A month remains in the Illinois legislative session and much remains to be accomplished. Many of the environmental community’s legislative proposals have made it past critical deadlines. Other proposals haven’t made it as far and may move later with increased support from leadership. We are thrilled to present to you these short articles about our member affiliate’s legislative priorities presented by experts from each organization.
Beyond these legislative proposals, there is much work to do. IEC is actively keeping an eye on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources budget. While the Governor’s proposed budget keeps the agency funded, the possible rollback of the state income tax will make this a difficult budget year. We are supportive of the Governor’s recommended budgets for IDNR and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
IDNR also has recently announced vast changes that it will propose to its rules for coal mining permits and for inspection of coal ash ponds. These reforms are a first step and are sorely needed to address the vast environmental concerns related to this industry. IDNR is also responding to over 40,000 comments made by citizens to its proposed fracking rules. We are actively working to see the 30 pages of comments made by environmental groups addressed in the next proposal put forth by IDNR, which should occur in the next few months.
With a month left in the legislative session, we will be finishing work on our priority bills for the year, but also playing defense against any proposals to strip environmental protections or fund environmentally irresponsible projects. We will keep you updated via e-mail and let you know when you should take action. Your support is incredibly meaningful and your involvement in these issues helps us to work towards positive environmental change in Springfield.
Illinois Environmental Council
Illinois Moving on Climate Ready Water Infrastructure
Rob Moore, Natural Resources Defense Council
The Illinois State Senate and Illinois State House have unanimously passed legislation that will help make wastewater and stormwater systems better prepared for the impacts of climate change. SB 2780/HB4382 will make low-interest loans, loan guarantees, and other forms of financial support available from the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF, but known in Illinois as the Water Pollution Control Loan Program) for green infrastructure, water efficiency and other projects essential to making Illinois communities more resilient to floods, droughts, and other climate related impacts.
These bills makes these kinds of projects eligible for CWSRF support in Illinois for the first time ever. And the fact that the legislation explicitly recognizes the importance of using CWSRF funds for climate preparedness work is a big deal.
Every state has a Clean Water and a Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. In total they represent about $109 billion in capital nationwide available for water infrastructure. In Illinois, the CWSRF has disbursed more than $3 billion in low-interest loans. Last year, President Obama identified the SRFs as an important tool for getting communities — and their water infrastructure — prepared for the climate of the future.
Governor Pat Quinn committed $1 billion in additional water infrastructure financing in his State of the State address and put forward the legislation. SB2780 must go through the House or HB4382 must go through the Senate before the legislation can head to the Governor’s desk.
Things are looking good for climate preparedness in Illinois.
Protecting wildlife in Illinois
Rebecca Riley, Natural Resources Defense Council
Illinois is seeing an amazing wildlife resurgence, with wolves, black bears, and mountains lions returning to our state after a decades-long absence. The trouble is, because these predators have been gone for so long, we don’t have rules in place to protect them. The Illinois Senate took an important step towards correcting that problem by voting unanimously in favor of SB 3049, a bill to add wolves, black bears, and mountain lions to the Illinois Wildlife Code.
Under current Illinois law, anyone can shoot a wolf, black bear, or mountain lion at any time, no questions asked. And in fact, that’s exactly what happened last fall when a mountain lion journeyed from the Black Hills of South Dakota to Illinois, most likely in search of a mate. The animal caused no apparent trouble on its trek, but when it got to Illinois, a farmer contacted the authorities who shot and killed the big cat.
If enacted, Senate Bill 3049 would put a stop to this free-for-all. Almost every mammal in the state, including predators like bobcats and coyotes, is already regulated under the Wildlife Code. Adding wolves, black bears, and mountain lions to that list is just common sense. Under the proposed law, farmers will be able to protect their livestock, but they will not be able to shoot these animals for no reason. The Senate’s vote was the first step in making this solution the law and protecting these native predators as they attempt to return to their former range.
As the Chicago Tribune said in their editorial this past fall: “Wild animals roam this state. Always have and, we hope, always will. As we urged here in 2008: The same Illinois that was unprepared for the last cougar had better get ready for the next. He’s probably en route.”