Well into the FY16 fiscal year, the state of Illinois still does not have a budget and the impasse is having a severe negative impact on conservation and environment programs. It’s hard to measure the full impacts these cuts, sweeps, and delays are having on the environment, economy, and quality of life of all Illinoisans, but IEC has attempted to compile a list (see below).
In hard budgetary times, conservation and environmental programs are often the first to be trimmed, despite their contributions to the economy and Illinoisans’ quality of life. Further, sweeping special funds is not a permanent solution to fund the Illinois budget. Using these funds to pay for basic services is not sustainable and these sweeps also hurt businesses, such as solar energy companies.
We urge legislators and the Governor to pass a budget and sufficient additional revenue to fully fund a year long budget that prioritizes the environment and health of Illinois families and communities first. We also suggest that legislators consider passage of the Illinois Clean Jobs bill as soon as possible in order to bring more clean energy businesses, jobs, and revenue to Illinois.
Below is a list of budget impacts to environment and conservation programs in Illinois:
Threats to Wildlife
- Last week, we learned that IDNR has zeroed out the budget for the Endangered Species Protection Board and laid off the director. We are still learning whether staffing will be adequate to provide sound, unbiased scientific support to this important body. Look for a possible alert on this issue.
- The IDNR has issued layoff notices to 1/3 of the state’s conservation police officers, meaning that hunting and fishing laws, as well as wildlife laws, are likely to go unenforced.
- Grants to fisheries and wildlife operations – from mostly federal funding – have been suspended or delayed.
Half of the state’s 97 soil and water conservation districts are expected to close September 30, meaning:
- 85 to 90,000 tons of additional soil will erode into Illinois surface waters each year
- More than 170,000 tons of nitrogen
- and at least 90,000 pounds of phosphorous will leach into Illinois’ waterways which otherwise would not.
Layoffs to the Bureau of Land and Water Resources at the Department of Agriculture means further decreases to nutrient and other agricultural pollutant reduction programs.
Programs for energy efficiency for municipalities and low-income customers have been delayed. These programs are not funded out of the general revenue fund; they are paid for by utilities and ratepayers. If these programs do not move forward, up to 146 million kWh of electricity and 5.33 million therms of natural gas energy will not be saved, meaning an addition 160,253 tons of carbon pollution in Illinois.
Suspension of the DCEO recycling and food scrap grants program will send additional waste to Illinois landfills.
Water quality projects are on hold. Five dam removal projects and several Illinois Green Infrastructure Grants have been suspended. These projects provide jobs, clean up waterways, and otherwise protect Illinois water.
Increased utility bills for low income families
- As described above, the suspension of the energy efficiency programs for low-income customers will increase utility bills for low-income people and prevent energy efficiency capital improvements to low-income, multi-family buildings.
- LIHEAP programs have been delayed. This program helps low-income customers afford their utility bills. State funds have been suspended and federal funds are substantially delayed.
Diminished Support for Business
- Sweeps of renewable energy funds threaten support for energy businesses, particularly solar energy companies. Money was swept from both the Renewable Energy Resources Fund and the Renewable Energy Resources Trust Fund. These cuts mean reductions of support to the solar industry and wind industry, plus larger federal tax bills and utility bills for businesses that might have wanted to install and purchase renewables.
- DCEO has laid off 7 employees from its recycling division. In addition to these layoffs, funds from the solid waste management fund were swept resulting in less support for the waste diversion industry – an industry with 111,500 jobs and a payroll of $3.6 billion in Illinois.
- The electric vehicle rebate program has been ended. This means less support for EVs in Illinois.
- Grants to LEED buildings through CDB have been suspended.
Harm to Tourism/Outdoor Recreation Businesses
- Funding for Natural Areas Acquisition Fund (NAAF) has been swept and OSLAD grants are delayed. Federal grants related to land acquisition are not available or are being held up as a result of the condition of Illinois’ land acquisition program.
- By failing to release federally awarded funds such as Great Lakes Restoration Initiative dollars, the state risks losing awards such as $1M for restoring coastal Lake Michigan habitats.
- The expected closing of the Illinois State Museums will take with it the $30 million in revenue to the economy that tourists to these sites bring each year.
- Purchase of land at the north end of Calumet and the future of other Open Lands Trust land acquisitions are delayed or at risk.
There is $720 million in delayed capital needs at Illinois’ state parks, which lowers the overall quality of these parks and hurts the tourism economy.
- Decrease in Conservation Police Officers will mean that outdoor recreation in Illinois is less safe.
Decreased Environmental Education and Awareness
- The Illinois State Museum is slated for Closure on September 30. The comprehensive natural resource education that these museums offer will end. Valuable staff resources will be lost.
- The Dickson Mounds and I&M Canal state museum sites will be closed, diminishing education opportunities for nearby conservation areas.