April 9, 2015

Congress Moving to Scrap Community Protections, Giving Polluters Free Pass on Coal Ash Dumping

Just three months (and only 42 working days) after EPA signed its first-ever coal ash rule, Representative McKinley (R-WV) has introduced a bill that guts the new EPA rule and protects the polluters who finance his campaigns.

The bill will permanently give polluters a free pass to dump coal ash (the second largest industrial waste stream in the nation) without any accountability to the communities they are impacting.

Joliet Lincoln Stone Quarry_1Coal ash is a dangerous waste product of burning coal at power plants, containing arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury, and a range of harmful heavy metals and hazardous pollutants. When these pollutants enter drinking water, rivers, and streams, they harm human health, aquatic life, and the communities that depend on these water systems.

Illinois is home to 91 coal ash disposal ponds, many built in places that are unsuitable and dangerous for the disposal of toxic waste. Fifty-six ash ponds were built over groundwater recharge areas, 62 over shallow aquifers, and 9 were constructed over wetlands. The majority of these pits are unlined.

Community groups, representing hundreds of citizens in Illinois, have continued to urge Congress to address failing ash pits in the state. Five government entities in Vermilion County, including the County Board, have even passed resolutions calling for protective standards.

Nevertheless, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Chaired by Illinois’ own Rep. Shimkus, will vote on the new bill on April 15, and a full House vote is expected by the end of April.

The proposed “Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015” stands to remove several critical health and environmental protections.

The bad bill proposal will:

  • DELAY new health and safety protections – potentially for more than 10 years;

  • WEAKEN the rule’s mandate to close inactive (contaminated and abandoned) ponds;

  • ELIMINATE the rule’s guarantee of public access to information and public participation;

  • ELIMINATE the rule’s ban on storing and dumping coal ash in drinking water;

  • REMOVE the rule’s national standard for drinking water protection and cleanup of coal ash-contaminated sites;

  • REMOVE the rule’s national minimum standard for protection of health and the environment, allowing state programs to eliminate critical safety requirements;

  • PROHIBIT effective federal oversight of state programs; and

  • PROHIBIT EPA enforcement of state program requirements unless invited by a state


What can you do? Contact your representative and ask them to “VOTE NO on the McKinley coal ash bill”


April 9, 2015

Spring 2015 Legislative Update

The political process moves quickly sometimes and it can be hard to stay abreast of everything that’s happening. That’s where we come in!

Below you’ll find a brief list of a few recently introduced legislative bills, both at the state and federal levels, that we believe our membership might be particularly interested in. If you’d be interested in actively working to support these bills and other environmental efforts, you should consider joining Environmental Lobby Day. Even if you can’t attend this year, you can always help by contacting your representatives via phone, email, or social media in support of these efforts.


IL Clean Jobs Bill
HB2607. Sponsors: Reps. Elaine Nekritz, Robyn Gabel, Michael Fortner, and Christian Mitchell
SB1485. Sponsors: Sens. Don Harmon, David Koehler, and Jacqueline Collins.


Raises the utility energy efficiency standard to 20%, meaning electric utilities should achieve a 20% reduction in electricity demand by 2025. The utility energy efficiency standard spurred an industry that employs tens of thousands in design technology, weatherizing, and insulation.

Raises the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) from 25% by the year 2025, to 35% by 2030. The RPS obligates electricity suppliers to produce 35% of their electricity from renewable sources. The higher percentage and longer time period help attract renewable energy investors to the state.

Empowers the Illinois EPA to develop a market-based strategy for reducing carbon emissions by capping power plant carbon emissions and auctioning carbon credits.  65% of auction proceeds would go to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy, 5% to assist low income customers with energy bills, 10% to help communities polluted by power plants and an additional 5% for job transition assistance for workers affected by power plant closures.

Passage of this bill could translate into 32,000 new jobs per year in Illinois!


Protect the Mahomet Aquifer
HB1326. Sponsors: Rep. Carol Ammons
SB1698.Sponsors: Sen. Scott Bennett


Prohibits the disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), in any landfill where leachate could contaminate the Mahomet Aquifer, the primary source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people in 14 Illinois counties.

Once in the environment, PCBs do not readily break down and may remain for long periods of time cycling between air, water, and soil. PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system.


