers. That’s when I thought, “Hey, I have a relevant question” and asked Davis if he thinks the floods and droughts are getting worse because of climate change.
Davis responded by ignoring me, then asking a reporter if he had another question, and quickly walking away. The scene is caught near the end of a video posted to the IL13RawFootage YouTube page. You can hear me ask the question off-camera before it pans over.
I understand why Davis wanted to rush away. He knows who I am and since he has seen my blog, he knows I’m not likely to praise him. But, I was polite. I didn’t interrupt the press conference. I only jumped in when I did because I could tell his staff wanted him to leave. I would have been more than happy to post any answer he gave. Instead, he walked away. Continue reading Rodney Davis (IL-13) ducks my question about climate change
The Illinois Environmental Council recently released their 2012 legislative scorecard! Are you as excited as I am?!?!!! I totally geek out on seeing how state representatives and senators voted on environmental issues.
Twelve legislators earned a perfect score. Ten of them are women. All are Democrats. Almost all are from Cook County, except for two who are even farther north in Lake. That hurts my downstater pride. It’s a racially diverse group, including rising environmental star La Shawn Ford.
The two Sangamon county legislators, Senator Larry Bomke and Representative Raymond Poe, had better records than most Republicans, scoring 64% and 54%, respectively. Rich Brauer was unimpressive with a 29% score.
Regional senate standouts with 86% include environmental champion Mike Frerichs of Champaign-Urbana, and Bill Haine of Alton. Representative Naomi Jakobsson shines with 93%, along with Eddie Lee Jackson. Jerry Costello II is off to a decent start with 86%.
No state senator received a zero rating, but three tied for last with 21%. They were downstate Republicans Sam McCann and Kyle McCarter, plus suburbanite Dan Duffy.
Curiously, Reis once bragged of pushing to reconvene a Conservation Congress at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. It’s a good effort that many of my friends in the environmental community participated in, along with 150 interested organizations. Reis’ press release said Conservation Congress would advise on action the legislature should take and “will keep Illinois’ natural resources and its educational, cultural and economic benefits around for generations to come.”
You may not be familiar with the Illinois Pollution Control Board, but they have a lot of power to decide what goes into your lungs. They’ll hold a hearing August 1st to consider Ameren’s request to renege on a deal the company made to reduce pollution from their aging fleet of Illinois coal plants.
Back in 2006 Ameren Illinois, along with other utilities, agreed to a compromise on new mercury pollution standards for coal power plants. They would be allowed to follow a less stringent standard on lowering Mercury pollution, and in exchange for that leniency, they agreed to lower levels of other poisonous air pollutants (SO2 and NOx). Ameren helped to negotiate the agreement and celebrated it as a victory for clean air.
Six years later, Ameren has decided that they don’t like the deal anymore. They want to continue releasing the higher levels of Mercury pollution but without making the SO2 reductions on the timetable they agreed to. In other words, they want to release more of a pollutant that causes birth defects and learning disabilities in children, AND they also want to release more of a pollutant that causes asthma attacks and aggravates heart disease. It must be because they love their customers so much!
An objection filed by several environmental groups put it this way: “Ameren now wants to have its cake and eat it, too; it reaped the benefit of less stringent mercury standards for years but wants that benefit without meeting the prescribed SO2 limits.”
Ameren opted into the agreement that required reductions of SO2 in 2015 and 2017. Now, they’re proposing a five-year delay to 2020 and 2021. Those far-off dates are additionally significant because there’s no certainty that all of Ameren’s aging Illinois coal fleet will even remain in operation that long.
All of the reasons why Ameren seeks an extension for reducing SO2 (low energy prices, new federal regulation, cost of compliance, competition from natural gas) are also reasons why they may choose to retire additional plants within the next five to ten years. It’s fair to ask Ameren whether they will continue seeking extensions in an effort to run out the clock and avoid making new investments in their outdated plants before shutting them down.
If Ameren does choose to install pollution controls, there’s a good chance Illinois taxpayers will pick up part of the tab. The Coal Development Fund of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity brags of having the largest coal subsidy program of any state in the nation. Ameren has a long history of asking Illinois taxpayers to help pay for the cost of doing business, while Ameren keeps the profit for themselves. For example, Ameren received $850,000 in 2002 to reduce SO2 at their Coffeen plant. Continue reading Ameren Seeks an Extra Five Years of Poisoning Your Lungs