Ban on Coal Tar Sealants
HB2401. Sponsor: Rep. Laura Fine


Bans the sale and use of coal tar sealants in Illinois. Coal tar sealants, commonly used to seal driveways and parking lots, contain hazardous chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which elevate cancer risks in humans and are toxic to mammals, birds, fish and frogs. The sealants gradually wear off and break down into particles that are washed off by rain into streams and tracked into homes on the soles of shoes.


Support Food Cooperatives
HB3830. Sponsor: Rep. Will Guzzardi

Encourages growth of food cooperatives by modernizing Illinois Cooperative Act of 1915.

HB3830 is the product of a coalition of existing co-ops, prospective co-ops, and co-op law experts working together to develop a new modern law for co-ops in Illinois. HB3830 will make it easier for co-ops to raise capital and permit the formation of worker owned co-ops and provide better governance structure and options for co-ops. It was modeled in part after Ohio’s co-op law which is considered one of, if not the best in the U.S.



Defending Our Great Lakes Act
S.589.  Sponsor: Senator Debbie Stabenow [D, MI]
H.R. 1135.  Sponsor: Rep Candice Miller [R, MI]

1313166395-091907_inflight_asian_carpFederal bill that authorizes near-term actions at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet, Illinois to prevent the spread of Asian carp into the Great Lakes. Requires the Army Corps of Engineers to lead construction of an engineered channel with control technologies like carbon dioxide bubble screens, underwater sound and hydro-cannons, and pheromones at a critical point near the western end of the Chicago Area Waterway System. Requires these near-term, one-way measures fit within a long-term strategy to prevent invasive species moving downstream as well.

April 1, 2015

Meet Prairie Rivers Network’s New Executive Director!


We are delighted to announce that Carol Hays will join Prairie Rivers Network as its new Executive Director on May 1, 2015. Carol will replace outgoing Director Glynnis Collins who is moving on to other adventures in Nebraska.

Carol has a passion for clean water and strong experience in community action and organizational effectiveness. She comes to Prairie Rivers Network after more than a decade running her own consulting practice where she supported non-profits and community leaders in strategic planning, leadership and policy change. With her husband, Scott and other river enthusiasts in the Mahomet area, she co-founded the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy.  She has been involved in a variety of community advocacy campaigns, particularly in the arena of indoor air quality. Carol holds a PhD in Political Science from Southern Illinois University.

March 16, 2015

Round Up for Clean Water at Common Ground Food Co-op in Urbana

Common Ground Produce

If you shop at Common Ground Food Co-op in Urbana, please “round up” your purchases this month – the extra change will go a long way towards protecting our rivers and clean water!

When: The whole month of MARCH

Where: Common Ground Food Co-op, Lincoln Square, 300 Broadway, Suite 166, Urbana, IL

A big thank you to Common Ground for supporting local non-profits with their round up donation program!


March 12, 2015

EPA gives Mahomet Aquifer sole-source designation

Our main source of drinking water in Central Illinois is now better protected. The EPA gives Mahomet Aquifer sole-source designation. Well done to all leaders and citizens who helped achieve this.

Lee News Service Map of Mahomet Aquifer and Clinton Landfill

Lee News Service Map of Mahomet Aquifer and Clinton Landfill

March 4, 2015

Mahomet Aquifer Bills in Progress

Representative Ammons and Senator Bennett introduce bills to protect Mahomet Aquifer

Mahomet Aquifer Map, courtesy of the Mahomet Aquifer Consortium

Mahomet Aquifer Map, courtesy of the Mahomet Aquifer Consortium

We are excited that freshmen lawmakers Representative Carol Ammons and Senator Scott Bennett have introduced bills to protect the Mahomet Aquifer from pollution. Specifically, materials containing high levels of PCBs and manufactured gas plant waste would be prohibited in landfills located above the aquifer. The legislation is aimed at preventing Clinton Landfill from moving forward on its plans to accept these two toxic chemicals. The Mahomet Aquifer is an irreplaceable resource, providing drinking water to over 500,000 residents in 14 counties in east-central Illinois.

TAKE ACTION – check out the list of sponsors for House Bill 1326 and Senate Bill 1698.  If your legislators are not already sponsors, ask them to be by calling their district offices!

In related news, USEPA is still evaluating the petition to designate the Mahomet Aquifer as a sole source water supply. We are unclear why it is taking so long, but it appears the agency is going through the petition with a fine-tooth comb. Because of this delay, Rep. Ammons has also introduced a resolution that urges the USEPA to issue the designation; the Illinois legislature has not voted on the resolution yet.